Why Chili Has No Beans


   People are always asking why our chili has no beans.   The contemporary reason for chili contests with no beans is that in 1951, a chili prophet by the name of John Haddaway decided to improve the quality of chili in the world.   He knew in his heart of hearts that good chili had no beans and so
he wrote and preached about this.  From this beginning, thousands of chili cooks and a couple of international organizations with associated foolishness have arisen.  As part of this, millions of dollars have been raised for charities through the vehicle of competitive chili cookoffs.

    The development of these competitive cooking events involved designing standardized rules to ensure non-biased judging and perhaps more importantly, to eliminate the notions that there were opportunities for some to "cheat".  Beans, by their appearance, by their variety and differences,
could allow some judges and promoters of events to select or de-select winners based on the
appearance of the chilies, i.e., I might know that this is or is not Fred's chili because it has or doesn't have kidney, pinto and or red beans in it. As a competitive corollary, beans make it easier to mask bitter tastes associated with chili powders and they also provide vastly different flavors.

    A perhaps better reason for no beans in chili is that historically, prior to the 1900s, chili was made without beans.  Speculations surrounding the origins of "true" chili are numerous, but soaking dry beans and then boiling them for several hours makes beans a difficult dish for a cattle drive.  I
believe jerky or just plain beef and biscuits were the typical fare for such adventures.   As
for jail houses, in the 1800s, I doubt that many served meat dishes to their guests.

    The most reliable information on the origin of chili and their recipes comes from old cookbooks.  Some early cookbook mention chili but do not include beans as an ingredient. The 1870s US Army Cook's manual contains a recipe for chili that does not have beans.  In the Army, beans weren't
included in official chili recipes until just before WW I.   As a side bar,   tomatoes weren't added to Army chili until improved canning techniques were developed prior to WW II.  The earliest "sort of" recipe for "chili with beans" that I know of, comes to us from the 1880s and a boarding house cookbook which includes chili with beans on the border..."border" meaning, on the side.   

    Apart from all this is that chili has simply always been a Southwestern dish.  There are stories (no recipes), of street vendors selling "true" chili on the streets of San Antonio before the American Civil War.  We can also look at our Mexican heritage and find other evidence. Growing up as a
kid in Arizona, at most native Mexican restaurants, a bowl of chili meant a bowl
of meat, either red or green but...sorry, beans not included.  

    Anyhow, in this world the competition standard for chili cookoffs is chili with no beans.   Because we like to cook and are friendly, we often include non sanctioned open or "anything goes" competitions so that "chili with bean" people can have fun to.   Regardless, Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI), cookoffs are held for the purpose of bragging rights and raising
money for charities and for having fun.

    Here are a couple of stolen quotes to enjoy chili by:  "Life is too short for boring food,"  from Sharon Pinnell and  "If you know beans about chili, you know chili has no beans," by Jerry Jeff Walker.

Dave Garner
"Mad Jack"
Chandler AZ