My chili pot, swimming with ground beef, onions, and beautiful chunks of garlic.


The chili recipe below is easily available from a ton of sites on the Internet.  But here’s a little background on the original version, and a personal story, which explains why I’m reprinting it here — besides it being absolutely delicious.

About a year ago a friend in Texas, Ana, lost her copy of a recipe for Texas Chain Gang Chili. She wrote to me, because it seems that I gave it to her, and she claimed it was the single best chili recipe ever.

To this day, I have no knowledge of ever giving her a recipe for anything.  But, she says I did, so I believe her.   . . . must’ve had one too many Coronas . . .

I immediately went to my own cookbooks — and my wife’s — and could not find the recipe.  (I’m stupid, I guess, because I later found it in one of the books I originally looked through.)  I searched on the Internet a few days later, but forgot what the recipe was called, so I had to write Ana back and ask again.  By this time she had found her own copy — but I was determined to find out exactly what I had given her years beforehand.

I found it on the Internet, and on many sites.  It looks like all the sites that have it copied it from one man’s site, because all the recipes mention the guy’s Aunt Diane.

I have no idea who Aunt Diane is, because she didn’t come up with the recipe.  She copied it from a cookbook, watered it down a little, her nephew copied hers, and now the whole recipe collection network on the Internet has copied it.

Don’t thank Aunt Diane — thank the Manhattan Chili Company for publishing it in their great Manhattan Chili Co. Southwest-American Cookbook back in the dim, dark year of 1986.

So, after not finding, then finding, then losing the recipe, I waited, and waited, and finally my yearning for homemade chili overtook me just a few, frigid weeks ago.  Again, I couldn’t find the damn cookbook (it was in the bedroom hiding in a stack — I never would have looked there!) so I went online and got the recipe.

Made it.  It was too thick.  Added a cup of water, some more chili powder, a little garlic powder.  Nice.  But not hot enough.

Then I found my copy of the cookbook yesterday while tidying up, and my instincts were dead on: Aunt Diane had changed a couple of things to take out some of the original’s heat and make it thicker.

Not good, Diane.  You wussed it down.

So here is the authentic recipe, although I’m copying Aunt Diane’s version from the Internet, so you can see that I’m restoring the intent and ingredients of the original.  My comments, and the differences between the original recipe and the ‘net version, are in red.  Personal comments are in parentheses.

By the way, I urge you to get the real cookbook.  You can order it here.  The restaurant can be found here — go north and experience joy . . .

Texas Chain Gang Chili:

(from Aunt Diane)

This is spectacular.

* * *  * * * * *

1/4 cup olive oil or rendered bacon fat

2 large yellow onions

8 medium cloves garlic minced (I like garlic, so I used large cloves)

4 jalapenos stemmed and minced

1.5 lbs ground beef

1.5 lbs beef chuck, cut in 1/2″ cubes

2 tsp salt (I use 2.5)

5 Tbsp chili powder (or fresh/dried ancho chili pods) (Ancho chili pods are NOT in the original recipe. I used 6 tbsp of chili powder. I like chili powder.)

2 Tbsp cumin

2 Tbsp oregano

2 tsp Cayenne pepper to taste. (Aunt Diane left this out. CRAZY! By the way, after refrigeration, a lot of the heat disappears. PUT IN THE CAYENNE!)

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes drained and well-crushed

4 cups beef stock (Aunt Diane changed it to 3 cups.)

2 16oz cans dark red kidney beans rinsed and drained. (I consider beans OPTIONAL, although they are included in the original recipe. Authentic chili doesn’t have beans.)

 * * *  * * * * ** Sauté onions, garlic, jalapenos.

* Cook beef separately and drain.

* Combine spices, garlic, meat. Cook 5 min.

* Add tomatoes and stock and bring to boil.

* Slow cook for a couple hours. (Stir occasionally.)

* Add beans about five minutes before finished. (Naaaaah.)

7 thoughts on “A Recipe Restored: TEXAS CHAIN GANG CHILI

  1. I had a copy the original printed from a newspaper Food section. It has only a couple of minor changes.
    1. The original had 8 Jalapenos,( I changed to 4 Jalapenos and 4 Serranos.
    2. Not just Oregano, Mexican Oregano!


  2. I am from Texas and have had the cookbook forever. Ok…well since the 80s. It’s the ONLY Chili I make. Always 2 batches. One hot. One medium hot. I buy New York Strip to cut up and a nice chuck roast to coarse grind. New Mexico Chili powder works best for my family. My son won the Texas Chili cook-off, using this recipe 5 times and they wouldn’t let him enter it anymore.
    Did I mention this is the BEST recipe ever?


  3. Never beer, never &#@% kidney beans. The only beans in chili are pinto beans, best saved as a garnish for those who like them — I do. Btw, tomato paste was invented specifically in the late 1800’s to go in chili and many think it works better than canned tomatoes. Chicken broth is richer than beef broth


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