2 pounds of bacon, 4 pounds of sausage, 6 pounds of ground beef…and that’s only the beginning.

Meat mania

Meat mania

This recipe may seem excessive, but by the time this massive pot of chili is done cooking, and certainly by the time you’ve gone through the last of it, you always want just a little bit more.

It really is that good. It’s not like some chili which sits in your stomach like a ton of bricks. It’s not too beany, or too spicy, or too smoky. It’s complex, with a sweet savory tang, and layers of meaty flavor throughout. For me, it’s the sweetness that makes this chili special. A multi-dimensional sweetness derived from a number of ingredients: carrots (grated so that they melt into the sauce), ketchup, barbecue sauce, sugar, and baker’s chocolate.

That’s Secret #1.

The Makings of the Best Chili Ever

The Makings of the Best Chili Ever

Secret #2 is adding a parmesan rind to the pot. This is an old Italian trick I learned for creating rich soups, stocks, tomato sauce, or…chili! Remember it next time you finish off an expensive wedge of parmigiano. After you’re done digging away at all the edible parts, pop the rind in a freezer bag and save it for a rainy (or shall I say chili, ha ha ha) day.

Secret #3: let it simmer for a long long time. This is one of those dishes that tastes better the next day, or the day after that. I kid you not, I let this simmer for 6 hours or more. I will usually make it late afternoon on a weekend, let it cook all evening, and then turn off the flame and cover it right before going to bed. The next day, the flavors will have melded together into something amazing.

There may be a few lingering doubts in your mind about why not to make this recipe. One being the long list of ingredients, to which I say, okay, there are a lot of ingredients, and yes, you will need to make a Costco run, but after that it’s really easy. You basically just add everything to a big pot and leave it alone. Fool proof. And worth it.

The other question may concern the alarming quantity this recipe makes. Feeds 20+. Yes, it does! But really, you’ll be surprised at how quickly this goes, and I mean, if you’re going to make all that effort in getting the ingredients, you might as well go the whole nine yards. If you’re still on the fence, consider these scenarios where a massive pot of chili makes perfect sense:

  • Game Day with lots of men to feed. Isn’t the Super Bowl coming up or something?
  • Ski weekend. This is the perfect make-ahead meal. All you have to do is heat it up on the stove, which is the maximum effort I usually have in me after a day on the slopes, when my quads have turned to lead.
  • Any weekend. Especially when it is relentlessly rainy and cold outside. (You may know what I mean). Extra bonus, this recipe freezes really well. Store away single/double servings of this and have a warm, satisfying, homemade meal ready in minutes any time.

Now that you’re ready for chili, the next challenge is to find a pot that is sufficiently massive. You’re on your own for that one. Alright, I’ll give you a hint: I scored mine off of Craigslist from a restaurant going out of business. For something this size, go commercial.

Best Chili Ever

Best Chili Ever

Big-Ass Pot of Chili

Yield: 4 gallons (20+ servings)

Adapted from Steve Conn and Colerain Firefighters Local 3915’s "Major Cojone’s Chili.” I guess it makes sense that the original recipe would come from a fire house 🙂 I doubled the Major’s recipe, made some tweaks to the heat source, and added some sweet secret ingredients.


  • 2 pounds applewood-smoked bacon, diced into 1 inch squares
  • 4 pounds spicy Italian pork sausage, removed from casings
  • 6 pounds ground beef
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cans (28 oz each) chili beans
  • 4 cans (28 oz each) crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cans (28 oz each) tomato sauce
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup BBQ sauce
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 tablespoons red chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce
  • 2 ounces unsweetened baker's chocolate
  • 1 parmesan rind


  1. In a large pan, cook bacon until crispy; drain and add to a 5-gallon pot.
  2. Drain off the bacon grease. Brown the sausage in the same pan; drain and add to the pot.
  3. Drain off the fat from the pan again. Brown the ground beef; drain and add to the pot with the other meats.
  4. Add all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a bubble, stirring periodically. Then, lower heat and simmer on low for at least 6 hours.
  5. Serve with chili toppings if you’d like (shredded cheese, sour cream, green onion or chives), Frito scoops, quesadillas, or bread bowl.

This post was published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites on January 27, 2010. It was also featured in SF Weekly’s SFoodie.