Terlingua Chili Recipe


A classic red chili with layers of flavor and a little heat. Simple to make and absolutely perfect.

Terlingua Chili with toppings in white bowl

❤️ Why you’ll love this recipe

Homemade with love. There are millions of chili recipes out there, but this one is my favorite. It’s named (by me) after the most famous chili cook-off in the world, in a part of the country where chili is a little spicy and has few to no beans. Since it’s my recipe, it’s never entered that chili cook-off, but I would be proud to enter it any day.

This is an overview of the ingredients. You’ll find the full measurements and instructions in the printable recipe at the bottom of the page.

You’ll need the following for this terlingua chili:

A lot of people say that the best chili recipe is complex, with layers of flavor. And then things start to get crazy. Dried chilis, coffee extract, weird vegetables, and other needless additions find their way into some recipes. This one has nothing too weird but still has tons of flavor.

Most chili is pure ground beef, but I always use meatloaf mix because I feel that it is more tender and flavorful. But when I use plain ground beef no one can tell the difference but me, so don’t be afraid to substitute it if that’s what you have on hand.

All the other ingredients are very simple, pantry ingredients. Look for the chiles in adobo sauce in the international aisle of the grocery store. They add a smoky, spicy flavor to the chili that is delicious.

  • soft bread torn into quarters
  • milk
  • meatloaf mix or 80% ground beef
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • onions finely chopped
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • crushed red pepper
  • oregano
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic cloves pressed through a garlic press
  • crushed tomatoes
  • whole pinto beans rinsed
  • soy sauce
  • brown sugar
  • chiles in adobo sauce finely chopped
  • beer half a bottle
  • large mixing bowl
  • dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot
  • slow cooker or pressure cooker (optional)


Step One: mixing the ingredients

This recipe is one of those that seems weird while you’re making it. The first step is to pour milk over a few pieces of bread and mash it into a paste. This seems strange. But the panade makes the meat stay tender through the cooking process and is totally worth it. The milk/ bread paste is mixed with the meat until it looks like this:

panade for terlingua chili- in white bowl on gray counter

I know. It will get prettier.

Step Two: cook the onion and garlic

The onions and garlic are cooked with the dry seasoning in either bacon grease or vegetable oil, and then you add the meat and brown it.

oil, onions, garlic, red pepper, oregano, and other dry spices in stainless steel pot with wooden spatula
cooked oil, onions, garlic, red pepper, oregano, and other dry spices in stainless steel pot with wooden spatula

Step three: add the rest of the ingredients and simmer

Then we add the beans, tomatoes, and rest of ingredients.

pot of chili with beans

Simmer for 1 hour in the pot, or transfer for a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Since there is a little heat, it is very good topped with sour cream and cheese. We also like Terlingua chili with crushed tortilla chips and cilantro.

🥫 Storage instructions

  • Once cooled, store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Once the chili has cooled, you can safely store it in airtight freezer-safe containers.

🔍 FAQs

Do I have to use ground beef to make chili?

As I’ve said, this recipe can work with other ground meat and no one would notice.

Do I have to add the beans?

I love this chili with beans, but if you prefer your chili without beans, leave them out.

What do I do if my chili is too watery?

Reduce it by leaving it on the stove for longer than the time mentioned. The longer it stays on the stove the thicker your chili becomes.

👩🏻‍🍳 Expert tips

  • Don’t forget to drain the beans before using it or better yet use fresh beans.
  • Always get your chili to the right level of thickness.
  • You can cook this recipe the day before o all of the fresh flavors can meld and settle together until all of the ingredients become one harmonious whole.

📘 Related Recipes

🍽 Serve it with

Having a cozy dinner at home? Make these too.

📖 here’s the recipe

Terlingua Chili Recipe

This chili recipe is packed with flavor and has a little heat.  True Terlingua chili does not have beans, but you can add them if you want!
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Serving Size 8 bowls of chili


  • 3 pieces of soft bread torn into quarters
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 pounds meatloaf mix or 80% ground beef
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 6 garlic cloves pressed through a garlic press
  • 2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 oz can of whole pinto beans rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons canned chiles in adobo sauce finely chopped
  • 6 oz of beer half a bottle


  • In large mixing bowl, pour the milk over the bread and allow to sit for ten minutes.  Mash with a fork into a smooth paste.  Using your hands, mix in the meat along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
  • In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the bacon grease over medium heat.  Add the onion, chili powder, oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, and cayenne until the onions have softened, about 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 4 minutes more, until the garlic is softened and lightly browned.
  • Add the meat mixture to the Dutch oven, 1 pound at a time, breaking up with a spatula.  Cook until the meat is browned.  Pour in half a can of the crushed tomatoes and scrape the pan to get any browned bits.
  • Add the remaining crushed tomatoes, beans, soy sauce, sugar, canned chiles, and beer.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 1 hour on low heat.  Remove the lid and simmer for 15 minutes, or until it has thickened a little.
  • Check for seasonings and add salt if desired.  Serve in bowls with sour cream, cheese, and crushed tortilla chips.


This can also be prepared in a slow cooker.  At step four, add all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
If using a pressure cooker, cook on low pressure for 20 minutes rather than simmering on the stovetop for 1 hour.
Terlingua Chili RecipeTerlingua Chili Recipe

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Recipe Rating


  1. Please remove the “Terlingua” name from your chili. Your recipe would be disqualified at Terlingua due to the addition of beans. Keep northern bean soup recipes where they belong, in the north.

    1. Yes I freeze it ALL the time! Reheating in a crockpot is a great idea. For a crowd, you could double it if you have a big crock pot. I have a four quart one (its super old) and it fills it to absolute very top.

      1. Thank you so much!! I’m also hoping to make your pepperoni bread for our party too – wish me luck!

    2. This is by far not Terlingua chili. In Terlingua, Texas where the world champions chili cook off is. You are strictly forbade to use any fillers such as beans. Real Texas chili is only meat and chilies and some veggies. Like onions and green chilies. The meat is 100% chili ground chuck or just cubes of good quality beef. Do not over cook your beef to mush. You want tender but have resistance. Look up casi chilli cook offs and recipes if you want to make real Texas chili. You can get these recipes. Also Do Not add bead to your beef we are not feeding the ducks. Leave in bigger pieces try not to over work or over stir.