The century-old iconic L.A. diner is famous for its chili, and the bean-less Texas-Style Chili is the best of the bunch.
If Barney’s Beanery never existed, where would Janis Joplin have taken her last drink? Where would Quentin Tarantino have written his most celebrated film, Pulp Fiction? Where would Peter Falk’s character have eaten chili, his favorite meal, in the 1970s TV show Columbo?
The nearly 100-year-old famous Los Angeles chili chain became a Hollywood hotspot almost instantly after it opened its doors in 1920. Through the 20s, 30s, and 40s Clara Bow, John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, and Clark Gable were all regulars. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Lou Costello, Donald O’Connor, Dennis Hopper, and the Doors could often be seen sitting at the bar. On some nights, Jim Morrison would be standing on top of it. In the 80s, the Brat Pack–Emilio Esteves, Rob Lowe, Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, and Demi Moore–threw parties there and huddled around the pinball machine.
Over many decades musicians, artists, actors, and performers helped establish the small chili joint as a big part of Hollywood history. With license plates and hubcaps adorning the walls, pool tables and pinball machines scattered throughout, and a motorcycle built into a booth, Barney’s Beanery was never considered an upscale joint. And that is its charm. Celebrity elites didn’t go there to be treated like celebrities. They came for the casual hang, to blend in with not-so-famous regulars. And, of course, they came for the great chili.
Chili is what Barney’s is most known for, and they have several to choose from on the menu, including the original classic chili from 1920 and delicious turkey chili. But for true chili fanatics, you just can’t beat the bean-less Texas-Style Chili which is a nearly perfect chili con carne. If you’re a fan of traditional Southern Texas chili, characterized by its lack of beans and tomato sauce, this is the hack for you. The chunks of chuck are fall-apart tender, and the flavor is something special, created by a variety of chilies, fresh and dry.
After studying dozens of classic chili con carne recipes and the recipes from winners of chili cook-offs from all over the country, I had my own cook-off. Over several weeks I cooked chili in a variety of ways to determine which ingredients are most likely used in the original. I can’t say exactly when Barney’s Texas-Style chili recipe was first created, but a few branded ingredients that have been available for more than 100 years worked very well in this hack.
Before I talk about those secret ingredients, let’s talk about chilies.
We’ll use three types of whole chile peppers, each one contributing a different flavor profile to the pot. The fresh Anaheim peppers added later will provide a mild, sweet flavor and a slight pepperiness.
Right now we’ll work on these dried chilies.
You’ll need dried guajillo and ancho peppers. An ounce of each will do. Guajillo peppers are one of my favorites for chili because they add a slightly smoky, sweet heat that’s great in the pot. Ancho peppers are also good here because of their medium heat, and fruitiness that might make you think of raisins or sun-dried tomatoes.
These are all good flavors that work well together, but we need to turn these crusty, shriveled peppers into something we can use.
The most flavorful part of the chile pepper is the flesh, so it’s time to evict the seeds.
Use scissors to cut the stem end off of each chile. Cut up one side of the chile, then open it up and get all of the seeds out of there. Buh-bye seeds.
Place the seeded peppers on a baking sheet and get them into a 350-degree oven for about 3 minutes.
This roasting will help wake up the peppers and activate great flavors, but it happens fast so don’t go too far away.
When you begin to smell the peppers in your kitchen, they’re done.
Now we’ll soften the chilies with a dose of boiling water.
Let them soak for a good 30 minutes. You can let them sit longer if you want. Dried chilies love a hot bath and are not at all anxious for it to end.
Next, we need to transform the chilies into chile puree. A food processor or blender will do the job.
Add the chilies and about half of the soaking water into your liquefying device of choice. Process the chilies on high speed until they are mostly pureed, then add the remaining water. Continue pureeing the chilies for a minute or more, until they are completely smooth.
Set this important secret ingredient aside for now, and let’s talk about some other important secret ingredients.
Each one of these historic ingredients is older than Barney’s Beanery, and was available to be used in all of Barney’s original secret chili recipes when they were first created as far back as 100 years ago.
William Gebhardt created his chili powder blend in 1894 to use in chili served at his saloon in New Braunfels, Texas. It was the first commercial chili powder sold in the U.S. and was the biggest seller for decades, so there is a very good chance it was used in Barney’s original chili recipes and is still being used today.
Mexene chili powder was created in Southern Texas in 1904, and is considered an important ingredient–perhaps an essential ingredient–in authentic Texas chilis. Because it was bottled and sold prior to Barney’s inception, there is also a good chance that this chili powder is used in Barney’s chili recipes. And especially the Texas-style chili.
The Los Angeles-based El Pato company began producing the spicy tomato sauce in 1905 and was the first company to make canned salsas. Traditional Texas-style chili doesn’t usually have tomato sauce in it, but a little bit of this “salsa” (there are hot chilies in it) adds a lot to the pot. I also found that many chili cook-off winners use this sauce in their recipes. Because this sauce is made in Los Angeles and has been around for over 100 years, there is a good chance Barney’s used it in chili recipes. So we’ll use it here.
Obviously, you can’t have chili con carne without the carne.
Get a 3-pound chuck roast and slice it into 3/4-inch cubes. They don’t have to all be exactly 3/4-inch, of course. Just get ’em in the ballpark.
And don’t get rid of all the fat. Leave some nice chunks of fat on the meat so that it can melt down and enrich the chili.
Brown the beef in a pre-heated pot over high heat. A cast-iron Dutch oven like this one works great.
Only add one-quarter of the beef at a time so that the beef browns quickly and evenly.
Remove each batch when it’s done before adding more.
When all the beef is browned you will have a nice reward at the bottom of your pot.
The caramelized beef drippings cooked onto the bottom there are called fond, and this fabulous stuff will make everything you now put into this pot taste better.
Just look at what it does to the next three ingredients…
First, add a little oil.
When it gets hot, add the chopped Anaheim chilies, onion, and garlic.
Ah, now look at the color.
The peppers, onions, and garlic have picked up the flavor from the bottom of the pot and are a beautiful caramel color.
Just cook them for a few minutes or until the onions begin to get translucent edges.
When that happens you can add the beef back to the pot, along with the chili powders, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and cumin.
Prepare for your final additions by combining the beef bouillon with a cup of very hot water. Let it sit for a bit, then stir until it dissolves.
Also, add the corn masa to a couple of cups of room-temperature water.
Got a whisk? This is a good place to use it.
Now for the grand finale. Add everything that’s leftover, including the beef bouillon and corn masa solutions, to the pot.
Add chicken broth, beer, tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, oregano, and pureed chilies. Get in there everybody.
Bring the chili to a simmer, and keep it there for about 3 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Your house will begin to smell great and it will be absolute torture not to plunge a spoon into the pot, but the chili needs some alone time now. Check it on it periodically, give it a little stir, along with some quiet support.
After three hours, you can indulge. Serve up a bowl of chili, topped with Cheddar cheese, chopped onion, and tortilla chips on the side.
Totally worth the wait.
— Todd Wilbur, The Food Hacker
What other famous foods can be made at home? I’ve created recipes for over 1,100 iconic foods at TopSecretRecipes.com. See if I cloned your favorites here.
Barney's Beanery Texas-Style Chili Hack
- 1 ounce dry guajillo chile peppers
- 1 ounce dry ancho chile peppers
- 5 cups water
- 3- pound chuck roast, sliced into 3/4-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion (1 medium onion)
- 1 cup chopped Anaheim green chilies (2 peppers)
- 4 teaspoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons Gebhardt chili powder
- 2 tablespoons Mexene chili powder (or McCormick)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 large Knorr beef bouillon cube (or 2 small beef bouillon cubes)
- 1/4 cup corn masa
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup lager beer (such as Budweiser)
- 1/3 cup El Pato tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- Shredded Cheddar cheese
- Chopped onion
On the side
- Tortilla chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Using scissors cut off the stem end of each peppers, then cut up one side so that you can open the pepper up and dump out the seeds. Place the seeded peppers on a baking sheet and bake for 3 to 4 minutes. Don't let them get too dark. When you can smell them, they're done.
- Boil 2 cups of water (microwave or stove top) and pour it over the peppers in a large bowl. Let the peppers sit there and rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Stir them around once in a while.
- When the peppers are soft, transfer them to a food processor or blender along with the soaking water, and puree until smooth. If using a food processor add half of the liquid at a time. Set this puree aside for now.
- Heat up a Dutch oven or large pot over high heat. Add one-quarter of the cubed chuck and brown it. When the meat has browned, remove it to a bowl and brown the remaining beef in 3 small batches. Don't rinse the pot when you're done browning the beef, and pour 2 tablespoons of oil into it. When the oil is hot add the onion, green chilies, and garlic to the pot and cook for 5 minutes or until the onions begin to soften.
- Add the meat back into the pot, then stir in the chili powders, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and cumin. Cook for 3 minutes.
- Heat 1 cup of water to boiling in your microwave oven or on your stove top. Dissolve the bouillon cube in the hot water.
- Whisk the corn masa into the remaining 2 cups of water (room temperature) and add it to the chili.
- When the beef bouillon cube has dissolved, add the bouillon to the chili along with the chicken broth, beer, tomato sauce, vinegar, lime juice, oregano and pureed chilies.
- Bring the chili to up to a gentle simmer and let it cook uncovered for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until it's thick and the beef is soft. Add another 1/2 cup of water to the chili as it cooks if it becomes too thick before the beef is tender. Serve with shredded Cheddar cheese and chopped onion for topping and tortilla chips on the side.
All this is fine-and-well if your local grocery sells Gaujillo, Ancho and Anaheim chili. But here in New Mexico I know only two kinds of chili, GREEN and RED. I think these are different ripeness of Hatch chili. We have sweet green red or yellow peppers in the store, but those are not prepared the same way. I read and hear about other varieties of peppers and chilis, but most of us don’t own a garden and I haven’t seen these others in the store (they may be where I didn’t look).
SO, where is one able to buy your rare and exotic chilis? The internet tells me that Guajillo and Ancho are available at Walmart (not near me). The Anaheim is mentioned at Trader Joe’s (if you are lucky to have an outlet).
Go just about anywhere in New Mexico right now (fall), and buy large burlap bags of fresh green Hatch chili and have them roasted on site. Take those home and peel them (you might need gloves if your chili is hot), then freeze them. Don’t put the roasted chili in your enclosed car on the way home unless you want your car to smell of fresh roasted Hatch chili–forever.
RED is usually in a powered form, sold in bags everywhere. What are RED and GREEN good for? Just about anything, candy, stew, eggs, and the usual Mexican fare of burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas and tacos.
Other than the commercial Chili’s restaurant, I don’t see the red chili stews that you describe here. I guess I need to go to Arizona, Texas, or California.
This was phenomenal. I’m from Texas and I knew when I read through this recipe that it was going to be good. The flavors from the toasted chiles and the smooth texture at the end was so amazing.
If you are ever in Chicago, I challenge you to make a relatively short trip to Gary, IN to a hole in the wall chili dog place called Koney King. It’s been there for decades and locals have been trying to duplicate the chili sauce used on the dogs for just as long (the chili they serve in bowls is good but a bit different). Over the years, various business professionals tried to get the owner to start franchising but he wasn’t interested in all the exta work. This is one of those “top secret recipes” that could make someone a fortune if they could pry it out of the family and knew what to do with it. Yes, it’s that unique.
It’s funny you would mention Chili Dogs… Reading this piece I was reminded of my favorite Chili Dog Sauce which came in a can made by Gebhardt… Just a bumpy goo, but the flavor it added to a hotdog, was incredible… I was just thinking that maybe it’s the mentioned spice that gave it such a wonderful flavor…
Coney Dog Chili Sauce is it’s own little Southern Michigan world of chili sauce secrets. Google Macedonian Coney Island Chili Recipes to get started. Saveur has a good article with this topic explained. Lotsa Macedonians immigrated to S Michigan and environs including N Indiana a century plus ago. Ground beef with finely ground beef heart and other beef offal was cheap eats and one secret to their prepared chili sauce. Leave the offal out and the rich flavor is gone. So it’s a mix of Mexican chili seasonings with old world sausage making that gives it that special texture and flavor.
For more fun on ethnic recipes that appear only too American, check out the history of the Wyoming Tamale King, Zarif Khan. He brought his home countries specialty of knife chopped meats to America as an orphan from Afghanistan more that a century ago and built a food empire around Mexcian tamales made using all knife ground meats. Again, chilis made it ethnic Mexician but also middle eastern eats too.
David – Your info is very interesting because I believe the family that has owned Koney King is Macedonian. Also, I once heard through the grapevine that they grind up leftover hotdogs into their chili sauce but you can’t see it. Further, there are very small black bits in their sauce (no beans) which could very well be some organ meat. They grind the ground beef a little fine, too, but it’s not mush, still grainy, and it’s all a perfect consistency, not soupy but holds together. It’s the seasoning that’s the secret, though, mildly spiced and the ratio of chili & cumin is key. I’ve tried at least six combinations to duplicate it, close but no cigar.
Todd, thanks for the source on the seasonings. I’m going to get the Gebhardt’s and try it.
Thanks for the comment. I’m going to try to find this seasoning somewhere I don’t have to buy 3 at a time on Amazon. Hey Todd, did you find it on the shelf somewhere in Vegas??
I found all the seasonings at Albertsons.
This was the most awesome chili I have ever made or tasted. The depth of flavor in the sauce was incredible. I loved how it thickened and got almost silky like a good braise sauce. I have made it twice now and have played a little with upping the heat using a tidge of Dave’s Insanity. I will note I could not find the two chili powders so I used a package of space chili from La Fiesta. Not sure what is missing as a consequence but no complaints from the family at all. Oh, I also let it sit overnight the first time. Can’t wait to make it again using tri-tip.
Finally the website is also awesome. I love the pictures, story and instructions.
This is a nice recipe but a bit complicated for a Chile newbie. The complexity is in the two different methods of chili sauce prep. One style of chili sauce that is very common in Mexico AND New Mexico is made from whole dried chilis, toasted and ground. Whole dried chilis are toasted on a comal and then rehydrated by soaking in hot water, ground AND always strained to remove the seeds and skins. Dried chilies can have a very tough skin that is unpleasant on the tongue and those skins are completely indigestible. A food hacker trick is to buy your ground chili sauce as a liquid enchilada sauce or whole chili sauce (505 Southwest and Santa Cruz Chile Company make jarred sauce) and skip the extra work of rehydrating and grinding your own.
The OTHER way is the Texas way and it was a big step in making chuck wagon chili con carne a quick and easy meal. That is to use preground commercial toasted chili powder with added spices and a heat level that was consistant. Frying the ground chili powder in oil with the onions releases the brilliant red color and flavor. The chili spice powder helps thicken the chili con carne so it has the right amount of stick to your ribs flavor. Frying the chili and spices is a time honored Indian curry trick and it really does help make the chili flavors blend.
I would encourage people to try it both ways before going the extra mile and DOING BOTH for one meal of chili con carne. The deal with buying bulk whole dried chilis is that they are really all over the place on heat level and flavor profile. The big chili spice companies blend and measure to keep their product very consistent. Learning to make your own red chili sauce is the gateway to homemade enchilada sauce, moles and countless other authentic Mexican recipes but it is a lot of work.
The point of recreating the recipes is to do just that. If we wanted something that came from a packet it wouldn’t be the true recipe, it would be McCormick spice brand chili. Not all recipes will be easy. Most restaurants have tried and true recipes not because they’re beginner newbie cook recipes, but because they’re good. If a recipe isn’t in your comfort zone, that’s ok, but don’t discredit the author by making it right.
Any Chance you could do the Fireman’s Chile recipe? That’s my favorite at Barney’s.
Made this for a chili contest at my school. I added one can of each: kidney beans, chili beans and black beans. Also did not find it spicy at all so I added a can of hatch chilies. Love the consistency of the chili con carne. Meat was supper tender. I also added extra cumin and some garlic salt. Great recipe
Do you have a cookbook with the recipes in it
Perhaps one day, but for now The Food Hacker blog is the only place to get these recipes.
This looks very similar to the meat they use in the burritos at Tito’s Tacos…..????
FYI, Gebhardt’s establishment was Miller’s Saloon in New Braunfels, TX. As someone who is from New Braunfels, l assure you we appreciate it when our town is mentioned. If possible, please update the blog entry to correct the spelling as shown in this reply. Thanks so much, and I look forward to trying this recipe.
All fixed. Thanks Charlie.
Is this Chile really spicy hot.
I would call it medium hot.
Looks Delicious Going to Try.
Hey Todd!Thanks for what looks to be a fantastic chili recipe!Have been wanting to reply on your new site for quite awhile.I have recipe (literally paper!),books from well over 20 years ago,of your Top Secret Recipes!lol!!Anyway,I enjoyed MANY of those recipes and have been happily pinning,printing and preparing many more from both of your sites!!?
Hey…I too have been a fan for quite a long time. Just wondering if you printed any recipes from the old TSR boards and if so do you by any chance have the chile relleno recipe posted by alicia1482? I lost mine years ago and have gotten close to the sauce but not exact. Thanks.