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Chili con carne

Updated: Thu, 8 December, 2022

The best chilli con carne with two kinds of beans, minced beef, tinned tomatoes and judicious seasoning, to end all the chilli disputes. For me, at least.

chilli con carne

Chilli, chili or chile?

Chilli con carne is one hell of a contentious dish. Before we even delve into the dish itself, what about the spelling? Is it a single ‘l’ or double, and what about ‘chile’?

That question is at least easy to answer. Brits go with chilli, Americans cut one ‘l’ out. ‘Chile’ is the spelling in Spanish-influenced English, i.e. in southern US or as referring to dried chilli (‘chile’) powder.

I stick with ‘chilli’, not least because it bulks out my content. A little bit.

beef chilli

Chilli-hot controversy

Spelling sorted, it turns out the name ‘chilli con carne’ is wrong: purists call it just chilli.

But then there’s the provenience of the dish. You’d think it was a no brainer: a flagship Mexican dish, no? No, say the Texans: it’s a true Texan dish, not even Tex-Mex.

And then of course the battle of ingredients begins: beans or no beans? I know, I thought the same: no beans, no kidding? What is it, a freaking Bolognese sauce? But apparently there are recipes for chilli without beans and yet still called chilli, as long they contain some anchos or poblanos.

If beans you add, what beans: white or red or kidney, pinto or punto (I’m kid-ney-ing).

Should the meat be ground or diced (so now it’s a stew)? Are fresh tomatoes to be used, tomato purée or no tomatoes at all? Smoked paprika? Coriander, or should we say cilantro? The issues are positively endless.

It seems the simplest dishes, of the ‘dump and go’ kind attract the most controversies; viz. the Bolognese ragu and wine argument. I guess cassoulet and maybe even bigos also have the potential to cause enormous arguments.

slow cooked chilli

I cook it my way

Well, you know what I say: if it’s tasty, it’s right. And this chilli recipe makes for a mighty tasty dish.

I use two kinds of beans: dried haricot, soaked and cooked from scratch as well as tinned red beans added at the end of the cooking process.

I use beef even though I hear pork mixed in is acceptable. I add tinned tomatoes because without them it doesn’t taste right to me.

And I add a little cocoa powder that some absolutely swear by and hey, it works for me too.

The main problem from my point of view is not what beans to use, and whether to add the chillies raw or pound them to a paste.

My biggest gripe with chilli con carne is that it is so hopelessly unattractive to photograph.

So guess what: don’t look. Just cook it and devour in ecstasy.

beef chilli with cannelloni and kidney beans

How to cook good chilli?

Yes, you can use tinned beans but I like to get the best of both worlds and use dried white beans, soaked overnight, as well as red kidney beans from a tin.

I like to fry the minced beef before adding it in – there’s something not quite right about plonking raw mince into a pot without browning it. Frying also serves to separate the mince, so you don’t end up with a lump of a meatball in the middle of your chilli.

browning beef

The sauce base is onions, garlic and red bell pepper. That softened, tinned tomatoes are added, all the spices and seasonings, the dried-soaked beans and the meat.

And that’s active cooking almost finished: chilli is left to its own, simmering devices for at least three hours.

After the first hour you can add the tinned beans, if using them. At that point also the chilliness of the chilli needs to be checked and adjusted, if necessary.

Monitor the liquid too, making sure the chilli isn’t catching at the bottom of the pot but it isn’t a soup either.

Salt should be added only when the beans are completely tender to your liking. And chopped coriander doesn’t want to simmer for hours either, so stir it in at the very end.

cooking chilli

What to serve with chilli?

The classic way is to ladle chilli over rice and top with soured cream. I like it with warm tortillas as well but then I like warm tortillas with anything in the world.

Plus there are nachos, and baked potatoes that can be topped with chilli. And if you have never had it with a heel of fresh warm bread, you might be in for a nice surprise.

Finally, a tip. Double everything up and cook the chilli in a huge vat. Divided into portions, it will make the nicest freezer discovery dinners.

the best chilli

More Mexican recipes

Spicy Mexican rice is cooked like pilaf, frying the rice in oil first to brown then cooking it in stock with a lid on. This recipe, restaurant-style Mexican rice, doesn’t use a rice cooker, just a pan with a well-fitting lid.

Corn tortilla chip nachos with easy homemade beef chilli, sweetcorn and cheese. Homemade nachos are the perfect recipe for a crowd-pleasing supper or snack.

Quick pickled jalapeno peppers, crunchy and sweet and hot. The best pickled jalapenos are homemade, and these are ready within about an hour. Make sure you wear gloves when preparing them!

the best chilli con carne

Chili con carne

Servings: 4Time: 5 hours


  • 150g (5oz) dried haricot, cannellini or pinto beans
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 500g (just over 1 pound) good quality minced beef
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp ancho chilli paste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tin kidney (or black) beans
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt or to taste
  • 1 bunch of fresh coriander
  • To serve:
  • corn tortillas or tortilla chips
  • avocado wedges
  • sour cream
  • grated mature Cheddar


1. Soak the white beans in plenty of water overnight.

2. Peel and finely chop the onion, peel and chop the garlic, core and dice the peppers.

3. Heat half the oil in a large casserole or pot over medium heat. Pour the rest of the oil into a frying pan or skillet over high heat.

4. Add the onions, garlic and pepper to the casserole and cook until softened.

5. In the meantime brown the mince in the skillet, pushing it around with a fork to separate and brown quickly. Turn the heat off and keep aside.

6. When the onions are soft, add the tinned tomatoes with juice, tomato puree, sugar, cocoa, chilli paste and the spices. Drain and rinse the white beans and add them to the casserole. Scrape the meat in, stir and add about 500ml/2 cups water – just enough to barely cover the chilli. Put on the lid and simmer for an hour.

7. At this point check the sauce for heat and add some more chilli paste if necessary.

8. Rinse and drain the kidney beans from the tin and add them to the pot. NOTE: if you are using tinned white beans, add them now as well rather than early on. Partly cover the pot and cook for another 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally and making sure the liquid doesn’t cook off completely. Check the white beans and when they are soft, add the salt.

9. In the meantime finely chopped the coriander.

10. When ready, take the pot off the heat and stir in most of the chopped coriander. Let the chilli stand for at least 5 minutes before serving.

11. To serve, warm up tortillas or cut them in quarters and bake for 10 minutes in a low over (120C) until crisp. Sprinkle with salt.

12. Serve the chilli in bowls or on soft tortillas with avocado, sour cream, Cheddar and extra coriander. Alternatively serve with plain rice.

Originally published: Fri, 12 January, 2018

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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