Where Do You Stand in the Great Chili Debate?


Talking about chili is enough to get the stomach growling, and the conversation turning to a spicy and competitive one. Some prefer some of the spicier recipes while others like a warm, yet mild, pot of meat, beans, and a few veggies. With its vast recipes and ingredients found, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where chili came from, or the original recipe.

So, where did chili really originate?

The short answer is that it did not come from any Latin American country, despite its popular use of common spices and ingredients. It did, however, start appearing in the Southwest region of the United States around the 17th and 18th centuries. Similar to a Spanish style stew from that time, the Native Americans and Spanish immigrants in the American West began cultivating a dish with game meat, chilies, and onions into one of the most innovative staples in the United States.

What can I find in a great chili?

While the initial chili dishes consisted of venison, the versatility of chili allows you to use any of the following proteins:

  • beef
  • pork
  • chicken
  • turkey

These protein options can be used as the single protein option or combined to enhance the flavor of the chili. Utilizing game meat such as venison, bison, or antelope for those who are avid hunters and consume game meat regularly.

Most chili versions come with two standard vegetables, the onion and chili peppers for heat. The ratio of onion and peppers to meat is up to the chef, looking to build a chili to fit their personal taste and textural preferences.

Regional Chili Differences

In many areas across the United States, there are regional variations of a chili which has sparked the great chili debate and what actually makes a good chili. For those in the Midwest, adding beans to the chili just makes more sense and adds another layer of flavor. There are chili fans, however, who find this addition offense and that the chili does not need this ingredient.

A similar argument is made on the East Coast, but with tomatoes instead of beans. That’s right. Along the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic areas, chili recipes add the plump tomato with the onions and chili peppers. Tomatoes in chili are often accompanied by a garlic companion, adding another level of spice and flavor with the chili peppers. While they are not always used in chili recipes, they are often more accepted by chili traditionalists than beans.

Created right in Cincinnati, this bustling city in Ohio has its own version of chili, which includes a top layer of cheddar cheese and a lower layer of spaghetti noodles, ramping up the carbs and textures in their chili dish. This dish cuts some of the heat from the chili peppers, and give their diners an experience that is unique from the other regional styles of chili.

What do all chili recipes have in common?

Passion. Oh yeah, no matter which recipe you come across at a chili cook-off, you can bet the cook will proudly stand behind their dish, the ingredients, and develop political warfare against their opponents to have their recipe win at the annual cooking contest. For the state of Texas, the passion is personal, as they have declared chili to be the state dish.

No matter where you stand in terms of your favorite chili or how you feel it should be made, the way that chili has been used to bring communities together for annual festivals, fundraisers and other events show that no matter how the chili is made, there is a passion at the core. As we at Alto-Hartley prepare for National Chili Day on February 27, we want to hear from you and what you think the perfect chili is built with.

Did you know that you can get 10% off your equipment and supplies purchase when you come visit the Alto-Hartley showroom? We can chat about your own favorite chili recipe, and you can see some new innovative ways to cook it, too.

10 percent off alto-hartley