Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Beef Chili Recipes    Chile Peppers    Chili Recipes    Southwest Beef Recipes   


Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on StumbleUpon0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Yummly0
Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe is by Frank X. Tolbert, from his book, A Bowl of Red, published by Texas A&M University Press, 1953.  Frank Tolbert founded the Terlingua International Chili Championship in Terlingua, Texas and owned a chain of chili parlors in Dallas, Texas.


The most famous and well known chili cook-off took place in 1967 in Terlingua, Texas.  Terlingua was once a thriving mercury-mining town of 5,000 people and it is the most remote site you can choose as it is not close to any major city and the nearest commercial airport is almost 279 miles away.  Just getting to Terlingua requires a major effort.  It was a two-man cook-off between Texas chili champ Homer “Wick” Fowler (1909-1972), a Dallas and Denton newspaper reporter, and H. Allen Smith (1906-1976), New York humorist and author, which ended in a tie.

Learn more about the history and legends of Chili, Chili Con Carne.


Tolbert's Original Bowl of Red Chili


Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe:

Tolbert's Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Yield: serves many


3 pounds lean beef
1/8 pound rendered beef kidney suet (if you want to go for it)
1 teaspoon each oregano, cumin powder, salt, cayenne pepper, and Tabasco
3 tablespoons chile powder (optional)
4 hot chile peppers
At least two chopped cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons masa harina, cornmeal, or flour (optional)*

* The masa adds a subtle, tamale-like taste, but it also thickens the chili.  Masa Corn Mix is a tradition Mexican whole corn flour that is found in the baking aisle of most grocery stores (not to be confused with corn meal).  



Sear beef in a large soup pot or cast-iron Dutch oven.  You may need a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking.  When the meat is all gray, add suet, chile peppers, and about two inches of liquid (you can use water, I use beer).  Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add spices and garlic, bring just to boil; lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes.  NOTE:  Add more liquid only to keep the mix from burning.  Skim off as much grease as you can, and add masa harina.  Simmerfor another 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust spices if necessary.

This is a spicy chili, so leave out some of the spicy stuff in the beginning if you have a tender tongue.  At this point, I refrigerate the chili overnight which allows the chili to mellow and you can skim off all the grease.

Source:  Photo from the Road Food website.

Related Recipes:

Comments and Reviews

5 Responses to “Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe”

  1. Scott

    This recipe is exactly the Tolbert’s version of a bowl o’ red. Because I can’t eat much red meat, and my doctor has forbade me from ingredients like suet, I had to make a few substitutions.

    First, I made a vegetarian substitute for the ground beef – it’s not exact, but the texture gets pretty close (yes, it uses tofu, but I do what I must).

    Next, to get the flavor closer to ground beef, I used beef broth in place of the water (if you can make your own with ox tails or another beef bone rich in marrow, that will also help).

    I served it with a side of pintos and fresh corn tortillas. My doctor and I can both be happy.

  2. irishconfetti

    you dont want your meet gray. you want it brown. gray means it was boiled and will impart an off taste to your chili. dont be afraid to get your pot hot and brown hell out of your chuck!

    • Linda Stradley

      This is not my recipe. Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili Recipe is by Frank X. Tolbert, from his book, A Bowl of Red, published by Texas A&M University Press, 1953.  

  3. Wastrel

    “3 pounds lean beef” does not mean ground beef. What is omitted from this recipe is cutting the meat into cubes of a desired size, say, 1/2 or 3/4 inch cubes. Chili should not be a homogeneous mass; it should have lumps of meat in it. Clearly, if you have beef that is somewhat fatty, you can omit the suet, and work harder at skimming off excess fat from the top of the pot. The masa may be omitted as well; it just soaks up some of the grease and detracts from the flavor, too, in my opinion. If you do this right you do not need any thickening agent.

    • Linda Stradley

      A Reminder: This is the original Tolbert’s Bowl of Red Chili Recipe by Frank X. Tolbert, from his book, A Bowl of Red, published by Texas A&M University Press, 1953.


Leave a Reply