For the first time ever, I will be competing in a chili cook off but I have never attempted this before, and somehow always felt as if I wasn’t qualified to. The debate around chili is a heated one–no pun intended–and the variations are overwhelming.

Living in Texas I have learned a few things by assimilation. There is a perception that there is one specific “Texas style” chili. However, it seems like there is a general lack of agreement about the “rules”–and in our large state many styles are welcome.

The two most controversial figures in the chili debate seem to be beans and tomatoes–but don’t let anyone lead you to believe that real Texas chili would never contain them. Certainly, a classic San Antonio recipe popularized by the Chili queens, a “bowl of red” revolve around cubed meat cooked with ground up chilis–no beans or tomatoes in sight.

Here is the recipe of the original winner of the Terlingua chili cook off:

Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe:


3 pounds lean beef
1/8 pound rendered beef kidney suet (if you want to go for it)
1 teaspoon each of oregano, cumin powder, salt, cayenne pepper, and Tabasco
3 tablespoons chili powder (optional)
4 hot chili peppers
At least two chopped cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons masa harina, cornmeal, or flour (optional)*


Historically, San Antonio is rich with tales of the “chili queens” – that from the 1860’s until the late 1930’s served chili and other Mexican cuisine from sun up to dusk, or when the lanterns were lit, selling food at the plazas throughout the city.  At times, musicians would preform and the chili queens would tell stories to their customers. The writer Stephen Crane commented, “In the soft atmosphere of the southern night, the cheap glass bottles upon the stands shine like crystal and lamps glow with a tender radiance. A hum of conversation ascends from the strolling visitors who are at their social shrine.”

The San Antonio Daily Express news published in 1894, “The ever-attentive, always jolly ‘chili queens.’ They are ‘good fellows,’ these ‘chili queens,’ and are able and willing to talk on any subject that may be named from love to law. As a general rule they are bright, bewitching creatures and put themselves to much trouble to please their too often rowdy customers. Every class of people who come to this city visit the places and partake of their piquant edibles.”

With so many choices, it was hard for me to narrow it down for this cook off. For my chili, I decided to leave out the beans (one of my sons is very opinionated about beans in chili) but left in the tomatoes for no reason other than the fact that I like them. If you don’t have venison use another lean cubed meat of your choice. Wish me luck!

Devi’s Venison Chili–Ingredients:

  • 3 ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
  • 3 guajillo chiles, seeded and stemmed
  • 6-10 chiles de arbol seeded and stemmed
  • 2 tbsp marinated chipotle peppers (canned)
  • Ghee (clarified butter) or bacon grease
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 12 cloves roasted chopped garlic 
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp ground coffee
  • 6 cups 1/2″ diced venison 
  • 2 tbsp baking chocolate
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano and cumin
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt & pepper to taste


Heat your chili pot and while it’s dry, toast the ancho, guajillo and arbol chilis quickly until they just start to puff. Peel the garlic and with the skin on, toast quickly until the skins brown a bit. Remove stems and seeds and soak in submerged hot water and the coffee grounds for about 30 minutes. Add 4 tbsp of the ghee or bacon grease to the pot and saute the onions. Peel the garlic and flash fry it with the onions just before they are translucent.

In a blender combine the chili’s, onions & garlic and enough of the soaking liquid to make the blender run smoothly, reserve rest of cooking liquid for chili.

Sprinkle the meat with salt & pepper and while working in batches, brown the cubed venison in ghee or bacon grease.

When the last batch of meat is browned, add all the meat back into the pan with the contents of the blender.  Add the tomatoes, cumin, oregano, hot pepper flakes, vinegar and baking chocolate and stir until everything is well combined.

Bring briefly to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and simmer uncovered for at least an hour–a couple of hours is better if you have the time. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Check on your chili and add water as needed.

I will top with fresh jalapeno, green onions, cheddar cheese and a dollop of greek yogurt.