5 Great Tips for Making the Perfect Chili

Chili TipsChili TipsThe craft of making chili is not rocket science, nor is it a mystery. In fact, it is solely the product of general good cooking practices - practices that can improve many favorite dishes, not just chili - and the right ingredients. That being said, there are a few special rules that apply just to chili. Here, we've simmered and reduced our accumulated knowledge down to a few easily digestible morsels.

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All kidding aside, however, we think it's actually time to embrace this trend. Think of it as more akin to what happened to grilled cheese, whose transformation with gourmet cheeses, artisanal breads, and creative pairings with sweet and savory ingredients has benefited all. The trick is just not to overdo it. Open your minds and your palates and you might just be pleasantly surprised.

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Tip: Brown for Flavor
If you're using meat, whatever type of meat you use, make sure to let it sit out at room temperature to take off the chill from the refrigerator. Why? Meats that hit the pan right out of the refrigerator won't brown properly, taking the flavor with them. Instead, they'll steam in their own brownish juices before the exterior has a chance to crisp up. We've said it before many times, but we'll say it again.

1) Get the pot really hot over high heat.

2) Add cooking oil or fat with a high smoke point, such as canola or vegetable oil.

3) Let the oil heat up without smoking. If it smokes, take the pot off the heat and wait until it stops smoking.

4) Add the meat. Do not touch for at least five minutes.

5) Once the meat slides around easily, consider turning it; lift up a bit to check for proper browning and flip.

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Tip: Chiles, Not Powder
If you've never made chili before, you probably have some idea that proper chili should be pretty darn spicy (sorry, spice-shy New Englanders), and you may be tempted to reach for store-bought chili powder. But, you'll get better results by finding some dried chiles like chipotles, guajillos, anchos, and pasillas, toasting them, and grinding them using a coffee grinder.

Tip: Spices

Many chili recipes will have at the very least cumin and coriander. Feel free to also experiment with cinnamon for a hint of sweetness; star anise, which enhances meaty flavors; and also clove, which will help balance out the heat of the chile peppers.

Whatever spices you decide to use, though, the flavor and aroma of your chili will be much improved if you start with whole spices, toast them in a pan, and then grind them yourself. Make sure to let them cool before grinding, or their volatile oils (which are the source of their flavor and aroma) will end up all over the sides of your grinder rather than in the pot itself.

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Tip: Take Your Time
There's nothing worse than rushed chili - dried beans that are halfway cooked, a thin consistency, and chewy or bland meat are not anyone's idea of good eats. Let it simmer until it's done; if the recipe says three hours, make time for it.

Tip: Garnishes
Whew, done at last. You're in the home stretch. After all that work, make sure you set out some great garnishes to really help your chili shine. Some great staples to keep on hand include sour cream, fresh cilantro, and scallions.

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- Will Budiaman, The Daily Meal