Chile Con Carne

Start with as much meat as you plan to cook. I recommend you go to your meat market/butcher/whoever and buy the cheapest, toughest, driest meat they have to sell. Beef is traditional, but pork works, too. I've never tried any other meats in this, so if you do, you're on your own. Whatever you buy, make sure it has as close to zero fat content as you can get.

Once you've got your meat, you have two options for your next step:

  1. Get out your sharpest knife and cut it into pieces about the size of the end of your little finger, just like you would if you were doing stir-fry; or
  2. If you have a meat grinder, put the coarsest cutter you have on it and run the meat through it. Chile meat needs to be coarse for the best flavor and texture.

Take your cut-up meat and toss it into a cast iron pan, along with a handful of chile pods. I prefer fresh pods, but I've used dry and they work, too. Either way, if I can get Hatch chiles, they're my preference. If you're not sure the pan is seasoned well enough, add a hunk of bacon or fatback. I've never been able to make decent chile in anything other than cast iron, so if you try some other kind of pan, you're on your own.

Start off with high enough heat to warm the pan up fast, then turn it down to the lowest heat you can get out of your stove. If you're lucky enough to have a wood stove, find the spot on the stove that's just barely too hot to touch and set the pan there. Now start stirring. You need to cook the meat slow, so the juices can suck the goodness out of the chile pods and the whole mess can get real tender. You'll know the meat's tender enough when you can separate it with the back of your spoon. (I'm assuming, of course, that you're using a good heavy wooden spoon for this.)

Once your meat is tender enough, chop up some onions, garlic, and tomatoes. This is when you add the seasonings. I pretty much always use Mexican oregano, cumin, and cilantro. Other stuff goes into the pot if I'm inspired, but those are my default seasonings. You'll know when you have enough by the aroma. If you plan to use beans (see options), this is when you add them, too.

Once you've got everything in the pot you plan to add, stir it good a couple times and cover it. Now let it simmer until you can't stand waiting any longer. You'll want to use the time to make up a mess of cornbread to go with it.

After the chile's simmered a couple hours, if it's not thick enough to suit you, there's two ways I've used to thicken it:

  1. Chili powder. Just stir it in a little at a time until you've got the thickness you like. Since it comes in mild, medium, hot, and extra-hot grades, you can control how hot your chile is by which grade you use.
  2. Masa. If even mild chili powder is too hot for you, or you really love the taste of corn, get yourself some masa and make a thin slurry with cold water. Pour this in real slow, stirring constantly, until its thick enough.

Believe it or not, that's all there is to it.


Plain chile isn't to everyone's liking, so there's other things I've done, or folks I know have done, to jazz it up a bit.

Credits: This recipe's mine, all mine! (Bwahahahahaha...) I developed this recipe after watching lots of cowboy movies, talking to old farts here in New Mexico, and ruining a whole lot of meat trying to find a way to duplicate real cowboy chile and still make something I'd like to eat. I think I've finally done it.