Chili Rojo

Okay.  Simply utter the words “Southwestern Cuisine,” “Mexican,” or “Tex-Mex,” and I am so there.  And like many modern day dishes, “Texas Style Chili,” (also referred to as “Chili Con Carne,” (Mexican/Spanish for “Chili with beef”) here’s another one which has its roots in southwestern pioneer culture.  It most likely originated in the early pioneer open range days, especially connected to cattle trails and cattle drives, and it is a given when you say “Texas,” that it means “red.”  It certainly grew in popularity as an easy dish to prepare – I mean, if you’re in Texas and involved with cattle, you probably have the two major ingredients on hand – beef and chiles.  Most likely it was common fare among range cooks and cowhands, a stash of chiles in the chuckwagon, and an ample supply of beef at hand.  Imagine chaps-clad cowboys sitting around a range campfire with a “bowl of red” in their hands, and you’ll have a pretty good picture of the origins of this tasty dish.

Although Texans take their chili ingredients seriously, even so, opinions vary.  Classic Texas Chili is often referred to by Texas chili lovers as a “bowl of red.”  Meaning, it doesn’t typically include beans or tomatoes, but largely a couple of major ingredients,  namely, “beef, and “peppers,” and sometimes quite a variety of them.  True Texas chili aficionados wouldn’t dare to add beans to their “bowl of red,” but they might very well have them available as a side dish.  And chili-loving purists might go so far as to grind their own chile peppers, but the end results will all be very similar, a tasty bowl of lip-smacking chili goodness!

My take on this Texas classic includes beans and  tomatoes, as well as red onions and celery, and a few peppers added during the simmering process to enhance the overall flavor of this wonderful chili.  My apologies to true Texan chili lovers, but I feel like chili ought to taste like what you want it to taste like, with the ingredients that you like, and hence, my version of Will’s Texas-Style Chili. You could correctly call my version a “bowl of really dark red.”

I developed this recipe over the years, but it all began with Wick Fowler’s Famous 2 Alarm Chili Kit.  I used to call it “Will’s Simple Homemade Chili,” but I re-worked and tweaked the recipe a bit and felt the name “Chili Rojo,” (Spanish for “Red Chili”) represents the character of this dish more accurately. It is super easy-peasey to make, and is probably one of the greatest “leftover” dishes you will ever prepare.


When I first made this chili some years ago, Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kit was my starting point. According to the information on the packet,

“This 2 Alarm Chili Kit allows you to season to your own personal taste.  Make it as hot or as mild as you like.  Add as little or all of the red pepper seasoning to make it   This chili contains individual seasoning packets. (Chili pepper, corn masa flour, salt, onion, cumin, paprika, red pepper, oregano and garlic.)  Make it your own by adding chopped onions or green peppers when browning the meat.  You can always add kidney or pinto beans if you prefer or a can of diced tomatoes.  Top your chili off with shredded cheese or sour cream.”

Good advice, for sure.  You won’t go wrong following the package directions, but an even better idea is to add more of your favorite ingredients, or substitute some/all the recommended ones; whatever they might be, so as to create your own “signature chili,” one which has the ingredients, flavor, and taste that appeals to you and yours.

Their Recommended Ingredients:

2 lbs. of ground beef
1 – 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce
2 – 8 oz. can of water

 And, their instructions:

Brown 2 lbs. ground or cubed beef.  Drain off the fat.  Add the tomatoes, water and seasoning packet.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes or until meat is tender, stirring occasionally.  For thicker chili, stir Masa Flour packet into 1/4 cup warm water.  Stir into chili and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

Like all recipes, once you take a basic recipe and begin to add or modify the ingredients or instructions, you essentially “take ownership” of the recipe.  With appropriate thanks to those who have gone before you, as it were.


Alright then…we start with Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili Kit, but I add:

2 lbs. of ground beef

You can also use ground turkey or chicken if you prefer – I’ve made it with those ingredients too, and it comes out great whether beef, turkey, or chicken.  I like to use “market ground beef” from my local supermarket – it is a 75/25 % mixture of lean/fat, which provides a sufficient amount of flavor)


1 – 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

2 – 8 oz. cans of water

2 stalks of celery, sliced, 1/2 inch slices

1 medium Bermuda onion, sliced and separated

1 TBSP crushed red peppers

1 jalapeno pepper (optional)

1 habenero pepper (optional)

1 tsp McIlhenny’s Tabasco Pepper Hot Sauce

1-28oz can of Roma tomatoes (my preference, you can use any kind you like)

2-14.5oz cans dark red kidney beans, liquid included

Salt & pepper to taste



Brown beef in a 7 Qt Dutch oven or equivalent; (I also l-o-v-e my 8 Qt Tramontina and use them both frequently ).  Most instructions will tell you to drain the grease off.  I prefer to skip this step.  If you use a lean ground beef, the amount of fat/grease remaining will be minimal, and I consider it to be a major seasoning element.  So I don’t drain it.)




Add tomato sauce, water, and all of Wick Fowler’s seasoning packets except the masa flour – – paprika, cumin, onion flakes, garlic salt, chili powder, and red pepper.










Add  tomatoes, kidney beans, crushed red pepper, hot sauce, salt and pepper.


Use a potato masher to break up the tomatoes – or you can just wait for them to cook down a bit and break them up later.




Slice a jalapeno and a habanero pepper along one side, then skewer with a toothpick to make them easy to find and remove after the chili is done. They will add a nice little extra heat as well as a bit of additional flavor.  When the chili is done they can be easily removed (those toothpicks make them easy to find) – or, if you wish, and you like things spicy, just leave them in the chile, but don’t forget to remove the toothpicks. Alternatively, you can chop them up and add them to the chili if you plan on including them.



Cover and slowly bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 2 hours.  Stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes as you go if necessary.


Add celery, red onion, stir, and simmer for another 30-45 minutes, or until celery and onions are tender.



Note: I rarely ever use the last step recommended on the boxed instructions, as I like the consistency of the chili as it comes out without adding the masa flour.  Some folks like theirs a bit more thickened, and if you’re one of those, just go ahead and add the masa flour mixture thusly:

About 15 minutes before serving, dissolve the masa flour into 1/4 cup hot water to make a thick, but flowable mixture.  Stir the masa mixture into the chili. Cover and simmer another 15-20 minutes.


Serve hot with shredded cheddar cheese, diced onions, chives, sour cream for garnish and/or saltine crackers.
Keeps nicely in the fridge for 7-10 days or can also be easily frozen for future use.

If you would prefer to not use Wick Fowler’s Chili Kit, here’s my own list which breaks down the ingredients which are recommended in the Wick Fowler Kit as well as the contents of the individual spice packets:


2 lbs ground beef , ground for chili

1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce

2 cups water

Contents of the Spice Packs

2 teaspoons paprika

4 teaspoons cumin

1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 cup chili powder/chili pepper

1 teaspoon ground red pepper/cayenne

1/4 tsp dried oregano (crushed fine)

And, if you choose to use masa:

2 tablespoons masa harina flour

1/4 cup hot water

So…whether you use Wick Fowler’s 2 Alarm Chili Kit  – or – my own ingredient list – it’s your choice.  In either case it will form the foundation for your very own homemade tasty and delicious “Chili Rojo.”

Buon Provecho!







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