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Original San Antonio Chili... Yankee-Style Recipe

Arthur Bovino


As an Italian-American, I'm not starving for culinary or cultural heritage, but I love Texas and its food. Still, when making chili, I usually exhibit Yankee pride and do my own thing. That means not just beans, but a variety of beans, beer, and tomatoes. Meat? At least three kinds. For Recipe SWAT Team: Chili, I returned to chili's origins. The Yankee may have out-Texaned The Daily Meal's Texans this time.

Chili was supposedly invented by the Spanish Canary Islanders who founded San Antonio. Then, chili was dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers, and salt. As Robb Walsh noted, "Chili con carne was introduced to America by the 'Chili Queens,' women who served food in San Antonio's Military Plaza as early as the 1860s. Chili stands.... were the taco trucks of the 1800s."

It's generally accepted that in 1893, the "San Antonio Chili Stand," at the Colombian Exposition in Chicago exposed America to chili. It may be impossible to find the original recipe, but in 2004, NPR published a recipe, #1 Original San Antonio Chili from the research library of the Institute for Texan Cultures. I've been known to add a flourish, and I couldn't help one here (substituting pork belly for suet and pork fat), but following instructions resulted in a chili I'd pass on to friends. Here you go.


  • 1 pound pork belly
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 pounds beef shoulder, cut in ½-inch cubes
  • 1 pound pork shoulder, cut in ½-inch cubes
  • 3 medium-sized onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 quart water
  • 4 poblano peppers, de-seeded and minced
  • 1 serrano chile, de-seeded and minced
  • 6 dried red chiles, de-seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • Salt, to taste


Cut pork belly in lardons and sweat over low heat (you just want that tasty fat). Remove lardons leaving fat in the pan. Toss beef and pork cubes lightly with flour. Reserve lardons, leaving fat in the pan. 

Either in 2 batches or in 2 pans (dividing the fat between the 2), cook the cubed meat in the rendered fat quickly, stirring often. Add chopped onions and garlic and cook until tender. Add water and simmer slowly for a few minutes. (You can use this time to prepare the chiles if you haven't done so yet.) Add the poblano and serrano chilies to the simmering mixture. Grind the red chiles in a molcajete with the cumin seeds, minced fresh oregano, and salt.

Right now you're panicking because your chili isn't red. Whatever you do, don't panic! Toss in that freshly-ground mixture. Fine chop the rendered lardons and add to the mix. Simmer for 2 hours and serve one of the best, most authentic chilis you've ever tasted.