Chili!

Welcome to The Great Chili Super Bowl Roundtable of 2014!

Few foods are as ingrained in the football landscape as chili, and such as it is with anything football fans can argue about, few foods cause as much debate as chili. What makes it great? Is it in the meat, in the manner in which is is cooked, the accents, the spices, the toppings? Quick and dirty and ready in an hour versus simmered over days. Chili is personal to each person with a pot and spoon who has spent hours carefully stirring and adding a pinch of this, a glug of that, while at the same time is one of the most communal dishes we share as fans and friends.

I thought it would be fun to have a few friends over to KSK discuss football’s other past time. A roundtable of writers and food lovers. People who would passionately talk about beans, chiles, meats and what sort of measurement is a Cool Whip tub of onions.

Our panelists:

Stephanie StradleyHouston Chronicle and Texans tailgating powerhouse.
Michael FelderIn The Bleachers, CFB. Chronic Tweeter and amazing barbecue cook.
Rob Iracane – Deadspin emeritus and baseball shrimp expert. (Shrimp being the sports term, but he cooks shrimp too.)
Andrea HangstNFL writer at Bleacher Report, Chicago based cook. Always trust someone in Chicago who can cook.
FesserThe Gurgling Cod, bon vivant and cookbook editor. Also claims his chili recipe is the best chili recipe.
Albert BurnekoDeadspin’s Foodspin. The only person I know who can write 5K words on making macaroni and cheese.
Ted BergTed Quarters, USA Today’s For the Win. Sandwich expert. Has very, very strong opinions on chili.
FILM CRIT HULKBadass Digest. Well-regarded film and story critic, sports fan and excellent cook.
Dan Pashman - The Sporkful Podcast, Cooking Channel, Giants fan. Love his motto, “It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters.”
Celebrity Hot TubEvery Day Should Be Saturday/SBNation gadfly, well-regarded football weekend host.
Jeb Lund (Mobute) –  Contributor to Sports on EarthThe ClassicalDeadspinEsquireGQThe New RepublicSBNationTheand Vice. Cooks and eats.
Chris Mueller – Radio Host, 93.7 The Fan Pittsburgh. Level-headed host, energetic home cook.

And Old James, RobotsFightingDinosaurs, Unsilent, Flubby and myself for KSK. RobotsFightingDinosaurs is our young bachelor cook, Old James is also a big home cook, we all know how much Unsilent loves to talk about food (I expect his chili recipe will involve a sous vide), and Flubby who is just straight up awesome.

Beans, Meat and Ratios

Sarah: So! First topic, may as well get into right away:

What type of chili do you like? Beef? Chicken? Is it okay to substitute ground turkey? Beans or no beans! With both beef and chicken chili, I always use beans, either black, cannellini or great northern beans. I’m not a fan of kidney beans in chili. They’re too big and they force out all the other ingredients on the spoon.

Flubby: Why not just get a bigger spoon? Problem solved.

Turkey chili, I suppose, is acceptable for infants and those in their dotage. That’s it though.

Unsilent: Oh god, we’re jumping right into the bean or no bean end of the pool? I like beef (big chunks) and have no problem embracing beans in my chili. I have no problem with kidney beans, in fact I’m using them in the short rib chili I’m making tomorrow. Get a bigger spoon, Sarah. This is what happens when you use a spoon that was carved from a slightly larger spoon.

RobotsFightingDinosaurs: If any of you are doubting my qualifications as a chef, don’t worry. I know my way around a kitchen. I made this.

For me, I make chili I’d like to eat, and while I do enjoy eating chili with beans and generally think they add a nice texture to chili (especially kidney beans– sorry, Sarah), I rarely add them to chilis I make. It’s an economical thing for me. Why would I add beans to this chili when I could simply add more of this delicious, delicious animal carcass that has been so lovingly prepared for me by my friendly neighborhood Jewel-Osco butcher?

In terms of types of meat, again, I’m not a picky eater, I’ll eat what’s in front of me, and I’m not really part of the ONLY CUBED MEAT MAFIA or whatever. I usually find that ground sirloin works best in chili– I like having the meat permeate the dish and almost dissolve into it. I’m less of a fan of chili that has cubed or shredded meat in it. Chili should be chili, and not stew.

Ted Berg: I don’t know that there’s any meat I’d shun on face. Beef is obviously better than turkey, but there’s lots of good turkey chili to be had. What’s confusing me, though, is why we’re all ignoring pork. It’s the best meat.

I tend to prefer diversity in my meats, and I like incorporating one ground meat and one that’s a little more substantial — cubes of chuck or pork chop, for example — for more interesting textures. I use beans in my own but I’m not about to push away a chili without beans, since obviously I’m here for the meat.

RobotsFightingDinosaurs: Wait, you people eat chili with spoons? What, are you too good to shove your face into a hot pot of chili and inhale, thereby eating chili as god intended?

Dan Pashman: Sarah’s concern is a valid one. It’s not just about fitting the beans on the spoon, it’s also about ratios of one chili ingredient to another. Chili involves lots of flavors coming together as one. If any one component is so much bigger than the others, your ratios will be a mess. Beans aren’t a must for me, but I prefer to have them. They offer textural contrast for the mouth and hearty satisfaction for the stomach.

Chicken is only acceptable if it’s a slow-cooked, dark meat situation, like if a really lame person wanted to make their own version of Jack’s short rib chili, where it gets tender and falls apart. If you use ground turkey it’s still chili, just chili that doesn’t taste as good. There’s just no substitute for beef. Besides maybe pork.

Rob Iracane: To me, the only true defining characteristic of a chili should be its chile pepper content. Does it or does it not contain SOMETHING that was RECENTLY a dried chile pepper, preferably with spice? Meat or no meat, beans or no beans, what is the provenance of your chile peppers? We have all been guilty of using sad, old grocery store chile powder in our sad, old chili which is a shame when good dried chiles are available all over nowadays. Ancho, pasillo, guajillo, what have you. Toast ‘em, seed ‘em, grind ‘em up.

Film Crit Hulk: HULK’S PROBLEM IS THAT HULK CAME TO CHILI LATER IN LIFE SO THERE IS NO ESTABLISHED INTEREST IN THE CLASSIC NORMS, NOR AS A COMFORT FOOD. BY THAT POINT, A CREOLE APPROACH WAS ALREADY IN THE BONES AND SO THAT DICTATED MUCH OF THIS. BUT THE SECOND THING IS THAT HULK WORRIES CHILI RECIPES ARE TOO COLORED BY THE CHILI-COOKOFF MENTALITY THAT REWARDS THE CONSISTENCY OF “A SINGLE BITE.” RESULTING IN SMALLER APPROXIMATIONS OF EACH INGREDIENT. BUT HULK’S ALL ABOUT HAVING “THE BIG, VARIED BOWL.” THE RESULT OF THESE TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT RESULTS IN HULK’S CHILI GOING: RED BEANS AND MEAT COMBO: BEEF, PORK, FENNEL SAUSAGE, AND BACON. (THAT’S THE BASE APPROACH AND WILL WAIT BEFORE GETTING INTO THE ACCENTS).

Ted Berg: Much like the Hulk, I use loose sausage meat in my chili. Also, I’m wearing skin-tight ripped purple jeans.

Michael Felder: I like a kidney bean, myself. As for the meat, I’m not much for the ground turkey. It’s good for others but I want no parts. I like to mix my meats. I like a little steak, some ground beef and a sausage to go into the mix, usually andouille. Weird? Yeah. But I’ve got big spoons at my house and we like to meat it up.

RobotsFightingDinosaurs: Oh my god Rob, you’re going to hate my recipe so much. I use *shudder* canned chipotles in adobo sauce.

Rob Iracane: Those are wonderful too! They have been preserved with care.

Unsilent: Canned chipotles are fine. Chipotle or any other powder is where I stick my nose up. Grind your own.

Ted Berg: I recently came into a huge thing of dried peppers so I imagine this will change soon, but I typically use chili powder from the spice rack. Judge away, fools. My chili tastes incredible, and I don’t need to use a food processor.

Stephanie Stradley: Though I guess I’m supposed to be anti-beans because I’m from Texas, I like a variety of chili as long as it is good. Beans are nice to bump up the nutritional value so provide the illusion that your chili is good for you.

Don’t sleep on venison chili. It’s either really good or really bad, but when it is good it is great. People get very inventive when they are trying to figure out to do with all the deer they shot.

Andrea Hangst: I always put beans in my chili though I’m often just like, “Damnit, Andrea, make some true Texas Red sometime, it’s going to be good.” The beans vary. Sometimes kidney, sometimes pinto, sometimes little pink or red beans (I have a lot of access to heavily-stocked Goya aisles so I like to mix it up with my beans). I never use black beans for whatever reason, even though they are my favorite bean.

One HORRIBLE and DELICIOUS thing I do is include two cans of regular rinsed, drained canned beans plus one can of the “chili beans” made by Bush’s that have chili spices in the bean liquid. I just use it to amp up all the spices I put in myself and help out the texture of the, well, not broth exactly but the.. whatever it’s called that the chili bits are swimming in. Sauce?

Sometimes I make this stupid and quick chili recipe that involves chicken but it barely counts as anything but a 20 minute dinner. I either use ground beef (I only go to my fancy butcher for ground beef anymore because they grind to order and you know the beef has all come from one cow) or, I get nice stew meat and cut it up even smaller because I don’t want like, giant cubes of beef in my chili. But nine times out of 10, I use ground beef. I’ve never used ground turkey in chili or in anything at all because I just think it’s wrong.

Unsilent: I have never used sausage in my chili, but god damn it I’m going to give it a try. I also love cubed or shredded pork shoulder, it’s just not in my regular rotation.

Jeb Lund: On Jan 24, 2014, at 4:46 PM, RobotsFightingDinosaurs wrote:

It’s an economical thing for me. Why would I add beans to this chili when I could simply add more of this delicious, delicious animal carcass that has been so lovingly prepared for me by my friendly neighborhood Jewel-Osco butcher?

See, this is the RobotsFightingDinosaurse argument I always think of, but from the other side. Stews and chilis—really, anything you put in a giant pot and cook until soft and until the flavors commingle—are basically peasant-staple food. It’s taking something that you might not eat on its own or might not really enjoy and trying to make it go a little further and stretch a budget. (Well, I mean, not now, sure, what with a mass email debate about chili being one of those first-world problems things.) So to me the idea of adding beans is just a totally practical thing. They’re vastly less expensive than sirloin or pork tenderloin or whatever, and it lets you take something delicious that you’ve made with all your meats and make it go further, healthily, and at low cost. If you don’t mind the expense, great, make a mostly meat chili. But I can’t get on my high horse about someone not wanting to spend another $8 on a pound of meat when they just want something hearty that will last through a couple nights of leftovers for a couple people.

Unsilent: If I’m planning ahead I always use dry beans. If it’s an impromptu thing I’ll reach for the canned ones.

Sarah: Listen, I’m not going to sit here in my own roundtable and listen to chicken be badmouthed in chili. A good white chicken chili when the meat has been properly charred before going into the pot with cheese, butter, white beans, milk, chili and corn is an excellent way for me to gain ten pounds in ten minutes, thank you very much.

Celebrity Hot Tub: This is all just warmup for the Great Toppings And Accompaniments Battle, right?