Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.

Grandmother’s Chili


Bowl of Chili con Carne, made of ground pork, ...

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One of my favorite things to eat when it’s cold outside is chili. Chili, the real deal, made with red meat. (Chicken chili and white chili are very good, but beef chili is my all time fav!


There is a lot of controversy surrounding the origins of chili as well as how to make the dish.  It all seems to come down to how you like to dress up your favorite chili recipe.  If you ask anyone for a chili recipe these days, chances are that you will get a different recipe from every person. 

I remember making a special trip to the Big City when Grandmother and Aunt Phyllis were getting ready to make it. They’d go to Mecca Coffee to buy the freshest spices–oregano, chili powder and cumin.

More from FCR–

All chili recipes have changed over time with new recipes being created on a daily basis.  But where did it all start?  There are people that believe in the 1840’s Texas cowboys pounded beef fat and dried beef with chili peppers and salt to make a sort of trail food for their treks to the gold fields. They would boil this concoction to make a dish they called chili.

A variation on the cowboy origins of chili recipes says that cowboys would plant oregano, chiles, and onions along their well travelled trails in patches of mesquite to keep foraging cattle from eating them. As they moved along the trails, they would harvest the spices, onions, and chiles and combine them with beef to create a chili recipe called “Trail Drive Chili”.

They mention several ways chili might have been invented. A Texas prison, the army, even Canary Island transplants.

The most plausible origin of chili came in 1828 when J.C. Clopper observed the poor people in San Antonio cutting what little meat they could afford into a has like consistency and stewing it together with as many pieces of peppers as pieces of meat.

So here’s Grandmother’s recipe–

4 or 5 pounds of hamburger (or chili) meat
1 chopped onion
1 large can of tomato juice
3/4 C chili powder
1 T oregano
1 T cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the hamburger and onion together until all the meat is browned and onion soft. Drain fat. (I usually put the cooked hamburger/onion in a colander and rinse the meat to get rid of as much fat as possible.)

Put the meat back in the big pot and add the spices, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well then add tomato juice and simmer for an hour or so before serving.

To make the chili a little spicier, I sometimes add a teaspoon or two of red pepper flakes (like for topping a pizza.)

That’s it–the world’s best chili (as far as I’m concerned, anyway.) The fresher the spices, the more flavorful the chili.

I’ve heard of people who make chili without any tomato products in it at all, but I’ve never tried it. I’m willing, though, if someone wants to bring over a bowl.

Do you have a favorite chili recipe? Does it have ground hamburger in it or are you a “healthy” or even vegetarian chili eater?

If you have a favorite chili recipe, why not post it in comments? I wonder how many different chili recipes are out there?   

Author: Susan Shay

For as long as I can remember, I've loved two things--reading and people--and that led me to become a writer. Many of my stories are set in Small Town Worlds. I'm a wife, mother, sibling and an aunt. I have a deep faith in God, and an exciting life in Christ. Maybe I shouldn't be (after all, he's God!) but I'm constantly amazed at the things He's up to. :)

18 thoughts on “Grandmother’s Chili

  1. Do you ever put beans in your chili. I almost always do.

    • No, I don’t, Terri. When Dad goes to Ike’s Chili in Tulsa, he always buys it with spagetti and beans (a three way) and I love it. But at home I don’t.

      I had a neighbor in Pryor Creek whose entire chili recipe was ground beef and a can of Bush’s Beans.
      She said people bragged on it and begged for her recipe. OY! I figured they just wanted to know what in the world made it taste like that. LOL.

  2. I have Grandmother’s chili recipe – my mom gave it to me when I got married. I love to make it. Always reminds me of my childhood and family. I’m craving it now!

  3. This is the best, got recipe from Phyllis, & it’s in a church cookbook I have too. Thanks for all your comments about it.

    • I have a flip cook book Phyllis gave me once. I wonder if it’s in that one?

      Is it the recipe you use, Paula, or do you have a different one? If you do, why not post it here for me?

  4. Susan this is recipe that has been around long time and it may have been better in our memory than it really was. 🙂

    Brown Bean Chowder
    Tulsa Public Schools Recipe
    Serves 12


    1 lb. pinto beans
    2 Tbsp. chili powder
    1 ½ Tsp. salt

    1 lb. coarse ground beef
    ½ medium onion, chopped
    ½ Tsp garlic powder

    1 2/3 cups tomato puree
    1 Tbsp. chili powder
    1 Tbsp. salt
    Bread crumbs

    Cook beans in three quarts water (or more depending on dryness of beans. When beans are nearly done, add 2 Tbsp. chili powder and 1 ½ Tsp salt. While beans are cooking, combine meat, onion and garlic and brown in skillet, stirring frequently.

    Add 1 2/3 cups tomato puree, 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 Tbsp salt and bread crumbs Combine meat mixture and beans.

    May add more water for thickness desired or chili powder to season as needed.

  5. Susan,

    My chili recipe is kind of lame compared to all this tasty goodness.

    2 lbs ground beef, browned and drained
    3 cans Ranch Style Beans
    1 can diced/chunked tomatoes
    6 tablespoons chili powder

    If I want it hotter, I substitute a can of Rotel tomatoes with the chilis in them.


    • That sounds great!

      3 Questions:
      1-Do you need to let it simmer a while before eating or can you just chow down? 2- Is this a family recipe or a Sandee original?
      3- Can you get the ingredients in Tunisia or is it a “home” dish? (Is it too hot over there for chili?)
      So glad you came by! And I envy your time in the spa!

  6. I don’t love chili. I think I’m the only person I know who doesn’t. I make it about once a year, usually just a pretty basic coarse ground beef/onions/peppers/tomatoes/spices. (Or I substitute tiny cubes of chuck roast or sirloin.)

    On the rare occasions that I really want chili, I go to Ron’s in Tulsa or Sand Springs and get it there.

    • I don’t eat just chili, M. I like in Frito Chili Pie or chilidogs. Or use it in nachos.
      Did you like Ike’s the time we had it for RWI? I did!

      • I’m trying to remember . . . If I was there that day, I must have liked it because I don’t eat nothin’ I don’t like. 🙂

        When I do want chili, I just want chili, maybe a sprinkle of cheddar, a dollop of sour cream and crackers. I just don’t want it very often.


  8. Okay so I’ve been trying to thicken Grandmother’s recipe up for years now with no improvement. I switched from a can of juice to the equivalent amount of tomato sauce, etc. No luck. I then tweaked it a little more by pulling out a bit of the juice/sauce and adding that many ounces of ROTEL (usually mild). If it were just me I’d keep it that way, but when I cook for others I have to keep the heat down… Unlike M.O.M. (mean-old-mom), girls just don’t seem to like spicy food.

  9. Snow on the ground and CHILI FOR LUNCH. YUM!

I'm so glad you dropped by my Small Town World! Hope you'll leave a comment. I really enjoy hearing from you!

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