Beans or No Beans Chili Brouhaha

chiliby Steven Doyle

Temperatures are dropping this week and many of you will be seeking out  great bowl of chili. Chili is the perfect accompaniment with football.  We also have the tale of the original chili cook off in Terlingua if you are interested in chili facts and figures. It is certainly something we enjoy and take to heart as a true Texas original. However, it has been disturbing as each one of these conversations always ends with a debate on “beans or no beans”.

Our stance stays true to the no beans camp. We have a few original chili recipes to prove that this is the way God intended chili to be served. Beans may join the table as a condiment, just as you might add a fresh brunoise of onions, or even Fritos to make your own pie.    

fowler.jpg blind tasting chili at the first cook off held in Terlingua

Frank X. Tolbert wrote for the Dallas Morning News and was one of the original founders of the Terlingua cook off. Tolbert was a food connoisseur, wrote a history of chili con carne called A Bowl of Red, and ran Tolbert’s chili restaurant in Dallas. In 1967 he founded, with Wick Fowler, the World Chili Championship held annually in Terlingua, Texas, which was later named for them. His daughter, Kathleen Tolbert Ryan, re-opened a Tolbert’s Restaurant in May 2006 on Main Street in Grapevine, Texas. Tolbert’s Restaurant serves a version of the original Frank X. Tolbert’s famous chili recipe. There are no beans in this recipe.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s favorite chili recipe became known as Pedernales River Chili after the location of his Texas Hill Country ranch. It calls for eliminating the traditional beef suet (on Johnson’s doctor’s orders, after Johnson suffered a heart attack while he was Senate Majority Leader) and adds tomatoes and onions. Johnson preferred venison, when available, to beef, as Hill Country deer are leaner than most beef. Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady, had the recipe printed on cards to be mailed out because of the many thousands of requests the White House received for it each year.

The Original Terlingua International Chili Cook Off specifies that, among other things, cooks are forbidden to include beans in the preparation of chili for official competition. A good case for the no bean camp.

Let us know what your preference is on the bean issue, but in the meantime enjoy these recipes.


An Original San Antonio Chili Queens Recipe
2 pounds beef shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup suet
¼ cup pork fat
3 medium-sized onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 quart water
4 ancho chiles
1 serrano chile
6 dried red chiles
1 tablespoon comino seeds, freshly ground
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
Salt to taste
Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in with suet and pork fat in heavy chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often. Add onions and garlic and cook until they are tender and limp. Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles. Remove stems and seeds from chiles and chop very finely. Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to mixture. Simmer another 2 hours. Remove suet casing and skim off some fat. Never cook frijoles with chiles and meat. Serve as separate dish.
In 1952, a Texas journalist who had devoted much of his life to the study of chili wrote a book entitled With or Without Beans. His name was Joe Cooper. After examining the best chili on record to that date, he released his own recipe – one that he described as “maybe not the best ever, but one which satisfies the Coopers’ appetites,” and is one which poses no undue problems for the average home cook. It will put good chili on the table without much effort or attention other than what is normal routine in any kitchen.


Joe Cooper’s Chili Recipe 
3 pounds lean beef (never veal)
¼ cup olive oil
1 quart water
2 bay leaves
8 dry chile pods or 6 tablespoons chili powder
3 teaspoons salt
10 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon red pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons cornmeal
When olive oil is hot, in 6-quart pot, add meat and sear over high heat; stir constantly until gray – not brown. It then will have the consistency of whole-grain hominy. Add 1 quart water and cook (covered) at bubbling simmer 1½ to 2 hours. Then add all ingredients, except flour and cornmeal. Cook another 30 minutes at same bubbling simmer, but no longer, as further cooking will damage some of the spice flavors. Now add thickening, previously mixed in 3 tablespoons cold water. Cook 5 minutes to determine if more water is necessary (likely) for your desired consistency. Stir to prevent sticking after thickening is added. Some prefer all flour, others all cornmeal, and still others use cracker meal – about as good, and more convenient. Suit your own taste.


And finally, we are offering one of the original chili cook off recipes from 1970 by none other than Wick Fowler.

Wick Fowler’s Recipe (kits of his chili fixings may be purchased at just about any grocer)
2 lbs ground beef, ground for chili
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups water
2 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 cup chili powder
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 tablespoons masa harina flour
1/4 cup hot water
Brown beef in a Dutch oven; drain.
Add tomato sauce, 2 cups water, paprika, cumin, onion flakes, garlic salt, chili powder, and ground red pepper.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Dissolve 2 tablespoons masa into 1/4 cup hot water to make a thick, but flowable mixture.
Add masa mixture to chili.
Cover and simmer another 15-20 minutes.


Filed under Crave, Steven Doyle

5 responses to “Beans or No Beans Chili Brouhaha

  1. I like chili either way. Beans, no beans, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all good.

  2. Billy Petton

    Chil does not have beans, if they put beans in it they have just made spicy beef stew

  3. Pingback: 2018 Best Chili Finds in DFW | cravedfw

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