When the weather is rainy and dreary, I seem to always crave chili! This slow-cooker chili recipe came indirectly from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, so you know that a lot of trial and error went into this before it reached my recipe-altering hands. While I love their diligence and scientific approach to cooking, I’ve found that most of their recipes are a bit, well, boring to me. They’re like perfectly perfect non-interesting versions of whatever food is being featured. And while there’s something to be said for that, it’s not usually what I’m going for when I cook at home. So I’ve learned to take what they say to heart and then change it . . . read on for my kicked-up version of their basic slow-cooker chili recipe.
The first step is unorthodox for chili, but well-known when making meatballs: a panade. “Panade” is a fancy word for “milk and bread mixed together” and is intended to keep ground meat dishes like meatloaf and meatballs from drying out during cooking. Here, in a chili, it’s used for the same purpose and works beautifully.
The mashed-up bread-and-milk misture should end up looking something like this:
Into this bowl you add the main attraction, the beef and seasonings:
ATK said they tested different fat percentages in beef and recommend using 85% lean ground beef. I stuck with their recommendation as that’s the sort of thing they’re really good at!
Once mixed up, your bread mash and beef and seasonings look like this. Now, seasonings is where I strayed from the recipe the most: I wanted a spicier chili so went with Ancho Chili powder and about twice as much Chipotle than what they called for. I also added cinnamon but took out the sugar, as I don’t like sweetness but wanted the depth of flavor that sweet notes give a meaty chili.
After prepping the meat mixture, you turn to the stovetop to start cooking:
You then start cooking the ingredients, starting with the onions and garlic
Then adding the spices, tomato paste,
And finally the meat mixture.
When the meat is cooked so that there’s no pink left:
You’re almost done with the “hard part”! You stir in the tomato sauce and scrape up the yummy bits stuck to the pan:
And then pour the whole deal into the slow cooker. Stir in the remaining ingredients, turn on the pot, and walk away.
When it’s cooked it will look like (an in-focus version of) this:
Spoon into bowls, top with grated cheese and/or sour cream, and dig in! I like to eat chili with chewy bread that has a nice crust on it, so that there’s a bit of crunch and texture from the bread but it’s also possible to wipe every last drop of chili sauce out of your bowl.
Slow Cooker Beef Chili
Adapted from Cooking for Two 2011
- 1 slice white sandwich bread, torn in half
- 3 tbsp milk
- 0.25 tsp salt
- 0.25 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
- 1 lb ground beef, 85% lean
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp ancho chili powder
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1.5 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 0.5 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
- 1 15-oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 14.5-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1.5 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- Large skillet
- Slow cooker (that’s a link to mine, which I love)
Prepare panade by mashing bread and milk into paste. With hands, mix in ground beef and salt and pepper. Set aside.
In skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, chili powder, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook until slightly browned (6 or 7 minutes). Stir in beef mixture and cook until no longer pink (2 minutes). Stir in tomato sauce, scraping pan to release yummy brown bits (yes that’s the technical term).
Transfer to slow cooker. Stir in remaining ingredients and turn on slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-7 hours (preferred) or on high for 3-4 hours.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, with optional toppings as desired.