How to Use Dried Chiles for Beef Chili

Blend your own chili powder for a better beef chili.

Three-Chile Beef Chili
Photo: Fredrika Stjärne

Want to know the easiest way to make better beef chili? Dump the commercial chili powder. This mixture of cumin, dried chile, sugar, salt, and garlic powder, among other things, usually has a dusty, muted flavor. (Especially if you’ve had yours on the shelf for years.)

Instead, you can blend your own chili powder using single varietal ground chiles, each of which has its own nuances and flavors. For example, widely available ground ancho chile is mild, earthy, fruity, and a little smoky but not as smoky as ground chipotle (which is also quite a bit spicier).  Green hatch chiles have a smokier flavor, and ripe red Hatch chiles are slightly sweeter. Santa Fe's rare, small-batch Chimayó chile is even smokier, and Calabrian chile offers heat similar to red pepper flakes.

If you want an even more complex dish and don’t mind a little extra work, use whole dried chiles instead of ground. After ripping off the stems and dumping out the seeds, soak them in very hot water for 15 to 30 minutes, until quite soft. Blend the chiles with the soaking water to create a silky and seriously flavorful liquid to add to your chili.

This recipe from Boston chef Tony Maws is a delicious example of a beef chili based on dried ancho, chipotle, and New Mexico chiles. With coffee, dark beer, and smoky bacon, the resulting bowl is deep, rich, and spicy.

Brooklyn butcher Tom Mylan of the Meat Hook flavors his chili with fruity guajillos, smoky anchos, and a New Mexico chile. After he soaks the chiles in water to plump them, he blends them to form a silky puree, which gives the chili a complex flavor.

Also based in Brooklyn, Anna Painter adds spice to her crockpot chili by mincing a seeded poblano chile or two seeded chipotle chiles in adobo along with jalapeños.

Here are more chili recipes to make the most of your own powder blend or puree.

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