Grub Americana

Tolbert’s Original Bowl of Red Chili

Tolbert’s Original 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 1967 in Terlingua, Texas and owned a chain of chili parlors in Dallas, Texas.

Recipe makes about 6 - 8 servings.

Whatcha Need:

  • 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 (optiona), see notes

Whatcha Do:

  1. 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 and chile peppers and about two inches of liquid (you can use water, I use beer). Simmer for 30 minutes.

  2. 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. Simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste and adjust spices if necessary.

  3. 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.


  • The masa adds a subtle, tamale-like taste, but it also thickens the chili.
  • Photo courtesy of Diane S. W. Lee