The Best Chili Ever

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

The Best Chili Ever

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

The ultimate chili should:

  • Have a rich, complex chili flavor that combines sweet, bitter, hot, fresh, and fruity elements in balance.
  • Have a robust, meaty, beefy flavor.
  • Assuming that it contains beans, have beans that are tender, creamy, and intact.
  • Be bound together by a thick, deep red sauce.

To achieve these goals, I decided to break down the chili into its distinct elements—the chilies, the beef, the beans, and the flavorings—perfecting each one before putting them all together in one big happy pot.

  • Yield:serves 6 to 10
  • Active time: 2 hours
  • Total time:6 hours plus overnight to soak beans
  • Rated:


  • 1 pound dried dark red kidney beans
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 quarts water
  • 3 whole Ancho, Pasilla, or Mulato chilies, seeded, and torn into rough 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 2 whole New Mexico red, California, Costeño, or Choricero chilies, seeded, and torn into rough 1-inch pieces (about 1/8 ounce)
  • 1 whole Cascabel, Arbol, or Pequin chili, seeded, and torn in half
  • 5 pounds bone-in beef short rib, trimmed of silverskin and excess fat
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth (preferably home made), divided
  • 2 whole anchovy filets
  • 1 teaspoon marmite
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds, toasted, then ground
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, toasted, then ground
  • 2 whole cloves, toasted and ground
  • 1 star anise, toasted and ground
  • 1 tablespoon extra-finely ground coffee beans
  • 1 ounce chopped unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced fine (about 1.5 cups)
  • 3 fresh Thai bird chiles or 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup vodka or bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon Buffalo-style hot sauce, such as Franks RedHot (or more to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • For the Garnish (all suggestions optional):>
  • Scallions, sliced fine
  • Cheddar, Jack, or Colby cheese, grated
  • Sour cream
  • Jalapeño or poblano peppers, diced and seeded
  • Onion, diced
  • Avocado, diced
  • Saltines
  • Fritos


  1. 1.

    Place beans, 6 tablespoons kosher salt (or 3 tablespoons table salt), and water in large plastic container or bowl. Allow to soak at room temperature at least 8 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse soaked beans.

  2. 2.

    Add dried chiles to large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or stock pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly darkened with intense, roasted aroma, 2 to 5 minutes. Do not allow to smoke. Remove chiles to small bowl and set aside. Alternatively, place dried chilies on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power in 15-second increments until pliable and toasted-smelling, about 30 seconds total.

  3. 3.

    Season short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. Add oil to Dutch oven and heat over high heat until smoking. Add half of short ribs and brown well on all sides (it may be necessary to brown ribs in three batches, depending on size of Dutch oven—do not overcrowd pan), 8 to 12 minutes total, reducing heat if fat begins to smoke excessively or meat begins to burn. Transfer to large rimmed baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining short ribs, browning them in fat remaining in Dutch oven. Once all short ribs are cooked, transfer all rendered fat into small bowl and reserve separately. Allow short ribs to cool at room temperature.

  4. 4.

    Meanwhile, return Dutch oven to medium-high heat and add 1 cup chicken broth, using flat wooden spoon or stiff spatula to scrape browned bits off of bottom of pan. Reduce heat until chicken broth is at a bare simmer, add toasted chiles to liquid and cook until chiles have softened and liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer chiles and liquid to blender, add anchovy, marmite, soy sauce, tomato paste, ground spices, coffee, and chocolate, and blend at high speed, scraping down sides as necessary, until completely smooth puree is formed, about 2 minutes. Set chile puree aside.

  5. 5.

    Trim meat from short ribs bones and hand-chop into rough, 1/2-inch to 1/4-inch pieces (finer or larger, if you prefer), reserving bones separately. Add any accumulated meat juices to chili puree.

  6. 6.

    Heat 4 tablespoons rendered beef fat (if necessary, add vegetable oil to reach 4 tablespoons) in large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add fresh chiles, garlic, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chile puree and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot until chile mixture begins to fry and leaves a coating on bottom of pan, 2 to 4 minutes. Add chicken stock, chopped beef, beef bones, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, scraping bottom of pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting, add beans, and cook, with cover slightly ajar, until beans are almost tender, about 1 hour. Add crushed tomatoes and cider vinegar and cook with cover slightly ajar until beans and beef are fully tender and broth is rich and lightly thickened, 2 to 3 1/2 hours longer, adding water if necessary to keep beans and meat mostly submerged (a little protrusion is ok).

  7. 7.

    Using tongs, remove and discard bay leaves and bones (at this point, any excess meat still attached to the bones can be removed, chopped, and added back to the chili, if desired). Add vodka (or bourbon), hot sauce, and brown sugar, and stir to combine. Season to taste with kosher salt, ground black pepper, and additional vinegar

  8. 8.

    Serve immediately, or for best flavor, allow to cool and refrigerate overnight, or up to 1 week in sealed container. Reheat, and serve with desired garnishes.