A few weeks ago, my wife and I were discussing chili. You know, as husbands and wives often do. I mentioned to my wife that she should meet me downtown for lunch, and suggested Real Chili (pictured above) as a possible location. Her reaction—and I’m paraphrasing here—went something like this: “Are you f***ing kidding me? Real Chili? That’s not ‘real’ f***ing chili! That’s some straight-up Wisconsin bulls***! You’d get your ass kicked if you showed up with that s*** where I’m from! Ugh!”

You see, my wife is originally from the Southwest. She’s also, um, passionate about chili.

It’s an argument I’ve heard before: What makes chili…chili? Noodles or no noodles? What kind of noodles? What kind of beans? Is chili from the Southwest the only “real” chili? What about Midwest chili? What’s the deal with “Cincinnati-style” chili? On and on. So, in advance of the 17th Annual WMSE Rockabilly Chili Fundraiser on Sunday, March 10 at the MSOE Kern Center, I put the “What makes chili…chili?” question to social media. Here are some of the responses:

Beans and noodles.

Chili and black beans, fresh strewed tomatoes, and few elbow noodles.

Spaghetti noodles 😎


Definitely needs to have beans. And yes, no noodles.

Beans (black, pinto, chili beans & garbanzo), veggies (tomatoes, carrots, corn), no noodles, and lean beef.

My mom made it with spaghetti noodles I do not. Ground beef, beans, tomatoes, and tomato juice, then I make elbow noodles separate to add if wanted but can’t put in as they get mushy then. Along with various seasonings.

I love me some noodles, but they should be served on the side. This way both can rejoice and the noodles don’t get weird and mushy.

Noodles in chili = bad
Noodles under chili = acceptable

My chili has no beans. Its ground beef, onions, green pepper (maybe another veg but I’m going off memory), tomato sauce, paste, chili powder to taste, macaroni noodles, cheese…more cheese and why not some sour cream to make it look pretty.

I’d say that as long the concoction is based on chilies, powdered or fresh, it’s chili.

Chili powder. Beans, hamburger, elbow macaroni, onion. Beef broth, pepper.

In my opinion it’s the quality of the chili powder, coupled with fresh veggies and kidney or red beans. I prefer to not have pasta in mine.

The spices. It’s not just chili powder. I’ve identified Cumin as the most chili of the chili flavors.

I do think it has to be meat or bean based.
Any vegetables need to be cooked down considerably.
Should be tacky and never watery.
Chili is neither a soup nor a chowder.
Chili powder and/or other forms of peppers are necessary to flavor.

No noodles, beans are a must, the more variety the better, chunk tomatoes with tomato paste, also diced jalapeno.

Red kidney beans and a tomato base?

Beans without a doubt, but which bean? The correct answer is pinto.

My wife loves it “Cincinnati style” with spaghetti noodles.

Chiles/chili powder seem pretty essential. After that, it’s largely a matter of personal taste. I definitely want meat and beans and some spicy veggies in there, and want it topped off with shredded cheddar and sour cream. I don’t think noodles (“cincy-style”) are an absolute no-go or anything, but I prefer it without. But again, it has to have chiles/chili powder, or it just isn’t chili, pretty much by definition.

Beans, tomatoes, chili powder, ground beef, green pepper. Add some cheese on top after it cooks.

For a chili to be chili, it needs to have tomatoes & meat & be cooked by simmering the ingredients all in one pot with spices. That’s it. As far as “vegetarian” or “vegan” chili…it’s probably possible to recreate something close to texture of ground beef but I don’t know how. Nuts? Mushrooms? Carrots & celery?

NEVER use canned tomatoes!

The best chili starts with a good beer cooked down with the meat.

And, finally, an irrefutable fact from my father-in-law:

Check w/your mother-in-law. She makes the best chili, red or green, on the planet. You owe it to your readers to introduce them to pork green chili!