Ah, chili con carne. A dish that is, as we say, puro San Antonio. Hearty and meaty with some heat, it’s a Tex-Mex staple. It was invented here in the heart of the city in Military Plaza by those famous chili-concocting ladies dubbed the Chili Queens, to nourish nearby workers, ranchers, and locals of all social classes wanting a basic, satisfying meal, starting in the late 19th century. They soon shifted to Market Square. The Health Department did away with the chili stalls decades later, but every year in late May (Memorial Day weekend) they are reincarnated at Market Square at the Return of the Chili Queens event. As the weather cools off, it’s the perfect native comfort food. As for the question of including beans: sacrilegious!

Self-taught culinary expert and food historian Melissa Guerra specializes in Texas regional and Mexican cuisine, particularly of South Texas. What better resource for an authentic recipe of chili con carne. She comes from an eighth generation ranching family of the South Texas region. (Check out her nationally award-nominated cookbook, Dishes From the Wild Horse Desert: Norteno Cooking of South Texas.)

Make a big batch of chili con carne to top enchiladas with or just consume as-is with griddled tortillas. It’s the sort of handy and sentimental dish that every San Antonian’s taste buds instantly recognize.

Photo courtesy of Linda Stradley and her What’s Cooking America website at whatcookingamerica.net.


Chili con carne

Yield: 8 portions


4 oz. Chipotle chile, dried

4 oz. Ancho chile, dried

1 lb. Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded


1 lb. pork, ground

1 onion, medium, chopped

4 lbs. beef, ground (or venison)*

Salt and pepper to taste

*Melissa sells all-natural, grass-fed beef from her family’s ranch, McAllen Ranch, at her store at the Pearl Brewery, Melissa Guerra: Tienda de Cocina. You can also catch her selling meat on occasion at the Saturday morning Pearl Farmers Market, right outside her store. She always graciously gives recipe ideas and tips! (For pork, she sells South Texas Heritage Pork chops at her store.)


1) Fill a 6-quart saucepan half full with water, bring to a boil and add the dried chiles. After around 10 minutes, or when the chiles are soft, remove using a slotted spoon. Remove the seeds and the stems, and discard the water. Place the seeded chiles in a food processor. Add the tomatoes and water. Puree the mixture until well blended. Season with salt.

2) In a large dutch oven, brown the ground pork, beef and the onion. When the meat mixture is fully browned, add the pureed chiles and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

Recipe credit: Melissa Guerra, as presented at the 2011 Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference. Published with permission of the author. All rights reserved.