The Hill Country Feature

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Texas Chili

There's no denying that chili is part of the stick-to-your-ribs heart and soul of Texas cuisine. After all it is the official dish of Texas. When the weather turns cool in the fall, crock pots are fired up to make heaping servings of the thick, spicy stew to be enjoyed by the bowl beside the fire—or over a heaping pile of Fritos, garnished with shredded cheddar cheese and diced onions, at high school football games (the legendary Frito Pie). The question is: what defines an authentic bowl of "Texas red?" The simple answer is small chunks of sirloin (or coarsely ground meat) simmered with crushed chilies (or chili powder), garlic, and cumin. From there, myriad additions—possibilities include tomato, onion, venison, and the ever-controversial beans (family feuds have erupted over whether or not to include the protein-packed legume)—can lead to millions of different tasty end results.

Texas chili recipes are such a hot topic that they've spawned competitive cook-offs, a trend that's caught on nationwide. The granddaddy of chili cook-offs is in the tiny West Texas town of Terlingua, where hundreds of established cooks take their best shot at the annual title over a four-day competition each year. (If you look at the distinguished list of winners, you'll find that most of them are Texans.)

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