Joe Cooper’s Chili

In 1952, a Texas journalist who had devoted much of his life to the study of chili wrote a book entitled With or Without Beans. His name was Joe Cooper. After examining the best chili on record to that date, he released his own recipe – one that he described as “maybe not the best ever, but one which satisfies the Coopers’ appetites,” and is one which poses no undue problems for the average home cook. It will put good chili on the table without much effort or attention other than what is normal routine in any kitchen.”

Joe Cooper’s Chili


3 pounds lean beef (never veal)
¼ cup olive oil
1 quart water
2 bay leaves
8 dry chile pods or 6 tablespoons chili powder
3 teaspoons salt
10 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon red pepper
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons cornmeal

When olive oil is hot, in 6-quart pot, add meat and sear over high heat; stir constantly until gray – not brown. It then will have the consistency of whole-grain hominy. Add 1 quart water and cook (covered) at bubbling simmer 1½ to 2 hours. Then add all ingredients, except flour and cornmeal. Cook another 30 minutes at same bubbling simmer, but no longer, as further cooking will damage some of the spice flavors. Now add thickening, previously mixed in 3 tablespoons cold water. Cook 5 minutes to determine if more water is necessary (likely) for your desired consistency. Stir to prevent sticking after thickening is added. Some prefer all flour, others all cornmeal, and still others use cracker meal – about as good, and more convenient. Suit your own taste.

Some Texans agree with Joe Cooper, some don’t. Hal John Wimberly, editor and publisher of the Goat Gap Gazette, a Houston newspaper “mainly for chiliheads and their ilk,” likes it simple. He says reverently of chili: “I don’t know why people screw around with it. It’s a marvelous dish if you treat it right, with a few simple ingredients. I mean, look at California cooks, they’re likely to throw the whole garden in.””