“Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili.” –Kit Carson (allegedly the words spoken on his deathbed)
Some like it hot, some like it mild, some like it on top of a baked potato and some prefer it with or without beans – but however it is most appreciated, National Chili Day is the perfect excuse for millions of spicy food fans all around the world to chow down on a bowl of this delicious fiery favorite.
History of National Chili Day
Though many people believe chili originated purely in Mexico, modern thinking suggests that it was probably truly created in Texas and is a blend of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines. This claim is supported by the fact that the first-ever written reference to chili occurred in the city of San Antonio, Texas in 1828. This is just one of the many delicious varieties of food that fall into the category of Tex-Mex.
However, one legend dates chili back a little further, stating that some immigrants who came from the Canary Islands brought the recipe with them to San Antonio when they settled there in the 1700s. This was before the name “chili” came to be and it was simply referred to as “Spanish stew”.
Eventually, by the 1880s, a popular way to eat the dish in San Antonio was by picking up a “bowl o’ red” at a chili stand in an open-air stall, usually run by a “chili queen”. The popularity of chili began to spread throughout the US, and it was given a huge boost when it was featured at the 1893 World’s Fair which took place in Chicago, Illinois.
The dish that is now known as simply “chili” has, in the past, often been referred to as “chili con carne”, which just means chili with meat. Of course, today, many people make it without meat, and it can easily even be made into a vegan dish with no animal products of any kind.
Some people do tend to spell it differently, depending on where they are from. Most Americans will include only one “l” in the word, while some British folks and people from other parts of the world may add an additional letter to spell it “chilli”. But no matter how it is spelled, this is certainly a tasty dish that is worthy of celebration!
National Chili Day Timeline
First written description of Chili
J. C. Clopper writes, after visiting San Antonio, Texas, about “a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat – this is all stewed together.”
Chili stands become popular in San Antonio
Women who are called “Chili Queens” set up trailers or carts to serve spicy bowls of beans and meat (chili con carne) to workers and passersby on the street, where small tables, seats and lanterns were set up. These last until the 1930s when the health department shuts them down.
Chili powder is invented in Texas
German immigrant William Gebhardt creates a way to pulverize dried chiles using a meat grinder, which eventually becomes the product known as Gebhardt’s Eagle Chili Powder. It’s a critical ingredient in Chili.
An American president loves chili
Lydon Johnson, president of the United States from 1963-1969, declares that Texas Chili is the best: “One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.” 
Chili becomes the state dish of Texas
As the continuation of its association with Texas, the state’s legislature names Chili the state dish.
How to Celebrate National Chili Day
Though not an official public holiday, National Chili Day is widely celebrated with many restaurants offering free samples of their own unique recipes. Others mark the day with a huge chili party for family and friends – or simply make sure they have a big bowl of chili for lunch!
Try out these fun ideas for celebrating the day:
Make a Big Pot of Chili
Even people who don’t really do much cooking can make a pot of chili to enjoy with a whole group of friends. It really is one of those meals that allows pretty much everything to be thrown into a pot and simmered while the flavors meld together.
A classic chilli recipe usually consists of a protein (often meat as well as beans), some sauce (usually tomato sauce), some veggies (corn, onion and diced tomatoes are typical) and spices for flavor (chili powder, garlic, cayenne pepper, onion powder and paprika). Toss in some jalapenos or other chili peppers for a little bit of kick. Let the whole thing simmer for a while and enjoy!
Learn Some Fun Facts About Chili
Celebrate the day and impress friends by spouting off interesting tidbits about this delicious dish. Get started with these, and then do a bit of internet research to add in a few more, just for fun:
- Lyndon B. Johnson, United States President from 1963-1969, was a huge lover of chili and named his favorite recipe after his ranch in Texas, Pedernales River Chili. Americans were so fond of it that his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, had the recipe printed up on cards and mailed out from the White House.
- In 1977, lobbyists worked to convince the state legislature to call chilli the official state food of Texas.
- In the late 1890s, it was possible to buy a bowl of chili off of the back of a wagon for a mere 5 cents. This even came with an unlimited number of crackers to go along with it–and usually a glass of water too.
- The first chili cook-off is recorded to have taken place in 1952 at the State Fair of Texas located in Dallas. But another story says that the first one took place in 1967 in Terlingua, Texas, where no winner was declared–as it was a tie between a native Texan and a person from New York!
Enjoy a Chili Contest
Chili is a food that people love to gather around–and it’s great for competing too! Whether participating in a chili cookoff that pits top chefs against each other, or a chili-eating contest where the winner consumes the most chili in a short amount of time, this is a dish that can be filled with fun.
Today’s chili cook offs can get pretty serious, where contestants often use ingredients that will help them to create the most intense flavor possible. They also try to be unique, using interesting meats such as sausage, turkey or even venison, as well accessing a variety of chili peppers to create just the right amount of heat.
Get into the competitive spirit by participating, or just enjoy watching and rooting for a favorite person to win. Can’t find a chili contest in the local area? Don’t let that get in the way–go ahead and start one in honor of National Chili Day!
Get Creative with Chili Recipes
Getting involved in this day can be a delightful culinary experience! Take things far beyond the ordinary by including unique and interesting ingredients into that pot of chili. While the classic recipes are certainly amazing, these types of ideas get things moving to a whole other level:
- Chorizo Sweet Potato Chili. Give that pot of chili a delightful twist using a paleo friendly recipe that is a quick fix (can be on the table in around 30 minutes!). Chopped vegetables and some spicy chorizo sausage are flavors that meld together deliciously.
- Short Rib Black Bean Chili. Beginning with short ribs as the protein base, this chili is slow cooked with the bones to add tons of flavor and depth. Mildly spicy, the black beans round out the taste into something delightfully delicious.
- Spicy Chocolate Chili (Vegan). Sweet potatoes, maple syrup and cocoa powder work together in this recipe in a surprising way. Filled with beans and veggies, then topped with cilantro, lime and pumpkin seeds, this unique recipe will keep the whole family coming back for more!
- Kale and Barley Chili. Keep things super healthy with this chili that is filled with healthy greens. Add some white beans in for extra protein and bulk!
National Chili Day FAQs
When is National Chili Day?
National Chili Day is observed on the fourth Thursday of February, which is the perfect time of year to enjoy a spicy bowl of deliciousness.
Where was Chili invented?
Most likely, the origins of the dish known today as chili came from the southwestern parts of the United States, particularly Texas. Some stories say that the idea was brought from the Canary Islands in the 1700s.
Is Chili a soup?
Because it doesn’t usually use stock or broth, Chili isn’t necessarily considered to be a soup. Actually, it would be considered to be more of a stew because it is thicker, with a more solid base.
Is Chili healthy?
Depending on how it is made, Chili can be a rather healthy meal. It contains nutrients such as protein, fiber, iron, Vitamin C and more. Of course, it’s healthier if it is made with lean meat and less fat.
How to make Chili?
Most Chili recipes will include the basic ingredients of ground beef, beans, onions, tomato sauce, spices and tomatoes. The ingredients are cooked together for some time to allow the flavors to meld together.