Lunchtime poll - your chili preferences (and the "false hunger" of Jim Backus)
January 25th, 2011
12:15 PM ET
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Pssst! I'm gonna share my family's decades-old chili recipe. You're going to want to write this down.

Step one: Get in the car.

Step two: Drive to the nearest Skyline Chili.

Step three: Order a four-way with onions - that's Cincinnati-style chili over spaghetti with neon orange shredded cheddar and chopped onions - or possibly a cheese coney.

Step four: Consume with a Diet Pepsi (I'd rather a Diet Coke, but when in Skyline...) with a big blue straw and sop up the remaining chili puddle with oyster crackers.

I grew up in Northern Kentucky, right across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. It may not be right, but it's what we do. My mother also often made a substance she claimed was chili - an unlovely amalgam of ground beef, kidney beans, tomato paste, onions and chili powder. On occasion there were slices of American cheese. We...don't really talk about that.

There's clearly a better way - as evidenced by the blizzard of chili cook-off announcements stacking up in my inbox. School me on your ways and means in the poll and comments below, and for your trouble I'm sharing a little something from my personal cookbook collection.

As promised, Jim Backus' chili recipe from my 1966 copy of 'The Celebrity Cookbook' edited by Ms. Dinah Shore. You may know Mr. Backus from his star turns in Rebel Without a Cause, as Mr. Magoo or "The Millionaire" Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island. I am entirely uncertain by what might be this morning-after "false hunger" his wife invokes. Care to share in the comments?

Jim Backus chili recipe

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Filed under: Buzz • Chili • Dishes • Holidays • Lunchtime Poll • Super Bowl

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soundoff (119 Responses)
  1. Chef Gwen

    There are no beans in chili. If beans are in your "chili" it's called stew.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  2. Patti Londre

    Henny Backus - her mail used to come to my office in Hollywood. She was close to 100, her business manager was a tenant of mine, so every day we would see Henny in the mail. Cute page from that book.

    March 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  3. cat

    My husbands from oklahoma and likes his chili with no beans and its got to be spicy. Like hot enough to scorch the roof of your mouth spicy.

    I've lived in the northeast all of my life. We had kidney beans and often ate it with elbow noodles (chili mac) I've never actually seen a chili that didn't have beans in it unless it came from a can or was served on a hot dog. I tried canned skyline once and it was like eating catfood. Not that I've eaten catfood but I have to wonder if it would taste better.

    January 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  4. Samantha Cardimon

    Ah, Skyline Chili. The best. But you can't put non-Cincinnati chili on spaghetti. That simply won't work, so don't even try it. Find a reasonable facsimile recipe for Skyline and use that. Unfortunately, I'm trapped in Philadelphia where they have no idea what good chili really is. Every time I go back home I hit the Great Food Trifecta: Skyline Chili, LaRosa's Pizza, and Graeter's Ice Cream.

    January 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  5. ann

    No ground beef in mine – I use small bites of stew meat (usually round roast I cut up myself, to control the size and fat content). Veggies would be onions, green peppers, garlic, tomatoes. Black beans are my preference. As for toppings, chopped red onion, jalapenos, pepper jack or cheddar, and a bit of sour cream.

    As for the spaghetti idea - well, I said I'd give it a shot, because I sometimes make a chili-ish recipe that includes elbow macaroni, but I don't call it chili - chili-mac, maybe. Around here, people make that and call it "goulash" – enough to make my Hungarian grandmother turn over in her grave. It may not be chili, but it sure as heck isn't goulash! (tasty, though!)

    January 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  6. Programmr

    I moved to the Cincinnati area after college and found that Cincinnati Chili is a strange, but tasty, dish. I don't know why they call it chili around here. It doesn't taste like any other chili I've ever had.

    January 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  7. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Given I don't mix meat and milk, I prefer vegetarian chili so that I can put mounds of cheese on it. Sometimes I like to spice it up so that I don't have to share with my kids who can't handle it.

    January 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Jerv

      LOL! Thank you for the early morning laugh! Darn those rugrats!

      January 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  8. Sporkatus

    I like using Wick Fowler's chili mix – can adjust the spice level to your liking and includes masa for thickening. Then I serve with chopped jalapenos, onions (aside from what's already in the chili), sour cream, shredded cheddar or colby jack, oyster crackers and tortilla chips. Leftovers get the frito pie treatment the next day, assuming there are leftovers! mmmmmm.....

    January 26, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • DANITA

      wick-fowlers is great. Don't likie the mesa. Mix in chilli brick to the beef, add to the sauce and serve over spaghetti because that is the Louisville, KY way and it is good. Comin is the secret.

      January 26, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  9. Jeremy

    Real chili has the perfect balance of heat, meat and vegetables (onions, diced chilies , fresh tomatoes).

    The right chili (spiced and slow cooked for 8-12 hours) will flatter any meat you choose – even lean ground turkey if you are looking for a leaner, protein rich alternative.

    For the best and most meaningful results, try making chili with meat you hunt yourself (such as feral pig – aka pork, or venison).

    The base of my chili recipe includes kidney, black and pinto beans (1 can of each), chili power and cumin (to taste), 1 or 2 large white onions, lots of fresh garlic, and as many fresh tomatoes as I can get my hands on. I seal it up in the crock pot after stirring in a half-glass of beer.

    This recipe was passed onto me and originally called for venison. At the time all I had was beef, and I later tested it with turkey.

    Since becoming a deer and pig hunter in 2010, I have elevated my chili to a locally sourced, free range, fully organic meal.

    January 26, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  10. Tiffini S.

    When Chili's replaced their Original Texas Red with Terlingua, my life went into a downward spiral. I haven't been back to a Chili's since.

    January 26, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  11. da funkee 1

    Meat, beans, diced tomatoes. Nick
    Fowlers 2 alarm chilli seasoning. Extra chili powder, paprika, onions and garlic. Over chili cheese fritos. about heaven. Think u know what's on the menu this weekend.

    January 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  12. EuphoriCrest

    @Jason: "Vegetarianism doesn't make sense." Here are just a few "senseless" reasons:

    Reduced risk of most cancers
    Reduced risk of heart disease
    Reduce carbon footprint
    Add average of 7 years to your life
    Cut bone loss by half
    Lose weight
    No growth hormones
    Reduce famine
    Reduce toxins in your diet
    Help preserve fish populations
    Reduce air & water pollutants generated by factory farms
    Raise your Karma level

    January 25, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • esmiranda

      While many of the points you emphasize may be true, it also depends on what types of foods vegetarians eat to replace meat protein. My husbands aunt is a vegetarian. She eats mostly white bread, tons of butter (yes, she's a vegetarian) and peanut butter, white pasta, popcorn, vegetable ramen, potatoes, rice, and very few vegetables because she only likes green beans, iceberg lettuce, and corn. Her go to meals are large servings of starch and butter, or starch and cheese. Oh, and she eats tons of plain old american cheese with saltine crackers, the cheapest she can find because it's all the same to her. Looks like she has no problem with animal rennet. She is always claiming that she's just famished, and that vegetarians have to eat more food more often since they don't eat meat. She has a desk job and gets as little exercise as possible because she "just doesn't like that stuff!" She has said if God intended people to walk, there wouldn't be cars. She's about 4'9" and she is very, very large. She tries to lecture people that eating animals is wrong, but really, she killing herself with that misplaced kindness. She may be a "vegetarian", but I would hate to see her arteries. I made a tofu stir fry at a family gathering, and she just gagged and made loud comments about how gross it looked. It must have been all the vegetables.

      January 25, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
      • EuphoriCrest

        Wow, she could be headed for a whole host of serious health problems. Whether you're omnivore or vegetarian, you have to sensible about it!

        January 25, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
      • restaurant recipes at home

        restaurant recipes at home
        restaurant recipes is a language everyone should learn how to speak. :)

        January 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  13. Jenni

    Grew up loving TexMex chili, mildly spicy, beans, etc. but since moving to Colorado have really fallen hard for the two meat only versions–Chili Colorado (beef cubes slow braised in smoky red sauce) and Chili Verde (pork, in roasted, charred green chiles. Bye bye beans! Hello tender meat and chile gravy! Skyline sweet over noodles is fine for comfort food, but the true roots of what we call "chili" can't be beat. Period.

    January 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  14. Jason L.

    There are two kinds of chili, regular and "con carne." Con carne has meat in it (as well as beans), regular has just beans and no meat. I don't know why anyone would eat regular chili without meat unless they were vegetarian (and being vegetarian also doesn't make any sense), and I don't know why anyone would put a different type of meat besides beef in chili. I've eaten turkey chili and I didn't die, it is probably better than prison food, but I've never been to prison, so I'm not sure.

    There is a third type of "chili" (sort of) which has meat but no beans, you find it in a plastic dispenser at convenience stores, it is used on hot dogs to make "chili dogs," you can also buy it in the grocery store in a can if the store happens to be out of dog food.

    Because some people have only ever had chili on a convenient store hot dog, they might mistakenly think that chili is not supposed to have beans in it, this is of course a myth. Without beans there is no chili, just hot dog sauce.

    Chili should be hot, you should get an endorphine rush and sweat profusely from eating it. You should not rub your eyes or pick your nose for 3 days after eating good chili. If you don't have trouble walking, talking and thinking afterward, then you were probably eating out of the "women and children's" chili pot.

    Chili should have beef, and beans, and plenty of tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell pepper, chili peppers, and some corn (and maybe a little celery). More than one type of bean is good too. You can use 2-3 different kinds of beans including great northern, pinto, black beans, chili beans, kidney beans, etc. Topped it off with diced raw onions and shredded cheese, maybe over corn bread but never over spaghetti.

    Ron White and one of the other commentors are correct, the best chili has small cubes of solid lean beef in it, but if there are financial constraints then ground beef is an (the only) acceptable substitute.

    January 25, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  15. EuphoriCrest

    I know this will offend traditionalists but give it a try: Chili over mashed potatoes topped with shredded cheddar and chopped onions. Real comfort food!

    January 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  16. Gene

    Being a native born New Mexican who can say his great great grand parents were here a hundred years before the ENGLISH KICKED the so called first americans out of england I can say all of you that THINK you know what REAL CHILE is are full of you know ( maybe you don't) what. CHILE IS NOT HAS NEVER BEEN a food of the GRINGO!!

    January 25, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • EuphoriCrest

      OK, Gene, you may have a point. How about educating us "Gringos" with an authentic recipe?

      January 25, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  17. Megan

    I was so excited a decade ago for my first Skyline chili experience in Columbus, OH and after the first bite, it was such a let down! I'm an avid chili fan and Skyline chili does not serve chili; its more like hotdog 'sauce'. Eating 'chili' over anything, including spaghetti or mashed potatoes is a sin if it is true chili.

    January 25, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  18. melissa

    TEXAS chili: no beans or tomato, just a proper and delicious meat braise...

    January 25, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  19. Rach

    My favorite chili is the kind we make fresh at deer camp (Hunting base camp for you nonhunters). A propane stove is fine, but it's nice to sit down around a campfire as long as it's not too cold. The dry spices are mixed beforehand and brought along in a sandwich bag. For six people we brown a pound and a half of fresh venison, either ground or cubed, in a cast iron dutch oven. Then we add two diced onions, six cloves of garlic minced, one dried chipotle pepper, one or two dried red peppers depending on their size, a quart jar of home-canned tomatoes crushed or chopped into smaller pieces, along with about half the liquid from the jar, two big cans of kidney beans, and the following spices: a tablespoon black pepper, a teaspoon and a half of smoked paprika, a teaspoon cayenne, a teaspoon of cumin, a half a teaspoon of crushed oregano leaves, half a teaspoon red pepper flakes and a quarter teaspoon salt. It smells good right away, but after cooking for an hour you get initial spice combined with a slow, smoky burn.

    January 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • esmiranda

      That sounds really delicious, as venisons slight gaminess adds a little something special to the overall flavor of a recipe. I guess I don't have to tell you that ground venison also makes a really outstanding spaghetti sauce as well. My husband is not a hunter though. Venison is a rare treat from family or friends that hunt.

      January 25, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  20. Kim

    Love my chili with beef and italian sausage....beans or no beans doesn't matter...but I love the Italian sausage!

    January 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
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