Ground beef chili is way more convenient than chili made with whole chunks of meat, but a truly great version requires a few tricks. To keep the meat moist and tender, we treated it with salt and baking soda.
Both ingredients helped the meat hold on to moisture, so it stayed juicy and didn’t shed liquid during cooking, which would water down the chili. We also simmered the meat for 90 minutes to fully tenderize it.
We made a simple but deeply flavored homemade chili powder, bolstered that with canned chipotles, and cooked both in the fat rendered by the beef to bloom the flavors of the fat-soluble spices throughout the dish. This chili is intensely flavored and should be served with tortilla chips and/or white rice and your favorite chili garnishes, such as lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and minced onion. Diced avocado, sour cream, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese are also good options for garnishing.
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BEST GROUND BEEF CHILI
Start to finish: 2 hours, 45 minutes
2 pounds of 85 percent lean ground beef
2 tablespoons plus 2 cups water
Salt and pepper
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1 inch pieces
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1 ounce tortilla chips, crushed (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
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1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 (14.5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
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1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce
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1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275 F. Toss beef with 2 tablespoons water, 11/2 teaspoons salt, and baking soda in bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside for 20 minutes.
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Meanwhile, toast anchos in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing heat if anchos begin to smoke. Transfer to food processor and let cool.
Add tortilla chips, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, coriander, oregano, thyme, and 2 teaspoons pepper to food processor with anchos and process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl. Process tomatoes and their juice in now-empty work bowl until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Heat oil in now-empty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beef and cook, stirring to break meat up into 1/4 inch pieces, until beef is browned and fond begins to form on pot bottom, 12 to 14 minutes. Add ancho mixture and chipotle; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add tomato puree, remaining 2 cups water, beans and their liquid, and sugar. Bring to boil, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any browned bits. Cover, transfer to oven, and cook until meat is tender and chili is slightly thickened, 11/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Remove chili from oven and let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in any fat that has risen to top of chili, then add vinegar and season with salt to taste. Serve. (Chili can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; add water as needed when reheating to adjust consistency.)
The Associated Press contributed to this article.