The Winning Recipe from MeatEater’s Chili Cook-Off

by Braxton Taylor

I’ll immediately get my bragging out of the way: The contest organizer said that I won “in a landslide.” According to her, “Everyone that tried chili voted for yours.” I’m going to be riding that high until next year’s competition.

Now that that’s out of my system, let me tell you about the recipe.

I think there are two things that make this chili unique. The first is that I use hot Italian sausage instead of plain burger. A lot of the herbs and spices in Italian sausage, like black pepper, red pepper, paprika, onion, and garlic, are familiar chili ingredients. By using sausage in your chili, you’re getting a head start on the flavor-making process.

The second thing that makes this recipe different is the can of maple baked beans. I got this hot tip from a deer hunter in Kentucky back in 2016. That good ol’ boy told me that his wife regularly wins their church’s chili cook-off and that her secret ingredient is baked beans. Since that day, I haven’t made a pot of chili without a can of baked beans in it.

The rest of the ingredients are pretty traditional chili components and allow a lot of room for personal preference. Want it spicier? Double the amount of ancho chili powder. Want it sweeter? Add another spoonful of brown sugar. Want it thicker? Only use a cup of broth. Change nothing at all? You’ll have a bowl of award-winning chili.

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