Known as a “walking taco” to some, Frito (or Fritos) Pie is an American icon. It’s not a pie or a taco at all but rather a simple, rich beef chili spooned over salty, crunchy Fritos right in the bag, garnished with shredded cheddar and diced white onion.
It’s the perfect snack for an outdoor party, walking around the state fair, or cheering on your local team under the Friday night lights. Frito pie is best eaten with friends who appreciate simple pleasures—it’s a recipe for good times.
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The roots of Frito pie run deep in the American South. Origin stories and recipes can vary and are often hotly contested. How does anyone know what to believe? We decided to turn to the source—or, rather, to the source’s offspring.
Kaleta Doolin is the daughter of Fritos founder C.E. Doolin. In her book Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More (2011), she says the dish was the creation of the marketing department and corporate kitchen. Its rise in popularity came as a result of the creation of Frito-Lay in 1961. The original packages for Fritos were paper bags, but after the merger, the company switched to moisture-resistant cellophane bags, and Frito-Lay began printing instructions for the chili directly on the package.
Frito PieLooking for a fun, satisfying chili recipe? It’s in the bag.
The recipe read: “Heat can of chili, pour into bag of Fritos, and sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped onions.” The company sold its own canned chili for the purpose of making Frito pie, and many devotees claim to this day that canned chili is an integral ingredient.
According to the book Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More (2011) by Kaleta Doolin, the daughter of Fritos founder C.E. Doolin, her father purchased the recipe for fried corn chips in 1932 (along with an extruding press for making them, plus 19 customer accounts) from a gentleman who ran a gas station in San Antonio, Texas. The grand sum was $100. According to Forbes, Frito-Lay was recently valued at $16.3 billion and was named the 39th most valuable brand in the world—not a bad return on investment. That $100 transaction was the start of the Fritos company. The company went on to merge with Lays to become Frito‑Lay in 1961; in 1965 it became a subsidiary of PepsiCo.
We tried the dish with canned chili and were underwhelmed; it was fine and it was fun, but we knew we could do better. Our chili recipe is inspired by the one in Kaleta Doolin’s book.
The trick to success was finding the intersection of convenience and wholesome home cooking. Ground beef is the star, and we keep the seasoning simple with chili powder, ground cumin, oregano, and some canned chipotle in adobo for heat and depth. A little cornmeal adds a sweetness that mimics that of canned chili and also works as a thickener.
The chili is spooned right into 2-ounce bags of original Fritos—cut open along the long edge and folded back in cuffs—for an authentic and nostalgic feeling. Serve this for your next tailgate or summer barbecue, your kids’ next sleepover or team dinner, or a late-night snack.