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Cowboy Chili (Easy Texas Red Chili)

Thick and hearty Cowboy Chili, also known as Texas Red Chili, is sure to stick to your ribs and satisfy any meat lover.   

Thick and hearty Cowboy Chili, also known as Texas Red Chili, is sure to stick to your ribs and satisfy any meat lover.  | www.CuriousCuisiniere.comGive Me “A Bowl Of Red”: What Is Texas Red Chili?

In America, there are as many variations on chili as there are people who love to dive into a hearty bowl.

The most simple version, and probably the one that started it all, is Texas Red Chili.

No tomatoes. No beans. Just meat.

That’s what makes Texas Red Chili stand out from other versions.

Some chili lovers will balk at the idea that chili could be made without beans or tomatoes. But, if you head down to Texas, they’ll tell you that a soup with tomatoes and beans is DEFINITELY NOT CHILI.

This thick, stick-to-your-ribs chili is also known as Cowboy Chili because it comes from the days of chuck wagons and cattle drives. A look into the origins of the chili tells us a lot about how this meal came about.

Cowboys and Cattle Drives In The Wild West

Imagine it.

It’s 1870, and you’re headed from Texas to a railway town in Kansas with 2,000 longhorn cattle in hopes of selling the herd so you can bring some money back to your family.

There are 20 or more cowboys in the group, traveling 10-12 miles a day with these cows in a journey that will take 2-3 months to complete.

Thick and hearty Cowboy Chili, also known as Texas Red Chili, is sure to stick to your ribs and satisfy any meat lover.  |

While the cowboys play a crucial role in the journey, the trail cook was probably the most important member of the group.

All those hungry boys had to eat! And, how do you attract and keep the best cowboys for your team?

Good food!

Chuck Wagon Cooking

With the help of his trail cooks and an old military wagon, Col. Charles “Chuck” Goodnight designed a mobile kitchen that could hold up to life on the trail.

The “Chuck” wagon concept was so successful, that it began to be adopted by cattle drivers throughout the west.

Ingredients that would spoil, like dairy, eggs, or fresh vegetables weren’t to be found in the chuck wagon. (No refrigeration on the trail!)

This left the cook with a small variety of ingredients to keep his hungry crew well fed and happy. Hearty meat stews and skillet breads were some of the most loved forms of sustenance.

If you need a meal that would stick to your ribs and keep you going, Texas chili is definitely the answer!

Thick and hearty Cowboy Chili, also known as Texas Red Chili, is sure to stick to your ribs and satisfy any meat lover.  |

Choosing Beef For Your Cowboy Chili


That’s really what Texas cowboy chili comes down to.

Some people use ground beef for this chuck wagon chili and others use a cubed roast.

We used a Certified Angus Beef® brand top round roast, but a chuck roast would have worked just as well. These roasts are great for braising, which is effectively what we are doing in this chili recipe. The long, slow cooking makes them incredibly flavorful and tender!

When choosing your roast, you want to be sure that there is a good amount of marbling (white flecks) in the lean of the muscle. That marbling leads to lots of flavor, particularly when the chunks of these roasts are cooked nice and slow.

We really liked the way the small cubes of meat cooked down to an incredibly tender consistency after a few hours. You’d almost swear you had started with ground beef!

Thick and hearty Cowboy Chili, also known as Texas Red Chili, is sure to stick to your ribs and satisfy any meat lover.  |
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4.28 from 62 votes

Cowboy Chili (Easy Texas Red Chili)

This really is a hearty chili, so we find that smaller serving sizes are best with some good skillet cornbread. If you are cooking for hearty eaters, you may want to double the recipe. 
Yield: 4 c
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time4 hrs
Total Time4 hrs 10 mins
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Servings: 5 - 6 people
Author: Sarah | Curious Cuisiniere


  • 3 lbs Certified Angus Beef® brand chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 c water (more if necessary)
  • 6 Tbsp Masa Harina (or cornmeal)


  • In a heavy bottomed soup pot (preferably cast iron) brown the beef cubes over medium high heat, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onions have softened, 3-5 minutes.
  • Stir in the chili powder, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 3-4 hours, until the beef is incredibly tender and the chili is thick. (Check the chili occasionally and add more water if it looks too dry.)
  • Just before serving, mix in the Masa Harina slowly, stirring to let any excess moisture be absorbed, creating a nice, thick chili.
  • Serve with cornbread or sourdough bread.


This chili is wonderful after it has set overnight. If desired, make it a day ahead of time (don't add the Masa Harina) and refrigerate overnight. When you would like to serve it, skim any fat that may have risen to the surface, reheat over medium low, and mix in the Masa Harina when warmed if the chili looks too thin.

Thick and hearty Cowboy Chili, also known as Texas Red Chili, is sure to stick to your ribs and satisfy any meat lover.  |


Check out these other great chuck wagon inspired dishes from some of our favorite bloggers:

Beefed Up Main Dishes

Sizzling Sides

Substantial Steaks



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Sarah Ozimek

Sarah is co-owner of Curious Cuisiniere and the chief researcher and recipe developer for the site. Her love for cultural cuisines was instilled early by her French Canadian Grandmother. Her experience in the kitchen and in recipe development comes from years working in professional kitchens. She has traveled extensively and enjoys bringing the flavors of her travels back to create easy-to-make recipes.

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Recipe Rating

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Ron Maylott

Monday 18th of May 2020

I am going to make this but I want to use chipotle, do I just cut down the chili powder, and I have red bean to use up, soaking tonight, any input on that add please.

Sarah Ozimek

Monday 18th of May 2020

Yes. How hot your chipotle is (and how hot you want your chili) will determine how much of the chili powder to leave out. Enjoy!


Monday 23rd of December 2019

This chili is amazing! I confess to being a real lightweight when it comes to spiciness and I’ve taken the chili powder down to 4.5 tablespoons and added 1.5 tablespoons of cardamom which help my palate. But delicious every time I’ve made it. Thank you!

Sarah Ozimek

Thursday 26th of December 2019

So glad you enjoyed the chili!


Sunday 20th of October 2019

Could this be done in a slow cooker? I've made this a few times and it is outstanding. never didn't in a slow cooker before. Would like to try today because we will be in and out all day. Thanks!

Sarah Ozimek

Sunday 20th of October 2019

Hi Dan. We've never tried this chili in a slow cooker, but I don't see why not. For best flavor, I would still sear your beef chunks and saute the onions, then transfer it to the slow cooker on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours. If you give it a try, stop back by and let us know how it turns out for you! Enjoy!


Monday 14th of October 2019

How spicy is this?

Sarah Ozimek

Monday 14th of October 2019

Hi Diana. This chili isn't too spicy to our tastes. If you are quite heat sensitive, you can dial the chili powder back while you're cooking it and add more to taste at the end. If you like your chili spicy, you can always kick it up with some cayenne powder. Enjoy!

Sharon Drossos

Thursday 10th of October 2019

I'm trying this tomorrow for a chili cookoff on Saturday. (My son is allergic to tomatoes so I'm trying chili without tomatoes for him.) Have you ever tried adding green chilis or jalepenos? I'm not a huge chili powder fan so will probably not use as much as called for, but don't want to sacrifice flavor. Also, have you ever subbed beef broth for the water?

Sarah Ozimek

Friday 11th of October 2019

Hi Sharon. We haven't tried either of the substitutions you mentioned. Substituting beef broth for the water definitely wouldn't hurt anything. It would just add flavor. A lot of the flavor of this chili comes from the chili powder, so changing it to green chiles or jalapenos will definitely change the flavor of the chili (not that it would be bad, just a very different flavor). If I were looking to swap something for the chili powder, I would probably first go to a combination of dried ancho and guajillo chile peppers that had been soaked in hot water to soften and then pureed in a blender. You can find more about these chiles here: These chiles will keep this red chili in a similar flavor profile, and deliver a really nice dept of flavor.

Either way, let us know what you try and how it turns out for you! Best of luck at your cookoff!

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