“Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.”
That was the alleged final utterance of frontiersman Kit Carson, who passed away on this date in 1868. A Wild West legend even in his own time, the guy was a jack-of-all-trades. Fur trapper. Rocky Mountain guide. Soldier. Rancher. You hardly can blame the guy for this manly deathbed craving. A 19th-century Marlboro Man, someone who makes Clint Eastwood seem like a scaredy-cat, needs the kind of sustenance only a cauldron containing long-simmered meats, beans, and spices could supply.
And, on a practical note, it’s especially easy to understand why Carson was so keen on chili. Regardless of what sort of beast he had just felled or what he and his fellow frontiersmen managed to scrounge along the trail, they could chuck it in a kettle with some beans, tinned spice, and water lugged from the nearest creek, and leave it dangling over the campfire while they traipsed through the hills. When they returned, exhausted from doing mountain-guy sorts of things all day, a hearty, restorative, rib-sticking dinner awaited. So much the better if there happened to be a nice hunk of cornbread on hand to sop up the spicy juices. And to wrap up the meal? A rousing round of “pull my finger.”
Many of chili’s trail-appropriate traits are what keep us with the stuff today. Versatility. Simplicity. Popularity. Prefer turkey or chicken to red meat? Go right ahead. Not a meat eater? Not a problem. It’s infinitely variable, chili. Its one-pot-wonder status doesn’t hurt, either. And it needn’t be confined to, er, chilly weather. We regularly invite the robust stew of sorts to our backyard summer gatherings, where we down it with beer, dunk chips in it, pile it on burgers off the grill. And you can still use chili to test your pals’ mettle. Just toss a few habaneros into the mix and see who cries first.—Erin Carlman Weber
Our Best Chili Recipes
A chili that you can dress up or down, whether you need something really impressive for game day or relatively inexpensive for Tuesday night dinner.
Turkey Cincinnati Chili
Saucier and sassier and healthier than most, this Cincinnati chili is still plopped atop a pile of spaghetti and smothered with all sorts of goodness.
Pressure Cooker Pork and Pinto Bean Chili
This is why we have pressure cookers. Because they render an inexpensive cut of pork and plain pinto beans into a smoky, soulful, put-your-spoon-down-and-sigh chili in a fraction of the usual time.
Slow Cooker Beef and Black Bean Chili
Simply toss everything into the slow cooker and walk away. And just as compelling for its taste as well as its ease.
Easy Cincinnati Chili
Regardless of whether you're from Cincinnati or have ever experienced Cincinnati chili, you've gotta try this recipe. Trust us.
Green Chicken Chili
A little spicy, a little tangy, and a little less than an hour from start to table.
This compelling chili and Cheddar burger is what it is. No apologies. Simply wrap your hands around the messy spectacularness and settle in for the real deal.
White Bean and Chicken Chili
Stop your scoffing. This may not be conventional chili, but it's no sissy imposter. It's just a little subtler, soupier, and smokier.
Chili con Carne
"Outstanding!" "A sophisticated uptown chili." "The bomb." That's what we're hearing about this classic chili con carne recipe.
Quick Chicken Chili
Exactly what you want—nay, need—when you're crave something that's satiating as heck but you need it to be quick and with some semblance of healthy.
A vegetarian's delight. Quinoa, black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, and garlic are cooked in a broth infused with chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and unsweetened cocoa.
© 2011 Leite's Culinaria. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.