Two-Alarm Chili and Mexican Pot Beans

I’ll say it—I avoided this post because frankly, while I enjoy the tradition of eating chili on Superbowl Sunday every year, there were just too many recipes floating around out there for little old me to throw my hat into the ring. Also, I didn’t make it until the day of the ‘Bowl, so it wouldn’t have gotten posted until the day after…and if you are anything like me, you were pretty chili’d out by then.

This recipe, though, is worth resurrecting now, as we near the end of a pretty weird February. As I write this, it is 50 degrees and raining out. Where I come from, we call that June. My seasonal eating habits do not know what to make of this. But whatever the weather, this dish will make you feel like you are somewhere warm and cozy. It is the kind of meal to make on a Sunday, when you want a big meal to eat early, and leftovers to last you throughout the week.

Adapted from the back of a store-bought spice packet, deconstructed and reworked by my mother and father, and worthy of every superfluous praise word in the book, this chili is just really freakin’ good. It is beanless, but I always make a big pot of black beans alongside, which, if you’re anything like my boyfriend, will sound like sacrilege to you. Sorry, but it’s better this way. When you make the beans separately you get to add bacon—which makes everything better. Serve this buffet style, putting out bowls of shredded cheese, chopped onions, and cilantro, and let everyone make their own bowl.

Two-Alarm Chili
Laurie Burns & John Gray, adapted from Wick Fowler

Serves 6 


Olive oil
2 lbs lean beef, cut into small strips (roughly ¾” by ¼”)
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
2 cups water
½ cup ground chili (Anaheim or Ancho)
1 tablespoon dried onions
1 tablespoon dried garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 to 1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne (like it spicy? add another ½ teaspoon)
2 tablespoons masa (corn flour)


A large saucepan with a lid


1. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in your saucepan over medium-high heat. Sear beef and drain any fat.

2. Add tomato sauce and water, then stir in the spices (reserve the masa). Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes or until the beef is tender.

3. Stir masa into ¼ cup warm water to make a flowable paste. Stir gradually into chili. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Serve over rice, beans (recipe follows) or see below for other side suggestions and garnishes.

Classic Mexican Pot Beans
adapted from Rick Bayless, “In My Mexican Kitchen”
Note: It really matters that you add the salt at the end, and that you keep the liquid a generous half an inch above the beans. It also helps if the beans are fresh–it’s old beans that float.

Serves 8


1 lb (about 2½ cups) dry beans (black, pinto, pink, kidney, or navy)
3 slices of thick cut bacon, sliced into ¼” strips (or 3 tablespoons vegetable oil)
1 medium white onion, diced
2 quarts water
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or epazote, if you can get it)
1½ teaspoons salt


A 5-6 quart pot with a lid
A slotted spoon
A small plate lined with paper towels


1. Rinse the beans thoroughly, and pick them over to remove any obviously bad ones, stones, etc. Heat your pot over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the bacon strips. Stir frequently until they begin to froth and turn a deep rust color. Remove them with your slotted spoon to a small plate lined with paper towels and reserve for garnish. Leave the drippings in the pot, and turn the heat down to medium-low to prevent smoking. (If you are just using vegetable oil, simply heat it up in the pot over medium heat.)

2. Add your chopped onions and turn the heat back to medium. (If you have used vegetable oil, cook the onions for ten minutes, stirring regularly, until deep golden.) Saute for a minute or two, then add the beans. Measure in 2 quarts of water and remove any beans that float.

3. Add the oregano or epazote, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until the beans are thoroughly tender (about 2 hours). There should be no chalkiness at all when you break a bean open. You’ll need to gently stir the beans regularly and add water as necessary to keep the liquid a generous ½” above the beans.

4. Once the beans are tender, season with salt and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Serving Suggestions


Bacon bits (reserved from beans)
3-4 green onions, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small fresh tomato, chopped, drained and de-seeded
1 cup of fresh corn
Chopped jalepeños
Your favorite salsa
Shredded queso blanco or sharp cheddar
Sour cream
Hot sauce (Cholula is a favorite)
Crushed corn chips

Other side ideas:

Your favorite cornbread
Brown or white rice
Baked potatoes

{images by ryan howard & carol catherine}

  1. thank you frugal–i was inspired by your beefy stew some days ago!

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