Old Fashioned American Chili

Old Fashioned “American” Chili

There was a time when the most popular Chili was this Old Fashioned American Chili, and Chilil used to be quite a bit different than the trendy varieties of today. There was a time when Chili was made with simpler ingredients and was served as a family meal, not a culinary adventure. A time when Chili was saucy enough to add a few crackers – and saucy enough that one HAD to use a spoon. And a spoon wouldn’t stand up in it! I miss that chili.

Old Fashioned American Chili

Old Fashioned American Chili

My little sister recently suggested I do another Chili post; my last was White Bean and Chicken Chili, posted in 2011. I confessed that I couldn’t and somewhat shamefacedly (is that a word) admitted it was because I like this simple Chili we grew up with (My Mom made this) best – and I didn’t think anyone would be interested in it.

About Old Fashioned American Chili:

This Old Fashioned Amerian Chili is nothing fancy, nothing trendy. It’s made with ground beef, tomatoes, and spices. And if you wish (we do) a can of pintos and or kidney beans tossed in at the end. In culinary circles chili aficionados consider this type of chili to be pretty much an inauthentic dish.

My sister, though, surprised me when she chimed in she likes it best, too! The following week I ran into a young lady puzzling over cans of tomatoes in the store, consulting with her boyfriend on her iPhone. Turns out she was making her (long passed) Grandma’s Chili recipe to surprise her Dad, who had been craving it for years. She showed me the recipe (almost the same as this) and I explained it in a bit more detail. They had been puzzled, never having had chili quite like this!

But that convinced me (I mean if there ever was a sign) that it was worth posting this old recipe! Just know that it is going to be thinner than the chilis of today, but every bit as flavorful, and not too hot for a family. What it is is “basic” and that doesn’t have to be a bad word! Jazz it up how you want if you wish!

Making Old Fashioned American Chili:

This is a pretty easy recipe and there’s not even much prep work. You might wanna know that I always double this, and sometimes triple it – even if I’m at the house alone. And certainly, if my son is around! As written, it makes 4 servings. That’s just a tease!

Start off cooking the ground beef as you dice the onions, bell pepper, and mince the garlic. Then dump the veggies into the ground beef. Once the veggies are softened, drain the excess fat. Add the spices in and stir around, giving them a chance to wake up and get flavorful. All that’s left is the tomatoes and water.

It’s you call as to how long you wish to cook this chili and how much you want to reduce it. It really is not meant to be thick. And it’s your call as to what beans you’d like to add and how much. Since I double the recipe, I recommend a can of pintos and a can of kidney beans; sometimes I add more beans. Depends on how it looks and how I feel that day!

Old Fashioned American Chili

Old Fashioned American Chili

Options for Old Fashioned American Chili:

First of all, serve this with your fave toppings! I don’t think we ever even heard of such a thing when we were growing up, btw! This chili is great with crackers (saltines are traditional) but serve with tortillas or cornbread if you wish.

Even though this is a “basic” Old Fashioned Chili, there’s still room to tinker if you wish. I do want to note that this isn’t overly hot but if serving children or those not used to any heat, cut back a bit on the chili powder and/or cayenne…

That being said, this chili is great if started with bacon, reserving the bacon itself and cooking in the drippings. (i do still drain the beef mixture.) Maybe you’d like to sub in poblanos for the bells and add jalapenos. Just make it your own!

Storing and Reheating Old Fashioned American Chili:

Any time you are storing a heavy dense mixture like this, you’ll want to divide into 2 or more shallow containers, especially if there is a lot left over. The point is to get the center of the chili cooled off as soon as possible and to not overheat the fridge.

This keeps well for five to six days, covered tightly and I think it is at its best on the second day or later. Chili freezes very well, too. Just thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Saving Money on Old Fashioned American Chili:

Ground Beef: Ground Beef freezes extremely well and it goes on sale often. There’s really no reason to pay full price. Keep tabs on the pricing in your area so you know what a good price is and what is the rock bottom sales price (usually about once a quarter) and stock up then. Generally, the larger family packs are less per pound. Divide up in portions before freezing. Most recipes will call for a pound of ground beef.

Veggies: Keep onions away from potatoes and hold in a cool, dark, well ventilated area and they’ll keep longer. Buy in the larger mesh bags for the best pricing. The bell peppers can be any color. Green is more true to the original recipe an always cheaper than the colored peppers. Since bell peppers go on sale often, pick up enough for the current week if the price is good and a few extra for the following week, then wait for the next sale. I used red this time.

Tomatoes: I always buy big 29 oz cans of whole tomatoes. They’re the best bargain at a great sale price. It is very rare that I buy any sauce or diced or crushed tomatoes and so on. If I want sauce, I blend the can. If I want diced or crushed, I do it by hand or barely process it in a food processor or blender. I know the final product is better, fresher tasting, and cheaper!

Beans: Use dried beans for economy’s sake, preferably pintos. One package of beans (a pound) is too much, so cook the whole package and put about 1 1/2 cups of the beans in the chili and store the rest in two Ziplocs with about 1 1/2 cups (about as much in a 15 oz can) of beans, each, in the freezer for later use.

Old Fashioned American Chili

Old Fashioned American Chili


Old Fashioned “American” Chili

  • Author: Catherine Barlow
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 to 3 hours
  • Total Time: 53 minute
  • Yield: 4 to 6 1x
  • Category: Soup
  • Cuisine: southwestern


  • 1 pound chopped (or ground) beef
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds (use about 3/4 teaspoon ground)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/8 teaspoon basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 15 ounce can of whole tomatoes with juice (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 cups water (see note)
  • 15 to 16 ounce can kidney or pinto beans, rinsed and drained, equivalent of 1/3 pound of dried before cooking, or about one and a half cups, cooked.


To a large pot or Dutch oven, add the ground beef, heat over medium high, breaking down into small pieces. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and saute until golden brown. Drain off any excess fat.

While the ground beef mixture is cooking, break up the tomatoes by hand, squishing them. If the top portion, near the stem is hard and unpalatable, remove and discard.

Add in the chili powder, salt, celery salt, cumin, cayenne, basil and bay leaf. Stir to incorporate the spices. Heat for a minute.

Add in the tomatoes and juice along with water. Bring to a boil, adjust to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened to desired consistency, about three hours, stirring now and then. Stir in the beans if desired.

note: I use 1 1/2 cups water and simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. A good long simmer is important to meld the flavors.

Keywords: Beans, Bell Peppers, canned tomatoes, Chili, Dried Beans, Family Recipe, Freezes Well, Ground Beef, Mexican or Southwestern, Soup, Tomatoes

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This is the Old Fashioned American Chili my Mom made, and since I'm a Grandma, it's been around for a long time! Simply a Classic Chili everyone loves. #ClassicChili #OldFashionedChili #AmericanChili

4 thoughts on “Old Fashioned “American” Chili

  1. I love your comment that good is good enough. I still make the same chili I grew up with; very much the same recipe you shared. My kids enjoy some fresh parmesan on it, or a sprinkle of cheddar. I baked a lot of bread when they were all home, so their favorite with chili is cinnamon rolls. Yes, just like the school lunches!
    Don’t be afraid to post some of the good old standards. As you said, there is always someone out there trying to find them!

    • Nancy, thanks so much for commenting! I think we had some of the greatest school lunches, didn’t we? It was a big thing for me when I was old enough to work in dish center – for those of you who don’t know, at our little school, the older kids took turns washing the dishes during and after lunch. It was a great experience, looking back on it. Maybe not so much at the time…*g*

      It sounds like you have some pretty lucky kids!

      I may have told you before, but when I was in 4-H in 9th grade, I put in two entries at the county fair. One was Apricot Shortbread and the other was a loaf of White Bread made from the recipe your Mom had handed off to mine. Since it made two loaves, Mom and I would make 1/2 the dough as a loaf of bread and use the second half as Cinnamon Rolls. By the way, both took the blue ribbons in their category, a testament to how good the recipes were! (And also how good of a teacher my Mom was.)

      If you look on the tags to the left of my posts, you’ll see two tags that might interest you. One is Family Recipes, which are posts of some of the favorites Mom or Grandma made and handed down. The other is Heritage Recipes, which are recipes that have been around for generations, but aren’t necessarily from MY heritage. I’ll keep slowly adding over time, and please let me know if you’d like me to add any of YOUR favorites or have any suggestions!

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