A friend of mine was talking to me the other day about the new movie “Ford vs. Ferrari” (I haven’t seen it yet), and he mentioned Matt Damon’s portrayal of automotive legend Carroll Shelby.
I told him that while most people hear “Carroll Shelby” and think racing, I hear “Carroll Shelby” and think chili.
In the winter of 1984–85, I was fresh out of college, living in Wagoner, Oklahoma, rooming with my college friend Kendall Durfey and working at the Durfey family’s AM radio station. I discovered that the grocery stores in Oklahoma carried something called “chili grind” beef. If you imagine regular ground beef as strands with the thickness of yarn, “chili grind” beef is ground into strands the thickness of a ball-point pen. It’s designed for longer-cooking dishes, such as slow-simmered Texas chili.
I also discovered two products designed to be used with chili grind beef: Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili Kit and Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit.
At the time, the two products were competitors, and they looked different than they do today. Carroll Shelby’s kit came in a small brown paper bag. Wick Fowler’s came in a cardboard tray wrapped in cellophane. Today, both products are made by the same company, Reily Foods, and both come in identically-sized cardboard boxes.
Both products, at the time, had primary instructions for use with either chili-grind meat or small chunks of meat. The chili was to be cooked low and slow, and you would end up with lovely little pieces of meat permeated with the chili spices. It’s the same kind of chili that is cooked at International Chili Society or Chili Appreciation Society International cookoffs. (Carroll Shelby was a co-founder of ICS.)
Authentic Texas chili is made without beans, and beans are forbidden in the traditional red category of ICS chili cookoffs. If you like beans in your chili, and you were using either of these products with a long, slow cooking process, the best thing would be to cook the beans separately (or use canned beans) and add them at the last minute, just before serving; they might get too mushy if cooked along with the chili. I don’t mind…