The word "chili" means very different things to different people.

By Lia Picard
September 25, 2019
Steven Mark Needham/Getty Images

Football season and chili go hand in hand. But what kind of chili, exactly? It’s no surprise that a country as diverse as the United States would be home to different kinds of chili. Of course, it usually comes down to: beans or no beans? According to the International Chili Society, created in 1967 to govern the World Championship Chili Cook-Off, a traditional red chili may have any meat (or combination of meats), red chili peppers, and spices. No beans are allowed. In a homestyle chili, though, there can be meat (or meats), beans, and other veggies. Those might be their rules, but every region follows their own. Before you grab your pot and turn on the stove, check out this regional chili primer.

Texas Chili

You won’t find beans in Texas chili. Chili, here, is short for chile con carne, which is a stew of beef (ground or chuck), chile paste, spices, and tomatoes (optional). The roots of this dish go back to the mid-1800s where women known as the Chili Queens of San Antonio would serve up chili in Military Plaza. There are different variations of Texas chili, like this one made with brisket or this deliciousness made with flank steak and cocoa powder. Just remember, no beans! Don’t mess with Texas chili.

Cincinnati Chili

If you order a bowl of Cincinnati chili expecting it to be like chili con carne… you’ll be sorely disappointed. Instead, go into it prepared, and appreciate it for what it is. In his book, The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, author Dann Woellert says that Cincinnati chili’s roots go back to 1922. It was then that Tom and John Kiradjieff, brothers from Macedonia, developed their recipe and served it out of a burlesque theater. They opened Empress Chili, and now the dish is served at several chili parlors, like Skyline, in Cincinnati and beyond.

Cincinnati chili has a sauce-like consistency and is made with ground beef, stock (or water), tomato paste, and a blend of spices that include cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and cumin. It’s usually served three way: over spaghetti and topped with shredded cheese. Sometimes beans or onions are added, making it a four or five way.

Watch: How to Make Easy Chili

Chile Verde

A New Mexican staple, chile verde is aptly named thanks to its green hue. This variation is made by simmering pork with tomatillos and green chili peppers. The tomatillos add a nice tartness, while the green chili peppers add a good dose of heat.

Homestyle Chili

When most of us (outside of Texas and Cincinnati) think of chili, we’re thinking about homestyle chili. The mix of ingredients varies, but you’ll almost definitely find a ground protein (typically beef for carnivores), beans, spices (like chile powder and cayenne), and tomatoes in it. Sometimes you’ll find corn and black beans in it for a Southwestern twist, or sometimes it’ll have pinto and kidney beans. There’s no prescribed way to enjoy homestyle chili, but you can’t go wrong ladling some over a baked potato or eating it directly from the pot.

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