Food & Drink

Red or green? Fall weather fuels the great chili debate

White Bean Chicken Green Chili and Sweet and Spicy Red Chili
White Bean Chicken Green Chili and Sweet and Spicy Red Chili The Wichita Eagle

The debate over best chili practices used to boil down to beans vs. no beans. These days, the argument has shifted to red vs. green – that is red chili powder vs. fresh green chiles as the dish’s chief flavoring agent.

In Wichita, versions featuring green chiles are on the rise. Since Johnson’s Garden Centers first started trucking in chiles from Hatch, N.M., in 1999 the city’s cooks have been loading up on them in late summer and early fall. Supermarkets and farmers markets carry the chiles as well to keep up with the demand. The peppers, either roasted or fresh, also freeze well.

“That Hatch chile has just kind of blown up in popularity and become a cool, trendy ingredient in the last few years,” said Ben George, executive chef at Intrust Bank Arena. George won the green chili verde category in last year’s Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff.

Yet red chili still has its fans. Indeed, if all the bowls of chili made and consumed were counted, red would far outpace green.

El Dorado rancher Tiya Tonn-Oppold, whose family produces Satchel Creeks Steaks, said she prefers red chili because “it’s the taste I’ve grown up with. My family did a lot of large chili feeds as part of annual sales of cattle. We’ve always fed people chili and homemade pies. They were always the red chilies.”

A quick note on nomenclature: chiles with an “e” refers to red and green peppers. Those peppers gave their name, slightly altered, to chili with an “i,” as the the stewed dish of meat and chiles (and sometimes beans) is generally written. Chili powder can actually mean one of two things: dried and pulverized red chiles (this will usually include the name of a specific chile such as ancho or cayenne when packaged for sale); or those same dried and pulverized chiles mixed with cumin, oregano, garlic and salt.

Red chili has the longest history in United States. Indeed, chili was often called “a bowl of red.” Red chili spread from Texas across the United States in the early 1900s, spawning chili parlors and sales of the canned version everywhere. Of course, the green version was already being made in New Mexico by then (and undoubtedly for centuries before that), but that territory didn’t become a state until 1912, delaying its entrance to the nation’s culinary consciousness.

Both red and green chili owe their origins to Mexican cooking, which uses fresh and dried chiles. The differences in red and green chili reflect the two states where those dishes developed. Texas is cattle country; red chili is usually made with beef, either ground or cut into chunks. Plenty of cattle are raised in New Mexico, too. But the state is also leading producer of fresh chiles, and its cooks found that whiter meats – chicken and pork – taste better with them. Which is not to say that red chili doesn’t often contain a fresh chile (often in the form of a jalapeno) and green chili doesn’t sometimes include chili powder (George said his award-winning recipe contains some).

So what’s the real difference between chili made with red and green chiles, and which makes better chili?

Tricia Holmes, who’s family makes Holmes Made Salsa in Wichita, says she likes both types but admits a preference for green.

“Before all the roasted green chiles, I really didn’t think much of green chiles,” Holmes said. “Now I try to put them in everything. Once you get a taste for it, it goes so well with white meat.”

“I think a lot of the difference has to do with the roasting of the chiles. It adds this earthiness and smokiness.”

Red chili, on the other hand, “has a kind of richer flavor with the chili powder and beef,” she said.

Holmes said the heat offered by red and green chiles is also “different,” though hard to describe. Green chiles seem to add a bit of acidity, she said.

George also prefers green chiles and chili.

“It’s really difficult (to choose), but I like the green just honesty. I like the bold flavors from the poblanos, the Hatch chiles and the serranos.”

George said chili powder sometimes overwhelms the flavor of other ingredients. His green version has proven so popular that he’s thinking about putting it on the menu at some of the arena’s food outlets. He notes that roasted chiles alone don’t make great green chili. Roasted garlic and cumin, smoking the pork before it’s added to the chili, and giving the mixture one last shot of chiles near the end of cooking time are all important.

Tonn-Oppold likes green chili, too, but she’ll stick with red for her chili feeds – and lots of beans, as many as five or six varieties in a batch.

“The bottom line is I’ve tried these other things, and the one that was just licked up was just the plain old traditional chili.”


Both red and green chili go great with other foods. Here are some garnishes or accompaniments.

Red chili – Often served over spaghetti noodles, and sometimes over rice. Use to top hot dogs, hamburgers and eggs. Great with grated sharp Cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, chopped onion, and a dash of hot sauce.

Green chili – Used as a filling for Mission-style burritos. Great with shredded Monterey Jack or Mexican cheese, tortilla chips, sour cream, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.


1 cooked rotisserie chicken, skinned and boned

2 cups mild or medium roasted green chiles (about 10 peppers), stemmed, skinned and seeded

4 cups chicken broth

4 cans (15 ounces each) Northern white beans, undrained

1 jar (16 ounces) chile verde (see note)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Shred chicken by hand. Finely chop or grind green chiles in a food processor. Place chicken, green chiles and broth in a crackpot or stovetop pan. Add 2 cans white beans and mash with a masher. Add the other two cans of beans, leaving them whole. Add chile verde and spices and cook mixture until ingredients are hot and flavors are blended. Serve in a bowl garnished with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and chopped cilantro.

Note: chile verde is a green salsa made with chiles, tomatillos, onion and other ingredients. It’s available in supermarkets.

Source: Tricia Holmes


2 pounds ground beef

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste

5 cans (15-ounces each) beans, such as pinto, black, Northern and chili, undrained

1 can (26 ounces) stewed tomatoes, undrained

4 dashes liquid smoke

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon honey

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot, brown ground beef and onions together, using a large spoon to break up beef. Add chili powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add beans, tomatoes, liquid smoke, sugar, honey and salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, about two hours. Taste and add more chili powder if desired during last half-hour of cooking. Serve with crackers, shredded cheese, sour cream and sweet pickles.

Source: Tiya Tonn-Oppold