Mom’s chili

I’m well aware of the different chili debates that have ravaged the country for decades: beans vs. no beans, thick and meaty vs. thin and soup-like, eaten on its own out of a bowl vs. slathered on a hot dog. And don’t get me wrong, just because my mom’s chili recipe happens to be the absolute tastiest one out there doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate all of the chili variations that exist. But hers is the yardstick against which I measure all other chili. There is a time and a place for a hot dog topped with bean-less, soup-like chili (and preferably a streak of yellow mustard, too), but this isn’t that time.

This is the time for thick, hearty, chili—full of beans and spice, garnished with nothing more than a shake or two of Tabasco, oyster crackers, chopped onion, and some grated Cheddar. This is January in the Northwest, and I’d be hard pressed to find weather more deserving of a bowl of this stuff, except the snowpocalypse that’s happening in Atlanta right now! It snowed here yesterday and today, but Atlanta is up to 8 inches or so…and ours is melting as I type.

My mom has been making this recipe for what seems like my entire life. It’s perfect for crowds because it can easily be multiplied, and the simple, uncomplicated list of ingredients always comes as a surprise to people. And while this chili is much too sturdy to make a worthwhile chili dog, it does make a lovely and filling topping for a baked potato.

A couple of other tips: it’s usually (as in, always) better the next day, as the flavors and components have had time to mingle in the fridge; and it freezes really well. Actually, this batch is going into the freezer until I head down to Portland sometime in the next few weeks when Kirsten and Daniel welcome their new baby boy!

Mom’s chili
makes enough to feed four people as a main dish…as long as two of the four aren’t my brothers, in which case one recipe feeds three people.

1 lb. ground beef (you can also use ground turkey)
1 large onion
1 can tomato soup (not fat-free or reduced sodium or any of that nonsense)
1 can dark kidney beans
3 Tbsp chili powder (more if you’re feisty)
1 tsp salt
garnishes (cheese, Tabasco, diced raw onion, oyster crackers, cornbread, you get the idea)

Chop up the onion but don’t dice it too small—you want the pieces to be large enough that when all is said and done, you can see them among the beef and beans.


My method of chopping onions is: cut in half from root to tip; cut off the tip end of each half…


…then peel off the skin, and make cuts lengthwise into the onion (see the angled cuts?). Then slice the onion the opposite way–the onion’s natural rings do half of the chopping for you!

In a large, heavy pot—the largest you’ve got—brown the ground beef and onions together. Your mixture will be about 50/50 onions and beef.

If you’re using beef, drain the browned mixture very well and return it to the pot; if you’re using turkey, you don’t really need to drain it because turkey doesn’t render nearly the amount of fat that beef does. My mom usually wipes out the pot with a paper towel before putting everything back into the pot.

To the beef and onions, add the tomato soup, kidney beans (juice and all), chili powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Simmer over the lowest heat possible for at least an hour. Like grits, the longer it simmers, the better.

Top with whatever you like—I recommend grated Cheddar cheese and oyster crackers, but then again I’m not partial to raw onion. If you are, throw some diced onion on top of your bowl-ful. To get the best flavor from this recipe, I highly suggest making it the day before you want to serve it—letting it sit overnight really does wonders for the flavors. And if you’re going to freeze the chili, just wait until it’s off the heat mostly cool before you put it in any tupperware.

My recommendations for the best of other kids of chili are: the Varsity (chili dog with mustard—with an order of onion rings and a frosted orange) and Rocco’s (the legendary chili burger).

Lastly, I wouldn’t be a good fair-weather Falcons fan if I didn’t end this post with “RISE UP!”

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9 thoughts on “Mom’s chili

  1. Just made it! You read my mind! Can’t wait to eat a bowl looking out my window at the snow! Say hi to Kirsten and new baby for me!

  2. Yes, I am snowed in here in Atlanta where I miss the snow shovel I had in KY. I had planned to try Mike D.’s chili, but forgot to get tomato juice. Our family recipe is so much simpler and always good. I had everything for meat loaf, so that’s what it will be. I’m going to try that onion chopping – picture made it look easy and efficient. Thanks for all the recipes that evoke special memories!

  3. I can support the “best” labeling of this chili from a few years of eating it around a freezing camp fire at Goose Creek. I just found your blog via LB and it is so great! I love that you have pictures for those people (me) who are scared to cook anything without a visual!

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