UACES Facebook Chili Served to Hungry Cowboys on the Trail
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Chili Served to Hungry Cowboys on the Trail

Chuck wagon cooks had a tight schedule and limited resources while feeding 20 or more cowboys three meals each day. They made "a bowl of red" popular by chopping tougher cuts of beef and simmering it with lots of hot chiles for a long time. Today, we are passionate about our chili and it is hard to imagine it without garnishes.


Chuck wagon cooks had the job of feeding 20 or more cowboys three times a day. His resources were limited in the variety of foods available, the cooking utensils available and time. Three meals a day were cooked and served on a tight schedule. Purist say that ‘real’ chili does not contain beans. Knowing that rice and beans are good fillers, I wonder if chuck wagon cooks did not add these. It would cut down on preparation time; number of pots required and allow the cook to feed more hungry cowboys using less meat.

Today, everyone has their own chili recipe and idea of the perfect pot of chili. Some want ground beef, zesty chunks of tomatoes, and tender kidney beans. Others would not be caught dead eating chili with beans and prefer chunks of beef. On the cattle drives, cooks used chunks of meat, not ground beef.  

Beef chili has one key ingredient, chile powder or chili powder. Although used interchangeably, they are not the same. Chile powder is made of pure ground dried chile peppers. Usually, chile powder has no additives. Chili powder, on the other hand, is a blend of chile peppers and other spices, including cumin, peppercorn, oregano, and salt. The only way to tell is to read the ingredient label.

Chuck wagon cooks on the trail made “a bowl of red” popular. They were given the tougher, cheaper cuts of beef for their provisions, and would chop up this meat and simmer it with lots of hot chiles for a long time, until the meat became tender and was surrounded by a thick, spicy gravy.

On the trail, there were no garnishes for chili. Today, it is hard to imagine what a steaming hot bowl of chili be without the garnishes. Set up a chili bar by setting out bowls of shredded sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack or other cheeses; diced red, white or green onion; sour cream; salsa of any type; chopped bell peppers; diced green chiles; sliced fresh or pickled jalapenos; sliced olives; diced avocado or fresh guacamole; cornbread, saltine crackers, tortilla chips, or corn chips. Then let everyone customize his or her steamy, delicious bowl of chili.

Most people are very passionate about their chili. However, it is evident from the multitude of chili recipes, and the countless chili cook offs that take place every year, that there may not be a definitive chili recipe. Besides, most of the fun is in the cooking, the tasting, the experimenting, the debating, and the sharing!

A pot of steaming chili is always a good choice. This chili, is great in the slow cooker simmering all day or simmer on the stove for at least 90 minutes. It makes 10 servings, and is even better the next day. If you have leftovers, use later in the week for a burrito pie.

Dang Good Texas Chili

2 pounds lean ground beef, cooked and drained

1 (46 ounce) can tomato juice

1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon white sugar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 cup chile powder

Optional: 1-15 ounce can each kidney beans, and pinto beans, drained and rinsed

In a large stock pot, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Simmer for at least 90 minutes. Serve with favorite toppings. If preparing in a slow cooker, combine all ingredients and set on low, cook for 8 to 10 hours, or high 4-5 hours.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaDue, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

By Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609


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