Conjure a bowl of chili in your head. Does it have big chunks of tomatoes, little nuggets of ground beef, and lots of red beans? Then you’re probably not from Texas. Because in Texas, you’ll rarely (if ever) find a bowl of chili that contains beans.
There’s a saying in Texas: “If you know beans about chili, you know chili ain’t got no beans.” In Texas, “chili” is shorthand for chile con carne, which translates to “chile peppers with meat.” No beans in sight.
Most people think that chili can trace its origins to Mexico, but it’s actually an authentically Texan dish. As the Houston Press explains, “In the 1700s, the government of New Spain recruited Canary Islanders to move to San Antonio. Canary Island women made a tangia-like stew with meat, cumin, garlic, chile peppers, and wild onions that they cooked outdoors in copper kettles in their settlement, La Villita.” Their peculiar, chile and cumin-heavy spice blend resembled the Berber seasoning style of Morocco.” Another early version of chili was a shelf-stable brick of dried beef, suet, and chiles that could be mixed with water to provide cowboys with sustenance out on the range. Over the years, as chili made its way throughout the rest of the United States, it picked up plenty of additional ingredients, but in Texas, it hasn’t changed much from its early days as a Moroccan-style stew.
Head to Texas today and order a “bowl of red” (as the locals call it), and you’ll indeed receive something that more closely resembles a simple beef stew than your vision of modern-day chili: tender chunks of beef (usually chuck) in a rich, thick sauce that contains chiles, maybe some additional spices, and not much else. No tomatoes, no beans. It might not be how you picture chili, but a great bowl of Texas red is a thing of beauty. To learn where to find the best chili in America, click here.