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Old Army Chili Recipe

By Culinary Cowboy | October 26, 2007

I was rummaging around the the library at the Institute of Texan Cultures and found this item from the 8 March 1981 edition of the San Antonio Express News. Columnist Maury Maverick was reviewing The Great American Chili Book by Bill Bridges – Rawson Wade Publishers, Inc. (out of print).

This is a recipe from Manual for Army Cooks – 1896. It tells a soldier how to go about making a one-person serving of chili. It doesn’t say, but I assume the flour that is called for is for dredging the meat prior to browning it. From the looks of it, it could be cooked in the old aluminum Boy Scouts mess kit I grew up with.

Interesting that it calls for rice. All the modern-day fussy spats over “pure” chili usually involve beans.

It doesn’t say if dried red chili pods were standard Army issue. By the way, if you go to squeezing cooked chilies with your hands, best be wearing some sort of gloves or you may live to regret it. It doesn’t take much contact to turn your hands into deadly weapons against soft tissue – eyes, mouth, nose and other things.

Dang, what time is it? That late? Nuts! I don’t have time to tell you one of Grandpa Cecil’s stories. I’ll post it soon though. That story just made me think of another.


1 beesteak (round)
1 Tbs. hot drippings
1 cup boiling water
2 tbs. rice
2 large dried red chile pods
1 cup boiling water
flour, salt, onion (optional)
” Cut steak into small pieces. Put in frying pan with hot drippings, cup of hot water and rice. Cover closely and cook slowly until tender. Remove seeds and parts of veins from chile pods. Cover with second cup of boiling water and let stand until cool. Then, squeeze pods in the hand until the water is think and red . . . This recipe is designed for the use of one ration of beef. It can can be cooked in a mess kit.”

Try these revisions

1/2 pound round steak

1 tbs. oil

1 cup boiling water
2 tbs. rice
2 large dried red chile pods or 1 tbs. chili powder
1 cup boiling water
flour for dredging
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 medium onion chopped (optional)
1 clove garlic

  1. Dice round steak and dredge in flour.
  2. Heat oil in skillet.
  3. Smash and peel the garlic, put it in the oil and remove as it begins to brown.
  4. Brown the meat
  5. Add the onions and cook until transparent
  6. Add the rice and seasonings, stir and coat with oil
  7. Add the rice and boiling water, bring to a boil and reduce heat to low simmer
  8. Cover and cook slowly until rice is cooked

Or – think of how interesting it is that the army went to all this trouble to tell men how to cook one serving of chili, open up a can of your favorite brand, heat it up and reflect on history.

pdf icon Download PDF of New & Old Army Chili

Topics: Beans, Chili, Grandpa Cecil stories, Onions, Recipes, Rice, Roundsteak, UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures | No Comments »


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