Chili is the official state food of Texas. We argued a few years back that (no surprise) brisket might have a stronger case. A Dallas news station recently took a road trip to verify whether the Texas Legislature had made the right choice between the two. After judging the Terlingua chili cookoff, they decided on chili. I’m not here to argue this time but instead to offer a recipe that brings together the best of both worlds. Better yet, nearly all the ingredients can be gathered at your local barbecue joint.
I stopped in at the Rudy’s Bar-B-Q location in Frisco because I was in the neighborhood and I needed gas. I also knew they’d have just about everything I’d need for a quick batch of smoked brisket chili. The well-stocked condiment bar had just been replenished with sliced onions, a good base for any chili; I usually mix them with chopped bacon, but thinly sliced smoked sausage makes a good substitute. Of course they had the brisket (fatty or lean will work). I topped off the takeout bag with barbecue sauce, white bread, a bag of Fritos, a block of cheese, and pickled jalapeños. Lunch would be smoked brisket Frito pie.
A traditional bowl of chili con carne simmers for hours—when I have the time to make a pot, I prefer to use chunks of beef chuck until they break down. But the advantage of smoked brisket chili is that the meat’s tenderizing process has already happened in the smoker. That means you can use your barbecue leftovers, or grab a pound of smoked brisket from your local pitmaster, to make a super quick pot of chili. You’ll only need to add a can of Ro-Tel and a few spoonfuls of chili powder, two items that should always be in any self-respecting Texan’s pantry. It might not result in a traditional bowl of red, but you’ll be eating in less than an hour.
Smoked Brisket Chili
1/2 onion, diced (make sure to bring enough home)
1/4 lb smoked sausage, quartered and sliced thin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 lb smoked brisket, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
1 can of Ro-Tel, undrained
1/2 can of water
2 slices of white bread
Salt & pepper to taste
Heat some oil in a large pot. Add the diced onion and the sausage. Sauté over medium heat until the sausage starts releasing some fat and the onions turn translucent.
Push the onions and sausage to one side, and let some oil pool in the empty area (add more oil if needed). Mix the chili powder into the hot oil until it’s fragrant. If you like, add other seasonings here, like cumin or garlic powder. Once the spices are coated in oil, mix them into the onion and sausage.
Add the chopped brisket and stir well to coat the chunks with the chili powder. Add the barbecue sauce, the can of Ro-Tel, and the 1/2 can of water (you could also use beer or chicken stock for a more flavorful liquid). Mix well and bring to a simmer.
Cut the crust off the white bread and cube it. Add it to the chili as a thickener (for a gluten-free option, you could crush some Fritos or tortilla chips instead). Mix well. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes or so, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.
For Frito pie, grate the cheese you brought home and sprinkle atop a layer of Fritos in a bowl. Pour the chili over the top and add more cheese (I prefer two layers of cheese in my Frito pies) and slices of pickled jalapeño. Enjoy.