5 Award-Winning Chili Recipes

Mix up your own International Chili Society World Champion recipe and get a taste of cookoff victory
Giants Tailgate Chili Too (left) and Joe’s Jet Lag Homestyle Chili (right)

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

There’s nothing like a steaming bowl of chili to warm you up on a cold day. It’s also the perfect thing for game-watching, binge watching, or just any wintry day. Legend may have it that a range cook working along the Texas Trail invented chili during the 19th century cattle drives, or that the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans prepared mixtures of meat, beans, peppers and herbs long before that. But no matter where it originated, you can’t argue that chili is a great way to spice up your meals.

You probably have your go-to way of mixing up a pot of chili, but you can up your game and get a taste of award-winning recipes by some folks who take their chili-making very seriously—members of the International Chili Society (ICS), who call themselves “Chiliheads.”

Chili peppers and chili powder are key ingredients in the recipes, and from there, seasonings vary by taste and imagination. Many recipes considered to be “true” chili are made with different cuts of beef while others are made with ground beef, pork, chicken, turkey or only vegetables. Some Chiliheads feel true chili does not include beans. The ICS official regulations agree that traditional red chili is any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of beans and pasta, which are strictly forbidden. The homestyle category loosens the parameters so that chili can be any color and beans are allowed. There is also the verde category, which mixes it up with green chili peppers.

Why Timed Spicing?

You’ll notice these award-winning chili recipes add spices throughout the cooking process. If you are tempted to skip that process and dump them in all at once, think again. “You can lose good chili flavor with cooking your pot over a long period of time,” says Diane Lenz, 2019 Traditional Red World Champion for her Belle Breezing Bordello Chili. So she adds a small amount at the beginning of cooking to instill some flavor into the meat as it tenderizes during the cooking process, and then adds most of her chili powder during the last hour of cooking, giving it time to impart all the flavors. “Also, you don’t want to add cumin at the beginning of cooking your chili as it could turn bitter,” she cautions. “The last small amount of chili powder added 30 minutes until finished gives an extra little kick of flavor.” She also likes to finish it with a squeeze of lime.

What is the International Chili Society?

Back in 1967, a group of friends started a “friendly” chili competition in Terlingua, Texas, since each thought that he made the best chili and wanted to prove it. In 2020, the World Food Championships officially acquired the International Chili Society to further its brand in the Food Sport world. Any time of year, rain or shine, the ICS sanctions and regulates hundreds of cookoffs across the country with cooking categories of Traditional Red, Homestyle, Chili Verde, Veggie and Youth Division. Chiliheads compete in ICS cook-offs throughout each cooking season in hopes of qualifying for the grand competition each fall when they determine the World Champions at the ICS World Championship Chili Cookoff. In addition to prize money, trophies and bragging rights for the winners, the ICS’s mission is to continuously improve chili while raising money for charities and nonprofits year round. Close to $100 million has been raised and donated to date.

Take a look at this selection of recent winning recipes from different categories here, which we featured in Real Food magazine, and get a taste of what it takes to make a champion fiery ambrosia.

Giants Tailgate Chili Too

Makes about 8 Servings (Pictured above, upper left)
Recipe by Joseph Callahan of Summit, New Jersey, 2017 Homestyle World Champion

Spice Mix
5 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons jalapeño powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons white pepper

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs
1 pound boneless pork spare ribs
vegetable oil, for cooking
10 to 12 tomatillos
2 poblano peppers
2 long hot peppers
1 large (or 2 small) onions, diced
1 (8-ounce) can diced green peppers
12 ounces Goya Sofrito or other seasoned tomato cooking base sauce
2 quarts chicken stock
2 (16-ounce) cans pinto beans

shredded cheddar cheese, for serving (optional)
diced onion, for serving (optional)

  1. For the Spice Mix: Place all the spices in a small container, mix together and set aside.
  2. Wash chicken thighs and pork spare ribs under cold water. Remove any extra fat (some fat is good; too much is not). Cut meat into small cubes, keeping chicken and pork separate.
  3. In a large frying pan, add vegetable oil and sauté chicken for about 5 minutes or until the meat is white in color. Drain meat and wash in cold water. Repeat the same process for the pork.
  4. Dice the tomatillos, peppers and onions.
  5. In a large pot, add some vegetable oil and sauté tomatillos, peppers and onions until about half their original size.
  6. Mix in about half of the spice mix and cook 5 minutes.
  7. Add the can diced green peppers, meat, Goya Sofrito, chicken stock and half of the remaining spices. Cook over low to medium heat for about 1½ hours.
  8. Add remaining spice mix and pinto beans. Reduce heat to low and cook another ½ hour.
  9. Let it sit off heat for about 1 hour and check spice level. At this point you can add more if needed. Always remember you can add heat but you cannot take it out.
  10. Return to low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, then serve as is or top with cheddar cheese and onions, if desired. Corn bread would go nicely with this dish.

Editor’s Note: Callahan shared one of his award-winning secrets: Pre-spice the beans. Drain the beans, then add some of the spice mix and toss into the beans so that all of them are coated. Let mixture rest for up to 3 to 4 hours before beginning to make the chili, then add per recipe instructions.

Joe’s Jet Lag Homestyle Chili

Makes about 8 Servings (Pictured above, lower right)
Recipe by Joe Harter of Leesburg, Virginia, 2016 Homestyle World Champion

3 pounds beef, chili grind

For the Broth
1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
1 (14-ounce) can chicken broth
4 ounces tomato sauce

Spice Mix 1
2 tablespoons ground red chili pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground pepper

Spice Mix 2
3 tablespoons ground red chili pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
½ teaspoon oregano

Spice Mix 3
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons cumin
1 mini brick (about 4 ounces) Velveeta Cheese Original

hot sauce, to taste
salt, to taste

  1. Place ingredients for the broth mixture in a large pot.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the beef and then add to the broth along with Spice Mix 1. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 1 hour.
  3. Add Spice Mix 2 and simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Add Spice Mix 3 and simmer for 45 minutes.
  5. Add the cheese and simmer about 15 minutes, and then stir to mix. Use the hot sauce and salt to taste.
Belle Breezing Bordello Chili

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Belle Breezing Bordello Chili

Makes about 8 Servings
Recipe by Diane Lentz of Nicholasville, Kentucky, 2019 Traditional Red World Champion

1 (14.5-ounce) can chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can beef broth
1 (10.75-ounce) can tomato purée, divided
2-ounce boneless pork rib piece
1 jalapeño pepper

Spice Mix 1
1 tablespoon Ancho chili powder
1½ tablespoons chili powder
3 pounds beef tri tip, cubed
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

Spice Mix 2
½ tablespoon paprika
½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper
3½ tablespoons chili powder
4 tablespoons Reno Red chili powder (See Cook’s Note)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons cumin

½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 packet (1½ teaspoons) Sazon Goya with annatto
½ tablespoon brown sugar
lime juice, optional

  1. Combine chicken broth, beef broth, half of the tomato purée, pork piece, whole jalapeño and Spice Mix 1 in chili pot and heat over medium heat, about 10 minutes, while you are browning the meat.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, brown the meat in three batches in 1 tablespoon of canola oil per batch. Drain, rinse the meat with water and add to the chili pot. Cook mixture until the meat becomes tender, checking after 1 hour and every 20 minutes after that for a total of about 1 to 1½ hours.
  3. Combine all Spice Mix 2 ingredients and remove 2½ tablespoons of the mixture, setting it aside to be used as Spice Mix 3.
  4. Remove pork piece from chili pot and discard (See Cook’s Notes) and add 4 tablespoons of Spice Mix 2. Simmer for about 1 hour and then add the rest of Spice Mix 2, vinegar, Sazon Goya, remaining tomato purée and brown sugar. Keep mixture at a low bubble boil for 20 minutes; this blends the flavors of the spices without cooking them out.
  5. Add the reserved Spice Mix 3 and simmer for 30 minutes. Check your salt level and the liquid amount, making any adjustments as desired. If it’s too thick, add some additional broth or water. If it’s too thin, mix 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and stir into chili. Add a squirt of fresh lime juice, if desired. Remove whole jalapeño pepper and squeeze its juice into chili, if desired, then discard.

Cook’s Notes:
• If Reno Red chili powder is not available, substitute regular chili powder.
• The pork piece adds flavor and smooths out chili powders. After removing from chili pot, eat or save for another use.

George’s Chili Gang Homestyle Chili

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

George’s Chili Gang Homestyle Chili

Makes about 8 (2-cup) Servings
Recipe by George Rives of Eolia, Missouri, 2018 Homestyle World Champion

For the Meat Mixture
½ pound mild pork sausage
3 pounds ground beef, divided
vegetable oil, for cooking
1 teaspoon ground white pepper, divided
1 teaspoon Accent seasoning, divided

2 small onions, chopped
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 (4-ounce) can whole green chile, chopped finely
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
2 (14-ounce) cans chicken broth
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can hot tomato sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (27-ounce) can Bush’s pinto chili beans

Spice Mix
6 tablespoons (or 2 1.5-ounce packets) chili seasoning mix, such as Chilli Man or other brand
4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons cayenne powder

1½ tablespoons arrow root, for thickening, if needed
sea salt, to taste

  1. For the first batch of meat, brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, then add half of the ground beef, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper, ½ teaspoon Accent seasoning and oil. Brown and drain and set aside on paper towel.
  2. To a chili pot, add the chopped onions, jalapeños, green chilies, tomato sauce, beef broth, chicken broth and ¾ of the spice mix. Bring to a boil then add the first batch of cooked meat mixture. Continue cooking on low heat.
  3. In the large skillet, brown the second half of ground beef, ½ teaspoon ground white pepper and ½ teaspoon Accent seasoning. Drain the grease, add meat mixture to chili pot and simmer for 2 hours.
  4. Add Tabasco, brown sugar, remaining chili spices, hot tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cook for 30 minutes or until meat is tender. Adjust chili gravy with additional chicken broth to thin or arrow root mixed with 2 tablespoons of water, as necessary/desired. Add beans 15 minutes before serving. Salt to taste.
Chuck’s Outlaw Verde

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Chuck’s Outlaw Verde

Makes about 8 Servings
Recipe by Chuck McCrory of Crowley, Texas, 2018 Chili Verde World Champion

2 pounds pork, cubed
2 (14-ounce) cans chicken broth, divided

Spice Mix
3 tablespoons cumin
3 tablespoons Hatch green chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon oregano

5 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
1 (28-ounce) can Hatch whole green
chilies (juice drained), seeded and chopped
8 ounces Hatch green chile enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

  1. Braise the cubed pork in 1 can of chicken broth and set aside
  2. For the Spice Mix: In a small bowl, mix cumin, green chili powder, salt and oregano and set aside.
  3. Blend chopped jalapeños, chopped Hatch chilies and green enchilada sauce, divide in three equal parts and set aside.
  4. Combine 1 can of chicken broth, onion, and garlic in cooking pot and heat until onion is translucent.
  5. Add 1/3 reserved blended pepper mix, pork with braising liquid, and 1½ tablespoons Spice Mix. Cook on medium heat for 1 hour.
  6. Add another 1/3 blended jalapeños, 1½ tablespoons Spice Mix. Continue cooking for 1 hour and then add the last 1/3 of blended jalapeños and remaining Spice Mix. Cook for 30 minutes then serve.

Nutrition info (per serving)
• Giants Tailgate Chili Too: Calories 634; Fat 29g (Sat. 9g); Chol 215mg; Sodium 903mg; Carb 35g; Fiber 9g; Added Sugars 0g; Protein 61g
• Joe’s Jet Lag Homestyle Chili: Calories 382; Fat 23g (Sat. 9g); Chol 106mg; Sodium 801mg; Carb 9g; Fiber 3g; Added Sugars 0g; Protein 37g
• Belle Breezing Bordello Chili: Calories 284; Fat 9g (Sat. 3g); Chol 102mg; Sodium 1468mg; Carb 11g; Fiber 5g; Added Sugars 1g; Protein 43g
• George’s Chili Gang Homestyle Chili: Calories 528; Fat 25g (Sat. 8g); Chol 115mg; Sodium 2005mg; Carb 34g; Fiber 10g; Added Sugars 3g; Protein 44g
• Chuck’s Outlaw Verde: Calories 245; Fat 11g (Sat. 3g); Chol 74mg; Sodium 1847mg; Carb 10g; Fiber 3g; Added Sugars 0g; Protein 27g


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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.