To Bean or Not to Bean?

  We're not sure if they're actually making chili here, but damn if those are not some great mustaches.    Credit: Get Creative San Antonio

We're not sure if they're actually making chili here, but damn if those are not some great mustaches.  Credit: Get Creative San Antonio

We've heard the chatter around the taproom, we know there's a hot debate regarding what makes proper chili. If you're having a hard time keeping all of the different chili's apart, you're not the only one. After numerous times googling "Should chili have beans?" and "are people that put tomatos in their chili monsters?" we decided to do a little digging ourselves.

In this issue of the The Kettle, we explore the origins of chili, the ties it has to our deep seeded notions of how it should be properly made, and take a look into the Chef Ann Foundation - the charity we're doing all of this for!


There was an audible chuckle heard across the brewery after writing word "brief" to describe the history of chili. After reading the third 2000+ word article on the history of this loved and despised dish, we realized chili the only thing simple about chili was...well, nothing.

There's quite the shroud of confusion circling the initial start of the chili con carne recipe we all know today. Some may reasonably conclude that it originated as a Mexican dish, however a quick glance at the Diccionario De Mejicanismos, the Spanish language dictionary, will put this to rest. To quote, chili con carne is a "“detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the U.S. from Texas to New York.”(1) We're off to a great start.

Several scholars of the chili doctrine have concluded that chili originated in San Antonio, Texas. Made popular within lower income communities, chili con carne started with small amounts of meat stewed with a hearty portion of peppers, a cheaper alternative to adding more expensive meat. So, read: it did not start with beans in it. 

Interestingly enough, chili became a staple in the Texas prison system around the mid to late 1800's(2), with many previous tenants remarking after their release that not only did they create the chili recipe, but that the chili made within their cells was so good they actually missed being in jail because of it. So you heard it here folks, there was apparently no better chili than confinement chili. 

Around this same time, chili was making it's move from residential pots to commercial stoves, with chili stands popping up in droves within San Antonio markets. These stands were led by the "Chili Queens" (3), women who made chili day in and day out to sell to the masses from their own family recipes. Not all hero's wear capes, they say. From there, chili hit an even larger crowd as it became a national phenomenon after appearing at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Chili Queens continued to make and sell in local San Antonio markets but were unable to keep up with growing sanitary standards and were put out of business for the most part around 1937.


  An Abomination.  Credit:  GoldBely

An Abomination. Credit: GoldBely

Chili continued to be a staple of the times, especially during the Great Depression. Chili could be purchased inexpensively and crackers were included for free with each bowl. (4). President Lyndon B. Johnson gave chili another wave of popularity when his recipe was published in the Washington Post in 1961 (5). As a true Texas native, his did not include beans but did include other ingredients like onion and tomatoes. Shortly after in 1977, chili manufacturers successfully lobbied to have the dish included as Texas' official state food.

There is no set time when beans were added to the mix, but most speculate that they were originally added to provide more substance to the pot. As an incredibly inexpensive food and food of health benefits, it seemed to make sense to add them to a stew that was meant to be hearty and satisfying. Sorry, Texans. Beans are hardly the most absurd ingredient however. Cincinnati chili, growing from Greek roots, included cinnamon, cloves, and spaghetti, to which we want to reply: "Go home Cincinnati, you're drunk." (6) We wouldn't turn down a chance to try chili, but we would probably save this one for last.


There will be LOTS of different options to try this Saturday, February 3rd at our 2nd annual Chili Cook Off! We're not judging beans or without beans, but rather candidates in the competition will simply have to fit within the specifications of Red, Green/White, and Wacky/Most Unusual. So, regardless of if you're a Cincinnati chili cooker, Texas Red fan, or a Pumpkin-Butternut-Squash-Gluten-Free-Avocado-Free-Range-Local-Beef-Chili maker, it's time to put your money where your mouth is and show us what you've got. Tickets are available here! Competitors MUST sign up by February 1st to compete. Tickets to be a guest are also available online or at the door the day of the event. Both competitor tickets and guest tickets will include the first beer on us!


  Shut up I'm not drooling you are.  Credit: Chef Ann Foundation

Shut up I'm not drooling you are. Credit: Chef Ann Foundation

It wouldn't be a proper tie to the history of chili if we weren't using this truly American dish to help a greater cause! We've teamed up with The Chef Ann Foundation to donate 100% of ticket sales of this local Boulder-based Charity.

Chef Ann Cooper is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. In 2009, she started the Chef Ann Foundation to help schools take action so that every child has daily access to fresh, healthy food. Most importantly, she and the foundation strive to make healthy, delicious meals that kids actually want, like fresh ingredient street tacos and spaghetti and meatballs. Further more, they provide access to ongoing education for our local schools including The Lunch Box, free step-by-step guides, tools, and recipes to help schools improve their food programs.




See you Saturday!

The Copper Kettle Team



Copper Kettle Denver