Y’all, I’m going to share this with you once and only once. My Chili and Frito Pie has won awards all over Texas. My recipe has been perfected over the years, and it’s something that I’m proud to serve to anyone who comes over. I’ve made it for my in-laws in Minnesota, too, and they’ve shared it with their neighbors.
Now, there are a few ways to serve up this dish. Life on the ranch is hard enough, so I don’t like to spend any more time making it than necessary. Too many people make the mistake of trying to over-complicate the dish. That’s not my style. I don’t put a bunch of crap in it, either. You wouldn’t believe some of the crazy things I’ve seen people try to sneak into the pie in order to change up the color or the texture.
I follow the KISS method. Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Life on the Ranch
Before I get into Texas cuisine, I want to talk about life on the ranch. I’m a simple person with a simple life. However, there are a few things that I do to make my life as easy as possible. One thing I did early on was to invest in a pole barn. Metal buildings last longer than the wooden shacks that some of these ranches have, so it’s a lot less maintenance for me.
By keeping a fully operating ranch, I have all of the ingredients that I need for chili at a moment’s notice. Each of the barns keeps important things in stock. I have one that’s used for my cattle feed. It ensures that, when the time comes, I have the beef on hand for my chili. Another of the barns is used for my tractor and some of the farming equipment. This allows me to grow my own dry beans as well as some of the other produce that goes into my chili.
Say what you will, but fresh is best. There are so many people that go for the canned beans at the store to make their chili. It tastes good, but it’s not as good as producing my own pinto and kidney beans. And yes, I use two types of beans. Don’t let anyone know that I told you that, though.
Any of you Minnesota foodies out there will be able to taste the difference between freshly grown beans and canned beans in a heartbeat. Because I know all about life on the ranch, it gives me the upper hand when it comes to that Frito pie I was telling you about. If you’re a rancher, you get it.
The Power of the Crockpot
There are going to be plenty of chili cookoff winners who will tell you that the only way to make a really good chili is to go out and buy one of those massive 16-quart stockpots for your chili. I’ll tell you right now that it’s a rookie mistake. Unless you plan on standing in front of the stove for the next four hours, stirring that chili like crazy, don’t do it.
I use a crockpot. We’ve already established that I’m a simple person. I’d much rather spend my time manning the ranch and picking out the freshest tomatoes for my chili than spending all day stirring a pot.
You’re never going to make a good chili without all of the flavors marinating around for a while. It requires time, but it doesn’t require your time. Loading all of the ingredients into a giant crockpot and giving it a good stir can be an amazing way to accomplish what you need. About every hour to hour and a half, enter the kitchen. Stir the contents and get that lid back into place. The spiciness of the chili will waft through the air, and everyone in the house will be screaming that they’re starving. That’s when you know you’ve got a good chili on your hands.
If you’re following a recipe for chili, you’re probably a newbie. You need to get comfortable with adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Garlic powder, cayenne, and chili powder should get sprinkled in based on the overall flavor you have going on.
Crockpot recipes will tell you that you can speed it up by putting it on high and cutting the time in half. Don’t rush it. Your ground beef will stick to the bottom of the pot. Plus, your chili will be dried up in no time at all. Plan on letting it simmer all day, at least eight hours. You’ll thank me later.
Serving Up the Good Stuff
When it’s time to serve up the chili and Frito pie, I make sure to call everyone in and have them sit at the table. This is critical because I don’t want the pie sitting in bowls on the table waiting for everyone to show up. If that happens, the Fritos get soggy and all of my hard work is for nothing.
Once everyone’s at the table, I serve up the chili in a bowl. Then, I do a bit of layering. I add Fritos and sharp cheddar. Here’s another area where it pays to be a rancher. One of my steel buildings is where I do some dairy processing, so you better believe that I make my own cheddar. The taste is in the details. So, I add the cheddar and a dollop of sour cream. After that, I add some diced tomatoes onto the very top.
It’s done. Everyone dives into their pie, loving every spoonful.
I’ve told you some of my tips, but I’m not going to tell you how I grow my beans or how I make my sharp cheddar. Those little secrets are only handed down to family members. I will tell you that Sherman Pole Buildings is my go-to place for a pole barn. It makes it easy to have the storage and processing facilities that I need on my ranch so that everything runs properly day in and day out. They customize the buildings to my specifications, ensuring that I’ve got a great-looking ranch. They can do the same for you. Maybe, then, you can make a chili and Frito pie that’s worthy of going up against mine.