In Texas, saying “I’m putting beans in the chili” are fightin’ words.
If you want to start an argument in the Lone Star State, all you have to do is say you’re a Steelers fan. If you want to start a fight, you can disparage John Wayne, or you can serve beans in your chili.
Those of us who grew up in Arkansas were pretty particular in how we made our gravy, but not so much about how we made our chili.
I was raised by parents and grandparents who lived through The Great Depression, so stretching everything including a food dollar was commonplace. Adding beans to a bowl of red was a tasty way to make your chili dish increase in volume without increasing in cost.
When I arrived in Texas and served my first bowl of chili with beans, I was greeted with the type of angry stares normally reserved for people who steal girlfriends or say they’ve never heard of the Alamo. My friends acted as if I should know that I was doing it wrong.
So, what’s wrong with putting beans in chili?
Turns out, a lot.
During my years as a radio broadcaster, I was invited to judge dozens of chili cook offs. Thirty years ago when I judged my first event, I noticed consistency. With few exceptions, chili was made pretty much the same by everyone. Ingredients included beef, onions, tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper.
Today, there are several chili cook off categories and many additional ingredients, including wild game. But putting beans in ones competitive chili makes one a pariah.
At Terlingua, which is Mecca for competitive chili cookers, no chili recipes with beans are allowed to compete.
Some quick online research revealed some interesting chili facts:
In 1977, the Texas legislature officially proclaimed chili to be the official state food of Texas “in recognition of the fact that the only real ‘bowl of red’ is that prepared by Texans.”
And did you know that chili has its own song?
“If You Know Beans About Chili, You Know That Chili Has No Beans” is a song written in 1976 by Ken Finlay, a singer, songwriter and owner of Cheatham Street Warehouse, a music hall in San Marcos.
But, nowhere online did I find a ban on beans in chili.
So, what did beans ever do to anger so many? Why are so many so quick to judge me for how I make my chili?
I once described my lack of understanding regarding this issue to my wife, who told me that in Kentucky, people put their chili on spaghetti. Chili on Spaghetti? What’s wrong with people in Kentucky? Don’t they know that’s not how you eat chili?
©2014 John Moore