The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

March 26, 2008

My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets

Filed under: Cooking, Food — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:45 am

If you believe everything you see on random shows on Food Network, practically everyone out there has some sort of top secret chili recipe in their head, which they keep a closely guarded secret: a pot full of meats, veggies, herbs, spices and quite possibly just a little voodoo.  I don’t think I’m doing anything quite that complex when I make chili, but I do have a recipe that I tend to follow.  Last night for Family Home Evening in the singles ward I attend, we were doing a chili cook-off for the activity.  I knew going into this that I was likely to be facing some stiff competition, so I was going to need to be on my game. 

There was just one minor issue with this: I was short on time.  Where I usually allow several hours for my chili to simmer before serving, I had about an hour and a half (give or take a few minutes) between the time that I got off work and the time that I would need to be serving this stuff to a discerning audience, which meant that I would have to take a couple of shortcuts from my usual recipe to ensure that I would actually have something to serve here.  I also have this innate tendency to tinker with the recipe at inopportune times as well, which may have manifest itself a time or two here.  Nonetheless, since I have not yet heard any reports of anyone getting sick after eating the stuff last night, it’s probably safe to go ahead and share the recipe that I used to make this.  After the jump, see what I do to make chili in a blind panic to feed a hungry crowd, complete with gratuitous photos that my siblings can use to nag me about the cleanliness of my kitchen.

The ingredients:

  • 1 lb (approximate). ground beef
  • 1 lb. sausage (I use the hot stuff.  It’s not all that much spicier than the regular stuff, but it seems to stand up to the other ingredients a bit better)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups beef stock (or broth, it probably doesn’t matter which you use)
  • 2 cans tomato sauce
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cans kidney beans (the picture shows three, but I only used two this time.  Sometimes I may use more beans and cut out a can of tomatoes)
  • 2 cans of diced green chiles (this is one concession that I make to speed.  Normally I’d use a combination of fresh bell peppers and jalapenos, but with the short amount of time I had I don’t think they would have had enough time to cook properly.)
  • Cayenne pepper (not shown here, but used to raise the “heat” level a bit since the chiles are mild.  You can’t seen to find anything but mild chiles around here for some reason…)

The Hardware:

  • My large saute pan (I use this practically every time I cook stuff)
  • Crock Pot
  • Various other sharp pointy kitchen implements, as needed


In this case, I started out by opening up most of the cans of stuff, dumping them into the crock pot and starting them on high.  Given the short amount of time I had for this to cook, I wanted to make sure this stuff had more time to heat up (after all, I was using a slow cooker in a situation where slow cooking is clearly not indicated.) 

One thing that I should note was that for the beans, I drained the mysterious liquid stuff out of the cans.  I’m not entirely certain what the stuff is, but if the slimy consistency it has on the way out of the can is any indication, I can probably do without it.  Besides, I’ll be adding enough liquid to the chili anyway.

In the meantime, I’d like to take a minute to highlight the small metal spatula that you might have seen in one of the previous shots.  It happens to be by far, my favorite tool to use in the kitchen.  I found it at the grocery store of all places, and I think I paid about $8 for it.  When I got to the checkout counter, the cashier actually asked me what I was going to use that for.  Mostly I just wanted to have a metal spatula around for a few things, and this one seemed to fit the bill.  Since then, I’ve found that this particular spatula gets used practically every time I cook stuff, since there’s so much I can do with it.  It’s got just enough of an edge that you can use it to chop things in the pan, it’s big enough to stir things quite well, it works great for scraping things, both in the pan when you’re deglazing and in cans when you’re trying to get stuff out (it even manages to fit into those tiny little tomato paste cans.)  I’ve had to rescue this thing from the dishwasher and hastily wash it to press it into service plenty of times.

Anyway, back to the chili.  as stated above, a bit of cayenne pepper is added to the mix to turn up the heat just a little bit, since there really isn’t anything in the ingredients that is more than slightly spicy.

In the meantime, while that is going, I turn on the heat on the saute pan and chop the onion.  Nothing fancy here, just the usual dicing.

Once the pan heats up, the onions, the ground beef and the sausage are added together.  Depending on how I am making a particular batch of chili, I might opt to give the onions a little more time to cook before the meat goes in, but this generally requires just a little bit of oil, and a bit more time.  If I’m feeling really ambitious, I might even break out the cast iron skillet for this step, although that can be a real pain to clean, so I don’t do that too often.  This step goes a little quicker if you cover the pan while it’s cooking.  I usually cook the stuff on medium-high heat.

While the meat is browning, it’s time to think about the next step.  The beef broth/stock/whatever you’re using will be used to deglaze the pan.  I got the stuff that just happened to have a smiling celebrity chef on the front of the box.  That means that it must be good, right?

Wait a minute… What’s this?  Beef FLAVORED stock? To be honest, I don’t even know how you’d manage to fake the stuff if you wanted to.  Oddly enough, the fine print on the front reads “Minimally processed, contains no artificial ingredients, flavoring or preservatives, no MSG added.”  Isn’t it more or less customary to put all the healthy sounding stuff like that in huge letters surrounded by a starburst and stick the weasely sounding stuff in the fine print?  I think someone’s doing it wrong here.

The ingredient list doesn’t seem all that unusual either.  Either way, the stuff was on sale, and  I’m pretty sure that this stuff isn’t going to kill me.  I guess there’s only one way to find out…

Well, it doesn’t look like the stuff is green or anything weird like that, so I might as well use it.  I’m going to use two cups of this.  At least if the batch of chili doesn’t turn out right, I can blame Wolfgang Puck, right?

Once the meat has browned sufficiently, it’s time to transfer it over to the crock pot.

This will leave you with an empty pan.  For best results, you might want to let it sit for a minute or so to heat back up for deglazing.  Once this is done, pour in the beef stock (or whatever other deglazing liquid you might use) and use the spatula to scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan.  Once this is done, let the liquid come to a boil for a few minutes to allow it some time to reduce.  On this particular batch, I didn’t have the heat high enough when I did this, so there wasn’t the usual huge blast of steam and bubbles you get when you add the liquid to the pan.

Finally, after the liquid has reduced, add it to the crock pot with the rest of the ingredients, and stir well.  Normally at this point I’d have the crock pot set to low and leave it to simmer for several hours before eating, but since I was short on time I couldn’t do much more than set it to high and hope it got up to temperature before it was time to serve it.  I had to let it cook in the crock pot at home until the last possible minute to let it heat up,  then I had to hurry to the church (already five minutes late) with the precious cargo, driving carefully so as not to spill it on the way there.  I arrived sometime during the opening song, and quickly plugged it back in to cook on high for as long as it could.  Following an excellent (and most importantly, fairly long) lesson by Lisa Low, it was time to serve.  By some miracle, the chili was piping hot by the time it was served.  My chili was up against three other entries (only one of which was obviously from a can),  and although I didn’t get any pictures of the result, the chili was fairly well received.  I believe that there were plans to judge the various chilis, but since everyone kind of wandered off before people could vote, I don’t think any actual judging happened here. Even so, I imagine I probably would have taken at least third place, and that if that had happened there might have even been an award involved, right? 


  1. So even with just 1.5 hours to cook this, you had time to set up some step-by-step picture tutorial. That’s quite amazing.

    Comment by Mike — March 26, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  2. That chili looks delicious – when are you bringing it to a family gathering?

    Comment by VanderHoevens — April 7, 2008 @ 10:08 am

  3. As soon as there is a family gathering for which it is appropriate to bring chili, I’ll bring some. Portability seems to be somwthing of an issue right now though; just getting the stuff up to the church without spilling any can be pretty tricky (although it does involve driving up several hills.)

    Comment by Brian Lutz — April 7, 2008 @ 10:14 am

  4. I kept waiting to see how you would incorporate the peanuts and tortilla chips into the crockpot! Thanks for the quick chili ideas. -BH

    Comment by hemlock92404 — April 27, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

    • No, that’s just my frequently cluttered kitchen, although I have seen chili recipes that call for crumbling some tortilla chips and adding those to the chili to thicken it. I don’t really think this stuff needs thickening in any sort (all the meat gives it plenty of texture as is) so I don’t use that step.

      Comment by Brian Lutz — April 27, 2009 @ 11:35 pm

  5. A fantastic chili recipe, learn my way of making crock pot chili.

    Comment by crock pot chili recipe — February 24, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

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