Winter cooking: ancho pinto beef chili

ancho chili nachos

Sure, you could eat this chili from a bowl. But why would you do that when you could have nachos?

By AOA Greg

Because it's the weekend and the middle of winter -- and a bunch of people mentioned that cooking helps them shake off the January gloom -- here's a recipe for ancho pinto beef chili.

It's warm and rich and meaty -- even though it's mostly beans. It's also easy to make. And it makes the house smell fantastic.

This recipe is based off a 2009 recipe from Bon Appetit. The biggest changes in this adapted version: the chili powder is dropped completely in favor of only using chile powder, and 3/4 of the meat is replaced by pinto beans. I think this version is healthier, cheaper, and tastes really good.


4 slices of bacon, chopped *
1 pound of boneless chuck roast, cut into smaller-than-1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup of ancho chile powder **
1 tablespoon mole paste ***
1 table spoon ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 1/2 cups beef broth (one of those broth boxes is usually enough)
3 cans (15.5 oz) of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
a few tablespoons of masa (optional, explained below)

* Sometimes you can find "end pieces" -- basically leftovers -- of bacon at the store (Trader Joe's sells, for example), which are good to use here because the bacon is usually cheaper, and you're just going to cut it up into small pieces so it's not like you need the strips.

** Ancho is dried poblano, so it's not really all that hot. I see it in most grocery stores now, though sometimes you have to poke around a bit.

*** This was new to me when I first made this recipe. Here's the brand I buy. It's basically a concentrated paste of mole flavors -- chiles, sesame seeds, peanuts, cocoa. You can find it in most supermarkets (I've seen it at the Slingerlands ShopRite, so it can't be that unusual) -- look in the Latin foods section.


+ Sauté the bacon in a large pot. When it's crisp, remove the bacon bits to a bowl, but keep the fat in the big pot.

+ Add the chunks of beef and spread them out in an even layer. Let them get well-browned on one side, then remove them to the bowl on the side. (There's a reason I only brown them on one side, but it's kind of long discussion, and zzzzzzzzz.... If anyone's curious, just ask.)

+ Add the chopped onions to the pot. Sauté them in the accumulated fat until they start to brown. Add the garlic a minute or two after adding the onion.

+ Add the ancho chile powder, mole paste, cumin, salt, and oregano. Stir it all around.

+ Add some of the beef broth -- maybe half a cup. Stir and loosen up the little bits that are stuck on the bottom of the pot (because those bits taste really good). Add the apple cider vinegar.

+ Add the pinto beans. Stir everything around.

+ Add the beef and bacon back to the pot. Stir everything around.

+ Add another 3 cups (or so) of beef broth. Basically, you want to add enough liquid to almost cover the stuff in the pot.

+ Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Let it ride for another 2 or 2 1/2 hours. You want to cook it until the beef chunks are really tender. You can add more broth along the way if things look like they're starting dry out too much.

+ Beef is really tender? Great. How's the texture of the chili generally? Not thick enough for your liking? Add a teaspoon of masa (corn flour used for making tortillas, I've seen this brand in local supermarkets), stir and let it cook for a minute or two. Keep adding masa until it's the thickness you like. Alternately, you can add more broth to thin it out.

I think this chili has enough heat from the ancho, but it's more of a "warm" heat than a yow-that's-spicy heat. If you like it hotter, just add some cayenne (or your chile of choice) for more heat.

Eat it

ancho chili eggs
Chili and eggs with corn bread.

This chili goes well with a bunch of different add-ons, including: cheese (duh), sour cream, sliced or chopped onions, pickled red onions, thinly-sliced jalapeño, pickled jalapeño.

It's also good as an accompaniment to something else. Nachos made with this chili, cheese, pickled red onions and jalapeños, and a dollop of sour cream? You know it. Chili and eggs? You bet. Chili on top of Fritos? Hello.

It also freezes well -- let it cool uncovered in the fridge before putting it in the freezer. So if a batch seems like too much, you can split it to eat some now and freeze the rest for later.

Earlier on AOA:
+ How do you shake off the winter gloom?
+ Cooking out the cold


OK, what about the beef?
Btw, this is this weekend's Daddy/Daughter event in the ChuckD house. Thanks for the spark!

Yum! Maybe we start a recipe exchange section of AOA?

I'm really glad that someone else has realized that you can make excellent chili without any tomato. Only thing I'd change in this recipe is that, instead of that first 1/2 cup of beef stock, I'd deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of beer (You know what to do with the rest of the bottle of beer.).

@ChuckD: Here's the tangent about browning the meat:

About a year ago I read this post by Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats about browning meat. He goes into the Maillard Reaction and all that as you'd expect, but the thing that really stuck with me was the trade-off you make browning a piece of meat, especially something that's been cubed or ground. The trade-off is basically:

browned meat = good, meaty, complex flavor, but the texture becomes tough and dry

non-browned meat = nice, tender texture, but little of that delicious complex meatiness

So Lopez-Alt recommended trying to split the difference when possible, specifically only browning part of a batch of ground beef -- or browning one side of chunks and then grinding them.

This chili doesn't involve ground beef, but it does have chunks of beef. So in an attempt to get the complex meaty flavor + very tender chunks in the end, I started browning the chunks only on one side, and deeply. I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, but I've been happy with the results.

(By the way: Kenji's stuff at Serious Eats is really worth reading if you're interested in learning about some of the mechanics/science of cooking and/or how to make things faster/better/tastier. I'm a big fan.)

@AddiesDad: That could be fun. Are you offering to participate?!

@chezjake: I haven't tried the beer de-glaze in this recipe, but it sounds like a good idea. I think I'm going to try that next time…

maybe it is just me, but i was extremely unhappy with the ends and pieces of bacon from Trader Joe's. I decided to give them a shot for making coq au vin (also a recipe that doesn't call for pretty strips of bacon) but some of the pieces are just fat (not a huge problem) but then other pices are so thick it took forever to cook and render the fat without burning.

@ Greg

I think some sort of recipe exchange would be great, delicious fun. I'd be happy to share.

Maybe one type of recipe per week/month? With all this cold, how about starting with hearty soups?

@Greg, absolutely! I make most of my chili's up as a I go, but I have a couple of bases I use for both red and "white" chilis. It'd be fun!

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