Meat Morgan: Chili Talk

Cook's Country Deputy Food Editor Morgan Bolling breaks down the basics behind everyone's favorite meaty stew.

Published Mar. 2, 2020.

Whether you’re a lover of cooking meat (or just eating it) it’s time that you formally meet our in-house meat connoisseur, Morgan Bolling. She’s worked at a few different test kitchens across the U.S., gracing those who will listen with her meat knowledge. When she’s not at work developing a new meaty recipe, there’s a likely chance that she’s either hosting a homemade sausage dinner, running a half marathon (to cancel out those sausage dinners), or planning her next pig roast.

The great thing about chili is how many forms it can take. We have recipes for Hollywood-Style Chili, Cincinnati Chili, Chili Con Carne (which is popular in Texas), Colorado Green Chili and more. There is even chili that caters to different forms of meat like chicken and turkey. Whether you decide to use ground beef or other cuts, treating the meat right can make or break your final dish. This week, Morgan Bolling answers 12 of your meaty questions about this lively, but comforting favorite.

Cook Smart

Easy Ground Beef Chili

Making chili shouldn't have to be an all-day affair. With our step by step directions, it won't be. 
Get the Recipe

1. Where does chili come from?

Many culinary historians claim that the chili tradition took hold in San Antonio, home to the famous “chili queens” of the 19th and early 20th centuries, who sold bowlfuls of the chili to a cadre of customers who’d line up at outdoor stands. But as to where chili originated is something that is still constantly debated in the chili world.

In other words, its origins aren’t certain but I can confirm that chili isn’t a Mexican invention. In fact, Mexicans disclaim it: The 1959 edition of the Diccionario de Mejicanismos defined chili as “a detestable dish sold from Texas to New York City and erroneously described as Mexican.”

2. Do you prefer chili made with ground beef or with chuck-eye roast?

It’s hard for me to pick . . . since they both have their place in the world of chili. If I’m looking for a quick chili option I tend to lean towards using ground beef. Whereas, if I have time for a project piece, I prefer to prepare my chili with chuck roast. I love the flavors that come from braising meat but it normally takes at least an hour of cooking time—if not longer—to get the meat tender.

3. What’s your favorite side to serve with chili?

Cornbread, always. I know that that’s a familiar response for many readers but it’s because chili and cornbread make such a good match. You have the ability to crumble it up into the chili—as we do with our One-Pot Chicken Chili with Cornmeal Dumplings recipe—or you can eat it alongside our Sweet-and-Spicy Beef Chili recipe.

The best part about cornbread is that you can cater its flavor to the type of chili you’re serving. I love how I can pair our Jalapeño-Cheddar Cornbread with our Chili con Carne recipe and our Honey Cornbread with our Five-Alarm Chili.

4. Is it worthwhile to use higher quality cuts of meat?

When it comes to chili it’s best to use cheap cuts of beef. Short ribs are kind of expensive, has a habit of making chili taste too much like pot roast, and like a lot of other cuts, won’t get tender enough. I’d also advise against using brisket as it can stay a little chewy even after it’s been braised for a bit. With that said, I’d recommend using a blade steak or chuck-eye roast.

5. What type of ground beef should I use in chili?

We prefer using 85% lean ground beef. It gives you plenty of flavors, without adding greasiness.

6. Can I make chili and freeze it for another time?

Yes! Chili actually freezes great. Make sure to pack it in an airtight container once cooled, cover and freeze it.

7. What’s your favorite chili recipe?

Our One-Pot Chicken Chili with Cornmeal Dumplings recipe. It’s so delicious and factors in the time to make the cornbread.

8. Should you brown the meat before making a chili?

Yes. In most of our chili recipes, we’ll call for home cooks to brown the meat before making the chili. Browning the meat allows you to create a really nice fond; fond is what gives dishes a lot of its great flavor. This step is essential to do with chuck-eye or blade steaks, and we highly recommend doing it with ground beef too. (Editor’s Note: Read “Can You Develop Fond in a Nonstick Skillet?” to see how to build a flavorful pan sauce.)

9. What’s the secret to good turkey chili?

Turkey is prone to drying out. So starting off with either turkey legs or thighs will help your turkey stay juicy in your chili. If you choose to do ground turkey chili be careful in how you cook the meat. In our turkey chili recipes, we add the raw turkey straight to the chili so that it stays in large chunks to prevent it from drying out. (If you were to brown it before making the chili there’s a likely chance that it will turn pebbly.)

10. Is it better to use dried or canned beans?

We have recipes that use both but I feel that what type of beans you use comes down to how much time you have in your day. You’ll notice that Cook’s Country normally call for canned beans, while Cook’s Illustrated usually calls for dried beans in their recipes. That’s because at Cook’s Country we always try to recommend ingredients that give home cooks great results in a timely manner. Either or works great, and we have recipes that cater to canned and dried depending on your preference.

11. What’s the best kind of chili to make in a slow cooker?

Chili lends itself so well to a slow cooker because it’s already a slow simmering type of dish. With that said, I’d say that most of our chili recipes would work great for the slow cooker. Our Slow-Cooker Weeknight Chili recipe is perfect for home cooks that tend to dry out ground meat when making chilis.

12. Is there a way to make chili that doesn’t take all day?

I know that home cooks can develop a lot of flavor in their chili recipes without having to spend all day on it.

There’s this misconception that chili has to be an all-day project. Many Italians will probably hate me for saying this but this goes for traditional Italian tomato gravy, too. Either need to take all day if you’re doing it right. And to do it right, you just need to try certain cooking techniques and make sure that you have the right ingredients on hand.

Don’t get me wrong, some things taste better with time. For example, you can’t really cut the time down on chili recipes that call for blade steak or chuck-eye roast. These stewy cuts need longer cooking times in order for them to get tender. On the other hand, ground beef and turkey doesn’t need a long time on the stove to taste really good. I know that home cooks can develop a lot of flavor in their chili recipes without having to spend all day on it—just browse one of our chili recipes that don’t require many steps to see for yourself.

This is a members' feature.