Introduction: 15-minute Indiana-style Chili

About: I do extensive LED lighting as a hobby and side business, and love Burning Man. I'm also a chemical manufacturing entrepreneur, in the nanotech space.

This is a recipe that I've been evolving over about 15 years, rooted in the recipe that I used with my mother at home in Indianapolis, IN. Since then, I've thrown in some cooking nuances I learned from some of my friends from Texas and Mexico, along with a lot of stuff I picked up by trial and error.

Trial and Error

Here are the most useful things I picked up by trial and error, and from my friends from other places along the way:

1. Cook the meat longer than you think you should, and don't drain all the fat. Continuing to cook the meat along with the fat makes the ground beef extremely tender.
2. Add only dry spices during the fat-simmering stage of cooking. If you add wet spices, it ruins the cooking due to the water content. However, the dry spices will get absorbed by the fat, and then cook into the meat.
3. Cumin is the flavor that I think of when I think of the flavor of chili. Always add a lot more than you think you should (if you're like me). Others like the flavor of chili powder more, so if you're one of those, just add a lot of chili powder.
4. Spice the meat much more heavily than you think you should -- that way you don't have to spice the tomatoes and beans at all. The flavor from the meat will just leech out into the liquid.
5. Raw onions have a much better flavor in chili than cooked onions. So, instead of sauteeing onions as most people would do before cooking the beef in the onions, add fresh onions at the very end of cooking.
6. The longer you cook the chili in a crock pot, the more flavorful and tender it will be. In particular, the beans take a long time to develop flavor.
7. The beans and tomatoes take forever to warm up, so it's best to start them in the crock pot on high heat while you're preparing the meat+spice mixture.
8. Chipotle chilis have an awesome, but extremely strong flavor. Great to use, but don't use too much!

And now the rough instructions! You should definitely adjust the spicing to suit your tastes. Some people prefer heavy-cumin (like me). Some prefer heavy chili powder. Some prefer no beans. Some prefer only a little salt, some like a lot. Some like it really spicy (cayenne peppers!) and some like it sweeter (paprika and guajillo peppers). About 30% of the population hates cilantro and thinks it tastes like soap (!?!). So, due to the wide variation in taste preferences, I won't bother to give a huge amount of detail on spice amounts other than the rough indications in the video.

Step 1: Step One: Brown Ground Beef and Start Crock Pot (5 Minutes)

Step One:

In a pan, start browning 1.5-2 pounds of ground beef. This will make enough chili for 8 normal people or 4 teenagers. The browning step takes the longest, so start this first.

The second longest step is the time it takes to get the diced tomatoes and kidney beans up to temperature. I'm lazy, so I just use the largest can I can find of each at the store instead of chopping tomatoes myself. Note that people prefer different ratios of beans and tomatoes -- it's perfectly reasonable to do anything from using twice the tomatoes and no beans, to using half the tomatoes and twice the beans. The primary constraint is to make it so that the overall liquid level is high enough to fit the meat, and so if you don't add enough tomatoes it will be dry. Most of the liquid in the chili comes from the tomatoes. For me, I used a 25 oz can of kidney beans and a 28 oz can of tomatoes, because that's the size they happened to come in at the store.

Throw them together in a crock pot, and set the temperature to high while the ground beef is browning. This is also a good lull time to chop some onions up finely for addition in the final step, but if you're like me and you love the flavor of raw onions, don't add them until near the end of cooking in the crock pot.

Step 2: Step Two: Spice Ground Beef and Add to Crock Pot (7 Minutes)

After the meat is initially browned, there should be quite a bit of grease. Feel free to drain some of it off, but make sure to leave a fair amount. Next, add spices to taste. Check out the video for details.

Note the substantial color change in the meat between the "regular" browned ground beef and the cooked down, fat-infused, spiced ground beef.

Step 3: Finished: Add Raw Onions and Eat!

Allow the chili to cook in the crock pot for as long as you have available, the longer the better. This makes chili especially convenient as you can start it right when you get home from work, and have delicious dinner ready by 7 or 8pm.

As the final step, add diced onions to the crock pot, and let it cook for perhaps 5 minutes. Then serve!

Side Note:

This recipe can be used nearly identically to produce 15 minute spiced meat for burritos or tacos. Much, much more flavor and control over the spice level than spice packets! Only variation is that instead of adding the meat to the tomatoes and beans, you add two tablespoons of flour along with 1 cup of water. The flour and water will form a sauce that thickens as you simmer the meat. I'll make an instructable for that eventually, but for now it's not terribly complicated once you have the base meat seasoned.