What Makes Texas Chili Different From Regular Chili

Texas is known for doing things its own way — and usually bigger and better, if you ask a Texan. Texas chili is no exception, and the state has a long history and its own unique method for whipping up the staple dish, according to National Geographic.

Texans claim their state is actually the birthplace of chili, and that all other variations (looking at you, Cincinnati) came sometime afterwards. Even though the true origins of chili are probably lost to history, it's true that Texans do love the dish — so much so, in fact, that chili is the official state dish (via State Symbols USA). 

Even in Texas, there is no one official recipe for chili. It's a personal dish, open to interpretation across communities and households. But there is one major ground rule. The main distinction between regular chili and Texas chili comes down to the beans, says The Daily Meal. You won't ever find beans in a true, Texas-style bowl of red. In fact, the official rules of the International Chili Cookoff prohibit the ingredient for the Traditional Red category.

So, what is in a traditional bowl of red?

When it comes to chili, NPR says that Texans like to keep things simple. According to Texas Monthly, the heart of Texas chili is in the meat, usually beef, and the peppers. Ground or cubed beef shoulder (pork and venison are sometimes used, as well) is cooked down in dried chilis (or chili powder) and other herbs and spices, including cumin, onions and garlic. The end result is a thick, spicy stew with a bold red color, which is where the name bowl of red comes from.

While beans are universally rejected in Texas chili, tomatoes are a little more up for debate (via TexasHillCountry.com). Historically, tomatoes weren't heavily used in Texas chili because they were as readily available in the region and spoiled quickly. But today, many modern Texas chili recipes call for at least some tomato paste or canned tomatoes (via Texas Monthly). Additionally, newer recipes have introduced an array of supplementary ingredients, like coriander, chicken stock, beer, and sometimes chocolate, says Southern Living.

It all started with the "Chili Queens"

While there are several competing theories on the true origin of Texas chili, many historians and journalists trace the famous dish we know and love today back to San Antonio in the 18th and 19th centuries (via Texas Monthly). Immigrants from the Canary Islands had been recruited to settle in the area, and many of the women began cooking up the earliest forms of chili to sell to people in the city's Military Square, at the grounds of the Alamo. 

The women, dressed up in festive colorful outfits, used ingredients that were cheap and abundant at the time, and cooked up huge batches of meat and chili stew over open flames, drawing big crowds. As their popularity grew, they eventually became known as the Chili Queens, explains TexasHillCountry.com. Then as railroads and other forms of transportation continued to develop throughout the 19th century, travelers and journalists from all over were able to taste this unique chili, and the dish started to spread to other parts of the country.