With colder nights and warmer days, it’s cowboy weather. And where there’s cowboys, there’s chili. I think just about everyone must have their own chili recipe, but if you don’t, it’s easy to create a signature dish.

If you keep your pantry stocked with staples, it’s a cinch to put this together in about 30 minutes and let it simmer all day in your slow cooker, Dutch oven, or crockpot. The chili is even better the next day as it sits and the flavors meld together.

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It starts with beans

Canned beans are a key staple for your pantry. They can be used in all kinds of soups, stews, salads, and side dishes. Make sure that you rinse them well and drain them before adding to the stew — yes chili is basically a stew.

I actually had to look up the definition of soups and stews, and it seems that what really makes the difference is the thickness of the liquid. Stews have a thick, gravy-like consistency, while soups usually — and I emphasis usually — have a thinner broth. So without dissecting the definitions further, this chili could be a bit of both: it’s thick and rich with lots of ‘juice’.

In the can

Canned tomatoes! One question asked of me most frequently is, “Are canned tomatoes better than fresh tomatoes in cooking?” In my opinion — yes — canned tomatoes are ripened on the vine for full tomato flavor, and then whisked away to be canned immediately. For the best flavor purchase the ‘roma’ type or ‘San Marzano’ Italian tomatoes.

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Stock up on stock

Another must-have for the pantry is chicken stock, or vegetable stock if you prefer. This recipe can be made without the meat, providing a vegetarian version, but you won’t get that smoky, rich flavor without the bacon or steak. Whether you use meat or not, the seasonings should be adjusted as the chili cooks; and you may add more or fewer chiles to regulate the heat.

Speaking of pepper

Aleppo pepper is a smoky, cumin-like pepper from Syria that is crushed and used like chili powder. It has a little more heat and depth than the chili powder, so I use a combination of both.

Double the recipe if you like and divide into freezer bags for an easy lunch or dinner. Serve with chunks of bread or cornbread and big bowls filled with condiments. Eat well.

Cowboy Style Chili with Beans


  • ¼ pound smoky bacon
  • 2 pounds sirloin steak, either ground or diced into ½” pieces
  • canola or vegetable oil, if necessary
  • sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 large or 2 medium brown onions, diced
  • 1 each red and green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground espresso coffee
  • 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili pepper, or more to taste
  • ½ tablespoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed roma tomatoes with juice
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Optional Toppings

  • sour cream
  • cheddar or cheddar / Monterey Jack blend cheese
  • sliced jalapeños
  • diced onion


  1. On the stove top, using a slow cooker insert or a Dutch oven, cook bacon until crispy, remove and drain on paper towels.
  2. Add sirloin to the pan while the bacon drippings are still hot. Don’t crowd the meat or it won’t brown, so do this in two steps if necessary. Season with a sprinkle of sea salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper; remove meat and set aside.
  3. If needed, add enough canola or vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add bell peppers and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and stir briefly.
  4. Chop or crumble the bacon and add it the pan. Return the browned meat to the pan. Add the coffee and spices and cook, stirring until the mixture is coated well and it becomes fragrant.
  5. If using a slow cooker: Replace insert into the housing now and add remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
    If using a Dutch oven: Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat for 3-4 hours.

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