This Cowboy Chili is vibrantly red and earthy with kidney beans, New Mexico Chile Powder and tomato paste. A perfect balance of Southwestern flavors. Hearty and robust, keeping ingredients simple and pure gives this hearty recipe its unique layers of flavor.
Whether making chili with dried beans or canned beans, everyone loves a hearty bowl of beef chili …. This Cowboy Chili is about as hearty as you can get, but if you’re looking for lighter versions, don’t miss this one for Chicken and White Bean Chili.
About This Recipe
Back when I first started my food blog in 2009, there were just a handful of food bloggers, compared to the thousands today. We were a tight knit group, becoming virtual and many times in-person friends.
One of my very early blogging acquaintances was experienced and creative Chef Christo who lived in New York City, but was born and raised in New Mexico. He suddenly passed away in 2015 and the last recipe that appeared on his site was his Cowboy Chili Recipe.
It’s hands down the best dry bean chili recipes that I’ve ever had. Simply stated, it’s absolutely crazy delicious.
It’s everything you’d expect from a New Mexico chili recipe and from a chef who was an expert on the cuisine.
Let’s take a look.
Table of contents
Why You’re Going To Love About Cowboy Chili
- The ingredients are straight forward and simple. And more than likely you’ll have the spices you need already in your pantry.
- The recipe is simple to make. No fuss, and no special culinary skills needed.
- You control the heat level, adding as much chile powder needed to suit your heat tolerance.
- This is one of those recipes that tastes even better the next day. You’re going to love having leftovers.
- This recipe can be made either stovetop or in a slow cooker. You’ll find instructions for both below.
- Making chili with dried beans is more nutritious and more flavorful than using canned beans.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Lean Ground Beef – 93% lean and 7% fat works good here. You want enough fat to give flavor, but not enough to make the dish greasy.
- Kidney Beans – I highly recommend using dried kidney beans for this recipe.
- Onion – Sweet or Yellow Onion, chopped.
- Tomato Paste – Rich tomato paste may be my favorite pantry item of all times. It’s concentrated and rich in flavor adding nuance and body to any recipe.
- Cumin – Another powerhouse must have spice for your Southwestern pantry, cumin has a slightly sweet warming flavor with a nutty element.
- Chile Powder – I’m lucky to live close enough to New Mexico that I have the luxury of having an arsenal of New Mexico chile powders in my pantry. My favorite is Chimayo Chile Powder. It’s beautiful vibrant orange-red color and earthy flavor is a special treat. A must have seasoning for Cowboy Chili.
- Garlic – Three cloves, minced.
- Ground Beef – Substitute ground turkey or ground chicken in place of beef. If using either of these leaner meats, this will call for a splash of oil for browning. Neutral flavored canola oil is a good choice.
- Beans – Pinto beans are a good substitute for Kidney beans. However, you’ll lose that deep red appearance of the final dish. Black beans would also be a good choice. You can use canned kidney beans, but you’ll need to reduce the amount of liquid. See full instructions in the recipe card. Please stick with dry beans for chili, the end result will be superior.
- Chile Powder – Don’t have New Mexico Chile Powder? Substitute Ancho Chile Powder or even cayenne. You can also order New Mexico Red Chile Powder from sources such as Made in New Mexico. Resist using Chili Seasoning, as that’s a blend of many spices used in other chili recipes.
- Substitute one of the cups of beef broth with your favorite rich beer.
How To Make Cowboy Chili – It’s Easy
- Step 1: In a large fry pan, brown the ground beef, adding onions and garlic to season.
Step 2: Add the cumin and chile powder and stir until everything is coated. If it’s not spicy enough add more red chile powder. Cook, stirring for about two minutes.
- Step 3: Add the tomato paste and water, stirring and simmering for about 15 minutes. You’ll have a consistency that will remind you of Sloppy Joes.
- You’re ready to add this mixture to the cooked kidney beans along with two cups of water. Let this simmer for about 15 minutes to marry the flavors and serve.
Pro Tip: If you do find that your particular can of tomato paste has an extra acidy tone, add a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of honey. It will tame that sharp flavor.
Cowboy Chili FAQ’s
I like to use my crockpot. Place the beans in the base of your crockpot with enough water to cover the beans by a couple of inches. Place the lid on and let them sit on the counter overnight. The next morning drain the water and add three cups of beef broth to the soaked beans. Add a dollop of lard or bacon grease and the beans will be even creamier. Cook on low for five to six hours, or until beans are tender. The age of the bean will determine cooking time. The fresher the beans, the quicker they cook. Once they’re tender, don’t drain and add the ground beef mixture that you’ve made. Cook on low for two more hours. If you’ve never tried it, chili with dry beans is the way to go.
That’s how I make it. Using the method above to soak and cook the beans, once the beans are tender, add the cooked ground beef mixture (Steps 1 – 3 above) directly to the crockpot, without draining the beef broth from the beans. Add 2 cups of water and cook on low for two hours.
Garnishes can include chopped avocado, sliced jalapeno peppers, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, crushed corn chips, sliced green onion or chopped cilantro.
What To Serve With Cowboy Chili
A cool crisp Fresh Salad would be a likely partner and a fresh contrast to the richness of this chili recipe.
Don’t foget about dessert. How about this unique version of brownies, Mexican Orange Chile Brownies. A very popular choice around here and an easy recipe.
How To Thicken Chili
Pro Tip, How To Make Chili Thicker: If you feel like there’s a tad too much liquid once the chili has cooked, the best way to thicken chili is to add masa harina or corn meal. The flavor profiles of these two ingredients compliment the chili flavor. Just add a couple of tablespoons and stir very well. Simmer for about five more minutes. You can also add fine crushed corn chips. They’ll absorb some liquid. Alternatively, you can use a potato masher to smash some of the beans. Some recipes may advise to add flour or cornstarch by making a slurry with water. These two ingredients can compromise that famous chili flavor. Save those thickeners for beef or chicken gravy.
Storage and Reheating
- Cowboy Chili will last in the refrigerator for up to 4 – 5 days sealed in an airtight container.
- You can also freeze this chili and store in the freezer for up to 6 months. I like to use zip-loc style freezer bags. Just fill the bag to about 2 inches to the top, squeeze the air out of it and then lay it flat in the freezer. This saves storage room rather than storing it in a square container. Be sure to use a sharpie and label the bag with contents and date.
- To reheat, thaw the chili in the refrigerator overnight. Re-heat leftovers stovetop in a small saucepan, or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl.
This Cowboy Chile Recipe is one of the easiest and tastiest chili recipes around. Easy to prepare and rich with Southwestern flavor, you must give this Cowboy Chili recipe a try.
It’s perfect for game day, or comfort food on a cold night. And chili with kidney beans results in such a rich looking and tasting soup.
More Beef Chili Recipes
You can’t live in our part of the country without having a stellar lineup of chili recipes. Each with a different flavor profile, and each for a different occasion. Check out hearty these chili recipes.
If you’ve tried this or any other recipe on my website, please leave a star rating in the recipe card below. And write a review in the comment section. I always appreciate your feedback.
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Cowboy Chili Recipe
- 1 pound dried kidney beans Cooked
- 3 cups Beef broth or water
- 2 Tablespoons lard or bacon grease
- 1 Pound lean ground beef 93% lean – 7% fat works well here
- 1 large sweet onion chopped. About 1 – 1 1/2 cups
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 Tablespoons cumin powder
- 2 Tablespoons Chile Powder Preferrably New Mexico Chile Powder, And Chimayo Chile Powder even more preferred. Add more if your heat tolerance will allow.
- 6 ounces tomato paste Good quality. Either Cento or Muir Glen.
- 2 cups water
- salt and pepper to taste
- Garnishes listed below
- Soak dried beans overnight in water. Use enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two. The next morning, drain the beans. Using a crock pot or Dutch oven, add the beef broth, the lard or bacon grease to the beans and simmer covered until tender. Depending on the age of the beans, this could take a 2-3 hours in a Dutch oven, or 5 hours in a crockpot on low.
- Once the beans are tender, start making the chili. Brown the meat in a large skillet. When meat is about half browned, add the onion and cook, stirring often until onion is starting to become soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. About 1 minute.
- Add the cumin and chile powder to the ground beef and stir till everything is coated. If it's not spicy enough add more red chile powder. The original recipe calls for 4 tablespoons. I used 2 tablespoons. It all depends on the heat of the chile powder and your heat tolerance level.
- Cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. When all of this is a nice deep red color, then add the tomato paste and water.
- Simmer gently for 15 minutes. You'll have a mixture that reminds you of Sloppy Joes. Add this mixture to the cooked beans (don't drain beef broth from the beans). Simmer for 15 minutes in a Dutch oven. If you're using your crockpot, add the beef mixture and the two cups water to the cooked beans and cook on low for 2 hours.
- Serve with garnish and cornbread. Garnishes can include chopped avocado, sliced jalapeno peppers, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and cilantro.
Cowboy Chili …. It’s What’s For Dinner
Why Trust These Recipes? Lea Ann Brown has lived, worked and played in Colorado for 45 years. She has immersed herself in the Colorado Culinary space, is a Culinary School Graduate and publishes her Colorado food Blog, Cooking On The Ranch.