The chili that nourishes you DEEPLY - in both body and soul!

Mama’s Ultimate Chuckwagon Chili

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The chuckwagon chili that nourishes you DEEPLY - in both body and soul!

Usually I'm a proponent of telling my kids exactly what they're eating. I figure that way, even if they don't like it now, they'll come to appreciate each food over time.

But then there are the days when I just want to hide every nourishing thing I can think of in their favorite foods so they'll blissfully chow down and get the foods they need with nary a word of protest. (Sing with me! “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word…”)

This chili is one food that always delivers.

It's a standard chuckwagon chili – chunks of meat and no beans – but in it is hidden just the right amounts of liver, heart, pumpkin, beets, zucchini, and chocolate. You'd never guess, though, as it's as delicious a chili as you'd find on any chili cookoff table.

And as a added benefit, the liver will give mama an anti-fatigue boost. Bonus!

(Oh, and by the way, don't be put off by the long list of ingredients – most of them are just spices.)

Mama's Ultimate Chuckwagon Chili

If you need to avoid the coffee and chocolate, feel free to skip them - they're just there as flavor enhancers. The tradition of coffee in chili got started by the old chuckwagon cooks who would toss in the remains of the morning's cowboy coffee as the chili was stewing through the day.


  • 4 tablespoons tallow or bacon grease, divided
  • 3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound beef heart, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound beef liver
  • 2 lemons or limes
  • 2 large white or yellow onions
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, deseeded and finely chopped, more to taste
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5-6 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 24 ounces dark beer OR 3 cups beef stock
  • 8-10 to matoes, roasted, peeled, and diced (if you did this during the summer preservation season and are now just pulling them out of the freezer, give yourself a pat on the back)
  • teaspoon all-natural liquid smoke, optional
  • ½ cup tomato paste, learn how to make tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup pumpkin pureé, learn how to make pumpkin puree
  • 1 small beet, shredded
  • 1 small zucchini, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt
  • 1 ounce bittersweet or extra-dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup leftover dark coffee OR 2 shots of espresso

Ideas for serving

  • grated cheddar or pepper jack cheese
  • chopped scallions
  • fresh cilantro
  • chopped avocado
  • tortilla chips


  • At least 12 hours before you want make the chili, place the beef livers in a bowl and cover with water. Juice the 2 lemons or limes and pour in all of the juice. Lift each liver to make sure the water mixture gets in contact with every surface. Place in the refrigerator and let sit until chili time. This step will minimize the "liver-y" taste, so it's definitely recommended.
  • When you want to make your chili, heat 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Drain the livers and coarsely chop them. Place them in the heated pot along with the cubes of beef heart and brown them over medium heat until the livers begin to fall apart and the heart is well-browned. Remove them with a slotted spoon, place in a food processor, and grind to the consistency of ground beef. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile, brown the beef chuck in 2-3 batches. After each batch is browned, set aside.
  • Add the remaining bacon grease to the pot and toss in the onions. Sauté until they are translucent but not browned. Add in the jalapeño, spices, and garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Pour in the beer to deglaze the pan, then add all remaining ingredients and the reserved liver mixture and beef chuck.
  • Stir well to make sure the tomato paste and pumpkin are well mixed in, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and let simmer until the chili is thickened and the meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally to make sure the chili isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  • Spoon into bowls, top with your favorite toppings, and enjoy!
  • To make the chili in the slow cooker, follow the instructions above to prepare the meats, saute the onions, and deglaze the pan. (Don't worry about adding the jalapeños, spices, and garlic with the onions - just toss them in the slow cooker.)
  • Add the ground meats, browned chuck, onions, and all remaining ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Stir to combine, then heat on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
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