What is Chili? A Guide to Origins, Variations, and Accompaniments

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 27, 2022

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Chili con carne (; ), commonly known in American English as simply “chili”, is a spicy stew containing chili peppers, meat (usually beef), and often tomatoes and beans. Other seasonings may include garlic, onions, and cumin. Variations, both geographic and personal, involve different types of meat and ingredients. Recipes provoke disputes among aficionados, some of whom insist that the word “chili” applies only to the basic dish, without beans and tomatoes. Chili is a frequent dish for cook-offs, and is used as an ingredient in other dishes.

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about chili.

What is chili

The Fiery Dish: Everything You Need to Know About Chili

Chili is a spicy dish that is prepared with meat, usually beef, and chili peppers. The dish is commonly referred to as chili con carne, which means “chili with meat.” The dish is typically prepared with a mix of ingredients, including tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cumin. Pinto or kidney beans are also commonly included in the recipe.

Origins and History

Chili originated in northern Mexico or southern Texas, and it has been a popular dish in America for many years. The dish was popularized in the early 1900s and has since become a staple in American cuisine. According to some sources, chili was first produced by people who needed a way to store and transport meat. They would dry the meat and then grind it into small pieces, which could be stored for days or even weeks.


There are many different versions of chili, and the dish can be prepared in a variety of ways. Some people prefer their chili to be loaded with meat, while others prefer a vegetarian version. Turkey is also a popular meat choice for chili. The dish can be prepared with a range of different spices and seasonings, and it can be made to be as hot or as mild as you like.


The ingredients used in chili can vary depending on the particular recipe being used. However, some of the most commonly used ingredients include:

  • Beef or other meat
  • Chili peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Cumin
  • Pinto or kidney beans


The process of producing chili can be quite simple or quite complex, depending on the recipe being used. However, the basic steps involved in preparing chili include:

  • Cutting the meat into chunks or grinding it into small pieces
  • Adding the meat to a pot with water or broth
  • Adding the chili peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and other seasonings
  • Allowing the mixture to simmer for a period of time, typically several hours
  • Topping the chili with cheese, sour cream, or other toppings as desired

Importance and Role in American Food Culture

Chili has played a significant role in American food culture for many years. The dish is commonly served at sporting events, and it is a popular choice for tailgating parties. Chili cook-offs are also a common event in many parts of the country. Chili is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed in a variety of different ways, and it is loved by people of all ages.

The Spicy History of Chili: From Origins to Modern-Day Varieties

• In 1977, chili became the official state dish of Texas.

• The recipe for chili is considered a secret by many Texans.

• Availability of chili varies greatly, with different versions found in chains, local restaurants, and small parlors.

• Cincinnati-style chili is a variation that offers a unique way of cooking the dish.

• The dish is commonly served with rice or cornbread.

Modern-Day Varieties

• Today, there are hundreds of varieties of chili found around the world.

• Many restaurants offer chili as a featured dish, with a variety of accompaniments and additions.

• Common ingredients in chili include black beans, peppers, and a variety of meats.

• The heat level of chili can vary greatly, with some versions being highly spicy.

• Vegetarian and vegan versions of chili are also available.

• The popularity of chili has pushed it beyond its traditional Southern and Southwestern roots, with many Americans enjoying the dish as a quick and easy meal.

• The availability of pre-made chili mixes and canned chili has made it faster and easier to prepare at home.

• January 28th is National Chili Day in the United States.

• Chili cook-offs are a popular event, with participants competing to make the best chili.

• The dish is often described as consisting of a thick, hearty stew with a spicy kick.

The Many Faces of Chili: Exploring the Delicious Variations

Who says chili has to have meat? Vegetarian and vegan variations of chili are becoming increasingly popular, and they are just as delicious as their meaty counterparts. Here are some ingredients you can use to make a meatless chili:

  • Beans: black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, or a combination of these
  • Vegetables: onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, carrots, celery, or any other vegetables you like
  • Pumpkin: adding pumpkin to your chili will give it a unique flavor and texture
  • Potato: diced potatoes can add a nice texture and thickness to your chili

Regional Styles

Chili is a dish that has many regional variations, each with its own unique flavor and style. Here are some of the most popular regional styles of chili:

  • Texas-style chili: made with beef, chili peppers, onions, and spices, and usually served without beans
  • Cincinnati-style chili: a sweeter, milder chili made with ground beef, cinnamon, and cocoa powder, and usually served over spaghetti
  • New Mexico-style chili: made with New Mexico chili peppers, which have a smoky, earthy flavor, and often served with tortillas or sopapillas
  • Colorado-style chili: made with pork and chili peppers, and often served with beans and cheese

Texture and Flavor Variations

Chili is a dish that can be customized to suit your tastes, and there are many ways to add texture and flavor to your chili. Here are some ideas:

  • Meat: ground meat, diced meat, shredded meat, or a combination of these
  • Beans: whole beans, mashed beans, or a combination of these
  • Vegetables: diced vegetables, pureed vegetables, or a combination of these
  • Spices: add more or less of your favorite spices to adjust the flavor of your chili
  • Cheese: shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, or queso fresco can add a creamy texture to your chili

Chili is a dish that is endlessly customizable, and there are countless ways to make it your own. Whether you prefer a meaty chili or a meatless one, a spicy chili or a mild one, there is a variation of chili out there that is perfect for you.

Spice Up Your Chili: Accompaniments and Additions

  • Rice: A bowl of steaming rice is the perfect side dish to serve with chili. It helps to round out the meal and allows people to control the level of spiciness by mixing it with the chili.
  • Onion: Chopped onion is a traditional topping for chili. It adds a nice sharp flavor and crunch to the dish.
  • Pickled Jalapeno: If you like your chili extra hot, add some pickled jalapenos. They provide a fiery kick and are a great way to improve the flavor of the dish.
  • Salad: A simple side salad is a nice way to balance out the spiciness of the chili. It’s also a great way to include some extra veggies in your meal.


  • Cheese: A cup of shredded cheese is the perfect topper for chili. It adds a nice cheesy flavor and helps to cool down the spiciness of the dish.
  • Homemade Guacamole: A dollop of homemade guacamole is an excellent addition to chili. It provides a nice creamy texture and a cool flavor that complements the spiciness of the chili.
  • Pico de Gallo: A mixture of chopped tomato, onion, and jalapeno, pico de gallo is a delicious topping for chili. It adds a nice freshness to the dish and is a great way to add some extra veggies.


  • Potato Chips: A bowl of potato chips is a great snack to serve with chili. It provides a nice crunch and is a great way to scoop up the chili.
  • Tortilla Chips: Similar to potato chips, tortilla chips are an ideal snack to serve with chili. They have a nice salty flavor and are a great way to add some extra texture to the dish.
  • Fries: If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial, serve your chili with a side of fries. It’s a nice way to add some extra carbs to the meal.


  • Cheesy Chili Sandwich: Spread some chili on a slice of bread and top it with a slice of cheese. Put it in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. It’s a delicious and easy way to enjoy chili.
  • Chili Cheese Fries: Top a plate of fries with some chili and shredded cheese. Put it in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. It’s a delicious and easy way to enjoy chili.

Chili: Not Just a Dish, But a Versatile Sauce

Chili is not just a dish, but a versatile sauce that can be used in a variety of ways. Here are some other dishes that can be made with chili:

  • Beef and Chili Pie: A savory pie made with a mixture of beef and chili, this dish is a popular dinner option in many countries. The chili sauce adds a unique and convenient flavor to the beef, making it a complete and balanced meal.
  • Chili Mac and Cheese: Adding a little bit of chili to your regular mac and cheese can take the dish to a whole new level. The hot and savory taste of the chili complements the cheesy goodness of the mac and cheese, making it an ideal lunch or dinner option.
  • Chili Stir Fry: A couple of tablespoons of chili sauce can bring a nice kick to your stir fry. Adding some vegetables and protein to the mix can make it a complete and balanced meal.
  • Chili Cheese Fries: Leftover chili can be used as a topping for fries, making it a popular dish in many local fast food chains. The combination of cheese and chili is incredibly savory and satisfying.
  • Chili Stuffed Peppers: Stuffing peppers with a mixture of beef and chili is an excellent way to use up leftover chili. The peppers provide a nice balance to the spicy chili mixture.

Methods of Preparation

There are many ways to prepare chili sauce for use in these dishes. Here are some popular methods:

  • Package Mix: Using a package mix is a convenient way to prepare chili sauce. Simply follow the instructions on the package and you’ll have a delicious sauce in no time.
  • Chopped Chili: Chopping up fresh chili peppers is a good way to add a little extra heat to your dishes. Be sure to wear gloves when handling the peppers to avoid getting burned.
  • Adding Chili Powder: Chili powder is a common ingredient in many chili sauces. Adding a little bit of chili powder to your dish can give it a nice kick.
  • Leftover Chili: Leftover chili can be used as a sauce for many dishes. Simply reheat the chili and use it as a topping or sauce.

Notes on Using Chili Sauce

Here are some things to keep in mind when using chili sauce:

  • Start Small: If you’re not a fan of spicy food, start with a small amount of chili sauce and work your way up.
  • Suitable Sides: When serving dishes with chili sauce, it’s important to choose sides that complement the spicy flavor. Rice, bread, and potatoes are all good options.
  • High in Protein: Many dishes made with chili sauce are high in protein, making them a good option for people who are looking to add more protein to their diet.
  • Long Shelf Life: Chili sauce has a long shelf life, making it a convenient ingredient to have on hand for quick and easy meals.

Chili sauce is a versatile and delicious ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Whether you’re making a savory pie or adding a little extra kick to your mac and cheese, chili sauce is a great way to add flavor and spice to your food.


So there you have it- the history, the ingredients, and the preparation of chili. It’s a spicy dish usually made with meat, beans, and peppers, and it’s a popular American food. You can enjoy it in a variety of ways, from chili fries to chili dogs, and it’s a great way to get some protein and fiber into your diet. So go ahead and give it a try!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.