A Super(b) Bowl of Chili

We're celebrating chili by sharing our chef's secret ingredient, plus perfect sides and ideas for hosting a chili cook-off.

There's no better way to beat winter's chill—or feed a crowd—than with a hearty pot of chili. "It's the perfect halftime meal," says Dan Kish, head chef at Panera Bread®.

Dan dishes up his favorite chili recipe when the game is on and the house is full of family and friends. His secret ingredient: a bottle of rich and hearty beer. "It's the backbone of my chili," he says. "The alcohol cooks off and you are left with a complexity of flavor that really adds something unique to the dish." 

Easy Chili Change-Ups 

Chili was most likely popularized by cattle ranchers and cowhands in the old Southwest, but even back in the day this one-pot meal was the subject of much competition and debate. Beans or no beans, hot or mild, beef, turkey or vegetarian: There are no shortage of recipes to choose from.

"I love how easy it is to customize chili with ingredients, and also with sides and toppings," says Dan, who dresses up his bowl with sour cream infused with lime zest and a dash of cayenne pepper, and serves it over aromatic rice. "I fill the table with everything from chopped onions to grated cheese and let each guest create his or her own meal. 

Host a Chili Celebration 

Another thing you might want to try at home is inviting family and friends to toss in their ladles at a chili cook-off party. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Try a blind tasting. Label each pot of chili with a number and ask guests to mark their favorites on a scorecard. You'll want to stack small disposable cups and spoons near each pot for tasting, but don't forget the bowls. Once each guest selects their favorite batch, they can come back to it to get their fill.
  • Round out with delicious sides. Cornbread with honey or any freshly baked bread, fresh salads, and a vegetable platter are great add-ons and a nice counterpoint to the main course. And don't forget the condiments: sour cream, grated cheese, chopped fresh cilantro, and diced scallions are a good place to start.
  • Have plenty of drinks on hand. It may be cold outside, but inside it's smoking. Offer your guests something cool and refreshing to help temper the heat and clear the palette.

And don't forget to bestow a small prize on the winner: a new ladle, a jar of gourmet cayenne pepper, a chili cookbook, or perhaps a can of beans packaged with some Beano®. Remember, it's all in good fun (and good taste)!