Different Types of Chili Across the United States

Chunky Turkey Chili
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As the weather turns cool, there's nothing cozier than cuddling up on the couch with a steaming bowl of chili, whether you prefer your stew with beef, turkey, or just beans. It's no wonder that crisp October is National Chili Month and National Chili Day falls on the usually frigid February 25th. Scroll through to learn more about the history and styles of three types of chili found across the United States and where to eat them.

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Texas: Chili Con Carne

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What It Is: Chili con carne is the essential chili.  In Texas, it is made with primarily two ingredients: beef and chili peppers. No tomatoes. No beans. That's not the Texan way.  Food writer John Thorne in Simple Cooking explained that,  "It can only truly be Texas Red if it walks the thin line just this side of indigestibility: Damning the mouth that eats it and defying the stomach to digest it, the ingredients are hardly willing to lie in the same pot together."

Origins:  The origins of chili con carne are about as murky as the good stew. Did the Pueblos first invent chili over 2,000 years ago and pass that tradition down to the Navajos and the Ute Native Americans? That's the theory propounded by ‚ÄčRudy Valdez, a member of the Ute Native American tribe, who won the 1976 World Chili Championship using a 2,000-year-old recipe, handed down to him by his 102-year-old grandmother who credited her longevity to chili.  

Or, was it developed by cowboys trekking from Texas to California who carried dehydrated bricks of chili pepper which could be boiled with fresh beef they butchered on the rail? That's the theory propounded by Everette DeGolyer, millionaire historian, geologist, and chili aficionado, who called chili the "pemmican of the Southwest."  

Either way, chili soon grew to fame and became a staple recipe of Texans, eventually recognized as Texas' official state dish in 1977.

Where to Eat It:  Casa Rio in San Antonio, which has been serving up chili con carne since 1947. Or, Tolbert's Restaurant in Grapevine, Texas, which is famous for their Bowl of Red.  

Recipe at Home: While there are numerous recipes for chili con carne across the Internet and chili purists argue that there is no such thing as a "perfect recipe" because chili con carne is always changing depending upon the heat of the particular chiles, I like this rendition at Serious Eats.

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Ohio: Cincinnati Five Way Chili

An appetizing view of freshly cooked Cincinnati Chili
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What It Is: This milder chili is made with Greek-style ingredients, like cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. Diners order it in a number of ways, namely:

  • Bowl: chili, straight up
  • Two-way: chili and spaghetti
  • Three-way: chili, spaghetti, and cheese
  • Four-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
  • Five-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans

Origins: In 1922, Macedonian immigrant Tom Athanas Kiradjieff opened the Empress' chili parlor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since his customer base was primarily Germans, who found paprika to be spicy, he started selling "chili spaghetti," which combined Greek spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, to chili powder and ground meat, a riff on the already popular chili con carne sold in Texas. The concoction was a hit and soon spawned other chili parlors around the city. Even now, Cincinnati has more chili parlors per square mile than any other city in the United States.

Where to Eat It: Skyline Chili, which was started by one of Empress' former employees, in 1949.

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Illinois: Springfield Style Chilli


What It Is: This greasy and milder rendition of chili is made with ground beef, beans, and suet.  It is often served over a hot dog bun.

Origins: In 1914, Port DaFrates went from Springfield, Illinois to Dallas, Texas and tried Texan chili. He brought the recipe back home to Springfield where his brother Ray started making the chili and selling it in jars at his local grocery store. The DaFrates brothers named it "chilli" with two "l"s because that was an alternative spelling. It is still the spelling used in Illinois.

Where to Eat It:  Dew Chilli Parlor, Springfield, Illinois, serves up chilli made from a 1909 recipe.

Recipe at Home: Try this Cooking Light version of Springfield chilli.

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