I hope you have a big spoon at the ready, my recipe for Best-Ever Beef Chili is, well, THE BEST! With freezing temperatures and heated football bowl games going down, this big pot of spicy, rich and blissfully beefy chili is what to serve by the mug, bowl or trough.
I typically make chili by breaking down a roast into bite-sized chunks, my kitchen stampeded causing Southwestern Steak Chili is a family favorite. However, the kids love ground beef (and so does my food budget) and requested a chili made with their favorite food group — hamburger meat!
Won’t lie, I was a little worried that the ground beef would come out dry and the beefy taste might get downed out by bold chili spices. After reading an article in Cooks Illustrated on achieving “better browning through science,” I knew I had to try their technique of using a baking solution on meat to enable proteins to attract more water and hold onto it during cooking and also create a higher pH level to speed up the desirable Maillard reaction (basically, the harbinger of caramelization). My dad reported success using this method to keep steaks juicy and tender, and I hoped this easy hack would help improve the taste and texture of my chili’s ground beef.
So, how does this baking soda beef hack work? Typically, when ground beef is cooked on the stove top, so much water and liquid is expelled that the beef chunks just end up steaming in their own juices — very little actually browning happens. When cooked to the point of most water evaporating, the batch of beef will be unpleasantly overdone. However, by gently tossing a baking soda solution with the meat (about ¾ teaspoon baking soda to 2 tablespoons water for 2lbs of grind) and letting sit for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking , beef loses less liquid, browns faster and tastes better. I tried it myself with 80/20 Chuck Ground Beef and I must say, I was impressed! The ground beef cooked “as-is” was almost immediately was sitting in a pool of liquids (as you can see from the picture) and when taste-tested seemed a little rubbery and bland.
However, the baking soda treated beef immediately started to brown in the pot. And, while there was still a fair deal of liquid released, it was noticely less so than the previous batch (Cook’s illustrated said about 10% less liquid, I felt like maybe even a little more). More noticeable though, was the taste – the baking-soda treated batch had a richer, more complex caramelized flavor and was markedly juicier. In fact, the cooked beef was so yummy; I worried about taste-testing my way through the whole pile before I even started the rest of the chili!
So, my final recommendation on this “baking soda treatment” is definitely try it and see what you think! It does take little bit of pre-planning because you have to let the solution sit on the meat for 20 minutes, but you can have that going while you prep the other ingredients.
So, here is my Best Ever Ground Beef Chili recipe, – every spoon is a mouthful of meaty goodness. It’s rich and spicy, without being too heavy or too “hot” for kids – I think you’ll really like it. But, feel free to use this baking soda technique with any beef chili recipe!
If you’re looking for other delicious chili recipes, check out this collection I curated for Mode! And, also head over to the Texas Beef Council for more inspiration.
Do tell, do you put beans in your chili? Do you like spicy or mild? What toppings do you put on top? Please share in the comments below – XOXO, Jennifer