My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off

My award-winning chili is an in-depth recipe, to say the least, but go big or go home, right? The slow-cook style of this yields chunks of beef that will fall off your fork, so get the cornbread, cheddar and cilantro ready. 

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
Whose would be declared the award-winning chili?

It was time for the Pattison Family’s Third Annual Chili Cook Off, a festivity that started as a way to commemorate Mama Pattison’s birthday and her noteworthy chili (but then she veered from her classic recipe and ended up losing what should have been a shoo-in). For the first two years, I took an impartial backseat. I doled out the chilis, made sure the competitive clan didn’t cheat, tallied the stats and announced the winners and the loser (it always seems to be the Rustbelt Farmer… poor guy). BUT this year, I decided enough was enough, and I entered the ring!

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
Cups ready to be filled with competition chili samples for the judges. 

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

Fun Fact #1: I’m SUPER competitive.

This little tidbit might not be apparent in my writing, but spend five minutes with me, and I’m sure you’ll get the drift. Play Taboo or Clue with me, and you’ll definitely get the drift! I’m also super into food, so food + competition is a recipe for “stay the f*$k out of my way!” I took my self-declared competition entry all too seriously. I began researching the roots of chili, regional varieties, what technically makes chili chili while revisiting more classic French techniques behind peasant foods like my favorite boeuf bourguignon. Then I spent way too much money on ingredients and created a long recipe which I expect none of you will actually make, but I will nonetheless immortalize it here.

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

Fun Fact #2: We take this competition pretty seriously.

The chili is served anonymously by someone who isn’t competing, so there’s no bias. We tally points so there’s an overall winner and categoric winners: flavor, texture, etc. The debates get as heated as the chili because there’s a coveted spoon to be earned. I did argue for adding a “Most Improved” award because I will hand it to the Rustbelt Farmer. After two years of throwing almost every ingredient from our pantry into a pot, burning all those ingredients until the scent of scorching tomatoes and spices reminded him of the pot on the stovetop, and then landing himself in last place (rightfully so), he really upped his game this year. Though, I will say, he did have a stellar role model in yours truly. 

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

Fun Fact #3: I’m not that into chili. 

More often than not, chili feels like eating gruel- just spoonful after spoonful of a hot spice blend masking any and all subtleties. It starts to feel like work to eat it, like I simply have to shovel spoonfuls of spice into my mouth for sustenance. So as I dove into my recipe, my main goal was nuance. I wanted layers of spices and flavors, so eating wouldn’t feel like a chore that results in stomach rumblings and regret.

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
Likes avocados. Doesn’t understand all the chili fuss.

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

and lastly…

The Not-So-Fun Fact: I didn’t win!

AND THAT’S OUTRAGEOUS! The beef was so tender, it fell off the fork. The lentils and split peas were crisp and added a crunch. The dark chocolate added a subtle bitter contrast to the spices. Split peas really threw this crowd, so I did walk away with “Most Unique” chili, which is cool and all, but it’s not first place. 

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
Reigning Chili Cook Off Champion and recipient of the trophy spoon
My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
Her face says it all, “we demand a recount!”


My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
I know in my heart it really was award-winning chili

However, since you readers probably have a more discerning palate when it comes to chili, I will share with you my painstaking, should-have-been, award-winning chili, and I will even give a little kudos to my fellow, which I only do when deserved. This year, I fully admit, he got jipped! (But in past years, he definitely deserved to lose!)

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //
The tenderness of the beef is what should have sealed the deal for this award-winning chili.

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

Next year, I’m throwing two jars of salsa and a chicken in a crockpot and calling it done. So here you have it… quite possibly the only chili recipe you’ll ever find on this blog. Where do you stand? Are you pro chili? Do you have any award-winning chili secrets?


Quelcy’s Award-Winning Chili

About this Recipe: This recipe is in-depth to say the least, but it actually made me like chili a little more. I relied heavily on this guide from the New York Times, as well as techniques used in my Boeuf Bourguignon. The recipe calls for both fresh toasted whole cumin and coriander, as well as the ground varieties you probably have in your pantry. Fresh toasting and grinding of the whole spices yields such a rich aroma while cooking. I prepared the split peas and lentils separately to maintain an extra crunch and add more texture. I highly recommend a trip to the co-op bulk bins to gather spices for this recipe, and freezing some mason jars because this recipe makes one big batch of chili. 


1 Tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 ½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds

4 pounds grass-fed beef chuck roast
1/2 cup + 3 Tablespoons cornmeal, divided
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
Dried ground cumin
Dried ground coriander

4 slices bacon (1/4 pound), cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
4 to 7 large fresh green jalapeños(depending on how much heat you like), stemmed, seeded and chopped

2 Tablespoons ground pure chile powder
2 Tablespoons smoked paprika
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 (22-ounce) bottle Guinness
2 28-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, chopped
7 oz tomato paste
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2-3 whole dried large red chiles, such as New Mexico or guajillo

For the Split Peas

1 cup Green Split Peas
1 cup lentils
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
Apple cider vinegar, to taste

For Serving:

Grated cheddar
chopped fresh cilantro
Sour cream or Greek yogurt (not shown)


In a small heavy skillet, toast cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant. In a mortar and pestle, or Magic Bullet, grind to a powder and set aside.

Meanwhile, roughly cut beef into 2-inch cubes, or slice it against the grain into pieces about 1/4-inch thick by 1 1/2 inches square.

Season beef generously with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, dredge beef in ½ cup cornmeal and ground cumin and coriander (not the toasted/fresh spices- those come into play later), shaking off excess.

In a 6-to-8-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, cook bacon, uncovered over medium-low heat until browned, 10 to 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate; set aside. Reserve bacon fat.

Raise heat to medium. Working in 2-3 batches, brown beef in bacon fat on all sides, without crowding, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer each batch to a bowl.

To the empty but crusty pot, add onion, garlic, jalapeños, 3 Tablespoons cornmeal, chile powder, toasted and ground cumin-coriander powder mix, smoked paprika, and oregano. Cook, stirring, until onion has softened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add meat, beer, fire-roasted tomatoes, red bell pepper, tomato paste, chocolate, and whole dried chiles. Bring to a gentle simmer, and continue to simmer on low for 3 – 3 ½ hours, or until meat is fork-tender. Remove the dried chiles. Taste, and add salt if necessary.

Meanwhile, prepare the split peas and lentils:

Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a large saucepan of medium-high heat. Add the lentils and split peas. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Drain, then return to pot. Toss with apple cider vinegar, and set aside. Stir into the chili once the meat is fork-tender.

Serve immediately, or let cool and refrigerate. The chili tastes best one or two days after it is made.

Reheat over low heat if necessary and serve in bowls, sprinkled with cheddar and cilantro.

Go forth, and conquer!

p.s: How dapper is Atlas, aka Julep’s boyfriend?

My Award-Winning Chili & A Chili Cook Off //

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Alisha Walsh

    I’ve made this recipe many times. Now I just double it so I can freeze, and substitute the bacon with chorizo. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe.

Leave a Reply