Poker Night Chili con Carne

I love a good bowl of chili and my Dad made a pretty good chili that was a popular lunch item on the menu at Lista’s. In those days we called it “Chili con Carne” (chili with meat) — I guess to differentiate it from the chili made without meat, which I never heard of until the vegetarians came to power. And our chili had beans, mostly dark red kidney beans, because that’s how every self respecting chili was made in the Northeast, after all we were in Brockport, not San Antonio!

Chili con carne was also a staple in our house growing up, but it was the standard stuff made with ground beef, onions, beans, and an envelope of French’s Chili-O seasoning mix. Still it was pretty tasty and about the only time we ate Fritos corn chips for dinner. 

When I had my own family, I made chili con carne every week because my kids just loved it (as long as I didn’t put any diced tomatoes in it… chunks were very taboo with my kids). And I definitely served my chili with corn chips — and cheddar cheese on top.

Now getting back to my Dad; after the restaurant closed in 1980, Dad started his second career at SUNY College at Brockport. And when Dad retired from the college, he started hosting a weekly poker night with some of his former co-workers and old friends. Now my Dad was a darn good poker player and I’m sure he enjoyed the game — but the truth is his main deal (pun intended) was to whip up a regular buffet of eats for these guys. Dad made sandwiches, and dips, and cheese trays, and brownies… and he always made a batch of his chili con carne. And I think the guys liked the chili most of all.

I’m not much of a card player myself, so I never sat in on Dad’s poker games (although my brothers did from time to time) but I had occasionally been at the house when the guys were coming in and hear them rave about the food Dad provided. Dad was always happiest when he was cooking and serving food to people who truly appreciated it. I guess that’s one thing he passed down to me.

As I was making the chili for this post, it occurred to me that the recipe has a lot of 3’s in it. 3 pounds of ground beef, 3 vegetables, 3 types of tomatoes, 3 primary seasonings, and for this version 3 kinds of beans. I think this recipe is a good basic chili and would appeal to most palates (not too spicy, no exotic ingredients, no odd flavors). Of course like any recipe on this site, I’m working from my memories of how we did things at Lista’s or how my Dad taught me to make things, so always feel free to tweak the recipe to your own taste and preferences.

Poker Night Chili con Carne

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time:  60 minutes
Serves:  6-8 

3 lbs. Lean Ground Beef
1 large Onion – diced
1 large Green Bell Pepper – diced
2 stalks Celery – diced
1 (6 oz) can Tomato Paste
1 (10 oz) can Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies (such as Rotel) – drained
1 (28 oz) can Crushed Tomatoes
2 rounded TBSP Chili Powder (or to taste)
1 rounded TBSP Ground Cumin
1 1/2 tsp Dry Oregano
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic (optional)
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper or more to taste (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 (15.5 oz) can Red Kidney Beans – drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 oz) can Pinto or Cannellini Beans – drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 oz) can Black Beans – drained and rinsed

1. In a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook uncovered, stirring the ground beef until completely crumbled and no longer pink – about 15 minutes. Drain grease and return meat to pot. Reduce heat to medium.
2. Clean and dice the onion, green pepper and celery and add to the cooked meat and continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender – about another 15 minutes.
3. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic (if desired), and cayenne pepper (if desired) – stir to incorporate and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes.
Note: to amp up the heat increase the chili powder and cayenne pepper to your liking.
4. Add drained and rinsed beans, stir gently to combine, reduce heat to low and cook until heated through – about 15 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
5. Serve as is or with your favorite toppings (such as corn chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos, sriracha, etc.).

There you have it, Poker Night Chili con Carne. Whether you make it for the Big Game or family game night this chili will be a winner. I find it easy to prepare on top of the stove, but if you prefer to use your slow cooker just cook the ground beef as in step #1 – add the  meat and rest of the ingredients to your crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. My Dad often made the chili a day ahead and reheated it in the crock pot for poker  night. And if you have leftovers they will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

One thought on “Poker Night Chili con Carne

  1. Thanks for posting the recipes and the memories….it’s something we share. Had my first date with my husband of almost 50 years there…still remember what we ate!


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