I was sitting in a cabin in middle-of-nowhere Minnesota the first time I tried a chili recipe I actually liked.
The secret ingredient that made the difference for me was baked beans—a shock, considering I thought baked beans on their own were gross. But to this day, I remember how sweet and smoky the chili tasted.
I’ve been searching for a comparable recipe ever since, and I think I’ve found it. Aside from my personal nostalgia, this recipe also has a few other things going for it: It doesn’t call for any kidney beans, which I appreciate (I had a bad experience with kidney beans as a kid), and it’s gluten- and dairy-free, so it’s a great option if you’re cooking for people with varying dietary needs.
This recipe only has two steps and doesn’t say whether or not to drain the ground beef. I did, and then I added my garlic and shallot. I made that mixture in a skillet and then added it to a pot with the rest of the chili. I put the lid on the pot, turned it on medium-low heat and let it go for 30 minutes.
To answer some pertinent questions: Yes, this still tastes like regular chili, and no, it’s not too sweet. I noticed the smoky taste more than the sweet taste. I put in only one tablespoon of brown sugar, but you could leave it out if you prefer. The liquid is a deep reddish brown that reminded me of barbecue sauce in appearance and texture. I loved this chili.
When I make it again, I might throw another bean in—maybe a butter bean or something that’s got a little more heft to it.
If you want to make this recipe in a slow cooker, the instructions are pretty similar: Make the ground beef mixture, and then add the other ingredients and cook on low for four to six hours.
1 pound ground beef
1 large shallot or small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
29-ounce can tomato sauce
15-ounce can Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans
15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 to 2 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less)
Toppings: shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, tortilla chips, sour cream
1. Brown ground beef, shallot or onion and garlic in a large skillet over medium high heat, seasoning with salt and pepper.
2. Add the remaining ingredients, then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.