What is the first meal you make when the temperature dips below 60 degrees? If you are like most southerners, you make a big ole pot of homemade chili. I’ve moved a lot and I learned quickly “the south” is extremely diverse when it comes to foods, traditions, and culture. There is a huge debate about chili. What area of the south you live in, will determine what kind of chili you will make on a cold night.
In Texas, I understand (from transplanted Texans who are now Okies) they like their chili hot, with lots of meat (sometimes coarse ground beef or venison or both), thick sauce, lots of flavor, and NO beans.
In Oklahoma, we like it thick, made with lots of ground beef, a tomato type base, and beans. It is usually mild to medium. As a former Tennessean, I am okay with both.
In Tennessee, the chili is like the Oklahoma version but a little more brothy and not so thick. Most of the time they pass the hot sauce to add a little heat. In my family the chili side dish was always plain saltines.
When I was living in North Carolina, I was totally confused. In the Tarheel state, they put chili on hotdogs and hamburgers, both usually come with mustard, coleslaw and onions. This kind of Carolina chili is minus the beans, it is not saucy or hot, it is a sort of ground beef finely mashed with chili powder and spice flavoring. If you want a burger or dog without chili you better tell them when you order. Chili is an unwritten code there, you order a hamburger or hotdog, it will come with chili. If you ask them to leave it off, I promise you, they will ask, “Are you sure?” Then, they will call all the cooks and kitchen help to your table so they can look at you, laugh, and ask you where you’re from. They also serve chili in a bowl but that chili has beans and that dish is called “chili beans.” It is made like the Oklahoma kind.
In Alabama, they really threw me a curve. If you order a chili dog there, they will bring you a dog on a bun, some finely chopped ground beef on the dog, and they will hand you a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce or Texas Pete so you can turn ground beef into Alabama poor man’s version of chili. They also call chili with beans, “chili beans” and you eat it out of a bowl.
We lived in Florida for a total of ten years. I don’t think the temperature dropped below 60 degrees long enough for me to cook a pot of chili, maybe they eat it in the Florida panhandle but definitely not below the frost line.
What’s your chili preference? Send me you chili story, then we can all participate in the great chili debate.