Entree/ Fall/ For a Crowd/ One Pot/ Soup

My Go-To Beef Chili Recipe: Hearty, Spicy, and Sweet

bowl of beef chili with toppings

Chili – WHAT a hot topic. People get *real* fired up about their definition of chili, what ingredients can or can’t be included, and how it should be served. I’m making no claims to chili authenticity here, this is just the kind of chili I personally enjoy. Again, disclaimer: I in no way am asserting this is the right way to make chili, I’m sorry if you are offended by beans, there is no need for throwing shade on my chili because you insist it be a different way.

This mouthwatering recipe is effortless but full of amazing, rich flavor that your family and friends will love. Bowls will be scraped clean, I tell you!

I really only include four main ingredients in my chili: beef, beans, tomatoes, and onions. The seasoning here is clutch, I really enjoy a spicy but sweet style. This recipe is inspired by a restaurant called Hard Times Cafe which I used to frequent when I lived in Arlington, VA. They make a mean chili (their wings are also ABSURD) and the “Cincinnati Chili” is my absolute favorite. I used to get a heavenly creation called the Chili Bubba (what a name) where the chili is served over wedges of cornbread in the bottom of the bowl. When I moved out of the DC area I missed this chili so much I started trying to create my own version. I use brown sugar and cinnamon to balance out chili powder, cayenne, and smoked paprika. This chili is deeply flavorful and not for those who like a bowl of bland.

I don’t mess around with any other veggies – further additions are relegated to the “toppings” category.

And I am ALL about the toppings:

-Fresh Diced Tomatoes

-Sour Cream

-Cornbread or Fritos orrrr both

-Shredded Cheddar Cheese

-Scallions or Chives

-Jalapenos – I looove Trader Joe’s Hot & Sweet Jalapenos

-Pickled Red Onions or Diced White Onions



-Crumbled Bacon

All the things. The world is your oyster when it comes to topping awesomeness. Growing up, my mom served chili over rice and that is legit the only combination I don’t like – to this day I never serve rice with chili when there is the (far superior) option of cornbread and salty chips. Sorry, Mom.

bowl of chili with toppings

How to Make It Happen

Did I mention how uncomplicated and easy it is to make this chili recipe? Truly a straightforward one pot cook with just a few steps followed by a nice simmer. I spend more time putting together toppings than I do cooking the actual chili. In a nutshell, I cook the onions at medium high, stirring so they don’t stick or burn, until they start to turn golden (about 5-8 minutes). Add in the beef and brown until there’s no remaining pink. Then stir in the tomato paste and canned tomatoes, the dry seasoning and finally add the liquid and bring the whole thing to a boil. I really like the flavor beer brings to the chili situation. Pro tip: use a cup of beer and then drink the rest of the can/bottle while you’re cooking.

This was a beer AND coffee kind of a day. Class act, I know.

Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered, until the liquid cooks down to the consistency you like. Give it at least a half hour before you add the beans. I put them in towards the end of the cook and just let them warm through (avoid having the beans break down and get mushy).

Eyeball the amount of liquid: it should just cover everything, you’re not looking for a soup.

Like all soups, stews, and chilis, this is best if you make it ahead of time. Its a perfect recipe to make in advance and reheat to serve!

Spicy and Sweet Chili (Hard Times Cafe Knockoff)

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
By Chrissie Knudsen Serves: 6-8
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cooking Time: 1 hour


  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 15.5 oz cans of beans, rinsed and drained, I like to use one can of kidney and one can of pinto
  • 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1.5 cups of liquid (water, stock, or beer)
  • 1/2-ish cup seasoning blend:
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 TSB chili powder
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 TBS cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp salt
  • pepper



In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat and then add in the onions. Stir so they don't stick or burn and cook until they start to take on color, 5-8 minutes.


Add in the ground beef and stir to combine, browning the beef until there's no remaining pink. While the beef is cooking I use the time to measure out the spice mixture and open the cans.


Add the tomato paste - I make a well in the center and allow the paste to cook a little then stir outwards to combine.


Add the canned tomatoes and then the seasoning and stir until fully mixed, then add the liquid. Use any 1.5 cups - water, stock, beer. I generally do 1 cup of beer and 1/2 cup water (and then enjoy the rest of the beer).


Simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes. When you're happy with the consistency, add in the rinsed and drained beans.


You can be creative with the liquid here: I've used beer, water, and stock. So long as there's enough liquid to cover the beef, you're good. Beer really adds a great tangy flavor! I prefer chunks of tomato, but if you don't like that just sub tomato sauce for the diced tomatoes.

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  • Jen
    October 24, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    Don’t tell my mom, but this chili is better than hers. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and spicy! This is on regular rotation this winter.

    • Chrissie
      October 27, 2020 at 3:02 pm

      “Better than mom’s” is the best comment ever! Score!