The Best Venison Chili

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Everyone says they have the best venison chili, but this really might be it. This recipe is the One Ring of chili, no matter what meat you use. It has won more awards than I ever imagined it would, and if you scroll through the comments you will see reader after reader who has won contests and awards with this recipe. 

A bowl of venison chili with toppings
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

So yeah, I am pretty proud of my venison chili. It’s been on this site since about 2008, and while I’ve tinkered with it over the past decade-plus, it’s heart has remained the same. 

And after all, who doesn’t love chili? And what hunter doesn’t love venison chili? Chili has endless variations: Beans or no beans? Ground meat or chunks? Or no meat at all? Tomato products or no tomato product? Add coffee? Chocolate? Cinnamon?

In fact, so far as I can tell, the only things that really must be in a venison chili recipe to make it a proper chili are chiles of some sort, cumin, and onions. (Yes, there are vegetarian chiles out there.)

My version of venison chili hinges on ground deer meat, but I’ve made it with all kinds of meats, even ground turkey and goose. You can use any meat here. I’ve done it with diced venison or other meat and it’s good, too. Just don’t do large chunks; the texture of the chili will be off.

I find that the chorizo, which is kinda runny, is a perfect start to the chili, as it’s often very fatty. Bacon works great, too. 

The Chiles in Venison Chili

What makes my venison chili unique is the amount of dried chiles I use.

I will typically use 12 to 16 dried chiles of all sorts, reconstituted and then pureed with a cup of weak coffee to make the backbone of the dish. Any variety of these chiles works, but remember to use mild ones, at least mostly.

My preference is to use lots of anchos, which are very dark, mild and raisiny, with some guajillos, which are bright red, fruity, and are a bit hotter. None are really hot.

Don’t get all hung up on an exact combination of dried Mexican chiles. My advice is to use at least 3 or 4 kinds of chiles if you can. Other options besides ancho and guajillo would be a mix of chipotle, puya, chile negro, chile mulato, cascabel, New Mexican, red Anaheims and pasilla chiles. As you get to know these chiles — some are smoky, some hot, some sweet — you can adjust the mix to your taste.

A big pot of venison chili
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

On Beans

I like beans in my chili, but you can skip if you feel strongly about it — talkin’ to you, Texans! You can also use canned beans, and if you are, add them towards the end of cooking. Be sure to rinse the canned beans before adding to remove some of the starchy liquid they’re canned in. 

What beans? Ideally pinto beans or something like it. Some sort of brown bean fits well with venison chili. I do have a black bean turkey chili recipe, where the black beans are a star of that show, so feel free to use black beans here. 

White beans would seem weird, though, at least to me. 

Slow Cooker or Instant Pot?

Yep, this will work with either, although in both cases you would want to sauté everything first normally and then set it in the pressure cooker or slow cooker. 

Slow cooker venison chili should take about 4 to 5 hours on “high,” and 8 hours or more on “low.” I’ve found that sautéing everything the night before, popping it in the fridge overnight, then putting it all into the slow cooker in the morning before work is the best and easiest course of action. 

For the Instant Pot, you’ll want to put everything in after sautéing and set it on High Pressure for 10 minutes, then doing the natural release. 

Topping Choices

I am partial to Mexican toppings like radishes and cotija cheese, which is a lot like feta, as well as cilantro and green onions. 

But hey, venison chili is an American thing, and so I have to give a nod to shredded cheddar or jack cheese, plus yes, Fritos. I know, I know, but they are every bit as good in chili as tortilla chips. 

Jalapenos, pickled or fresh, are a great option, as is minced onion soaked in lime juice. Diced avocado is a nice touch, too. 

Sour cream is a natural, especially if you let your venison chili get too picante — and if you didn’t, your favorite hot sauce will then come in handy. 

Bottom line: Put whatever makes you happy on top of your venison chili. You do you. 

Storing and Preserving Venison Chili

Once made, it will keep for a week in the fridge, and, if you skip the beans, it freezes well. You can still freeze venison chili with beans in it, but the texture suffers a little. 

You can also pressure can it in pints for 75 minutes at 10 psi (higher if you live at altitude). Check here for the food safety rules for pressure canned chili.

This venison chili is super Tex-Mex. If you want something a little more Southwest, go for my chile colorado recipe

A bowl of venison chili with toppings
4.90 from 171 votes

Venison Chili

This is my version of venison chili. It does involve several items you don’t often see in chili, like molasses and coffee, but I’ve been modifying this recipe over the years to the point where this is what I like. Serve this over rice or polenta, garnished with cilantro and maybe some Mexican queso seco, jack cheese or American cheddar. 
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 12
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound pinto or black beans (optional)
  • 12 to 16 combined total of dried ancho, guajillo, pasilla, or mulato chiles
  • 1/2 pound Mexican chorizo or chopped bacon
  • 2 to 3 pounds venison, ground or diced
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, diced
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sweet or smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle powder (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup black coffee
  • 3 tablespoons molasses (optional)
  • 1 quart Beef or venison broth
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro and shredded cheese to garnish

Instructions 

  • Soak beans in water overnight. If you have forgotten this, pour boiling water over them and soak for 4 hours, changing the water after 2 hours. 
  • Remove the stems and seeds of chiles and tear into pieces. Cover with boiling water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Grind to a puree with the consistency of gravy, adding about 1 cup of the soaking water and the coffee to do so.
  • Meanwhile, break up the chorizo or chop bacon and fry over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other large, lidded, oven-proof pot. Once the chorizo has browned or the bacon is crispy, remove it and set aside. Add the venison and brown over high heat. You want the highest heat on your most powerful burner here, because the meat will want to steam and stew and not brown. If you are doing a big pot of chili, brown the meat in batches. Stir occasionally as it browns. Salt it as it cooks.
  • Once all the meat is ready, add the onion to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. If you are using chorizo, return it to the pot; if you are using bacon, leave it out for now. Add the garlic, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans, paprika, cumin, coriander, chipotle powder and salt one at a time, stirring to combine each time.
  • Add chile puree and tomato paste and stir to combine well. Add the molasses and enough beef broth to cover everything – you want it to be thin like a soup. I typically need at least a pint of broth, sometimes a quart. Stir to combine all this well, bring to a bare simmer and cook gently for 3 hours or so, stirring occasionally. Put the lid halfway over the pot as it cooks. You want it to eventually cook down and be thick.
  • Once the beans are tender, you're good to go. If you are using canned beans, now's the time to add them. Return the bacon to the chili if you're using it. Serve the chili with rice or cornbread, and top with cilantro, cheese and maybe some pickled onions.

Video

Notes

If you want to go full Mexican here instead of Tex-Mex or Southwest, try my recipe for chile colorado, which is a lot like chili, but is more authentically Mexican.

Keys to Success

  • If you have all day, use dried beans. They're better. 
  • If you need to leave the house, put the chili in a 325°F oven, covered, instead. 
  • Literally any meat works here, and if you want to go vegetarian, use chopped mushrooms. I've done it and it's amazing.
  • I strongly advise you to stick to the types of chiles I list: anchos, guajillos, pasilla, New Mexican, etc. This prevents you from blowing everyone's heads off with heat. You can always make it hotter later. 
  • If you make this a lot, try the diced meat option sometimes. It is a very Texas thing and it's really quite good. 
 
 

Nutrition

Calories: 426kcal | Carbohydrates: 56g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 76mg | Sodium: 247mg | Potassium: 1614mg | Fiber: 17g | Sugar: 20g | Vitamin A: 10198IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 95mg | Iron: 8mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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258 Comments

  1. I have to thank you for this recipe. I have been making it and tweaking it for years now, and it has never let me down. I call it my “Almost Award Winning Chili” as I brought it to a cook off at the local Catholic Church for three years in a row and I always got second place (the husband of one of the Catholic School’s teachers always won). His winning saw such a protest that the Catholic Church quit hosting the chili cook off. Here is what I think makes this recipe special.

    1- using real chilis instead of chili powder. The chili paste is amazing and adds great texture as well as flavor.
    2- the continual stirring of the meat as you add each of the ingredients in turn also adds to the flavor and texture.
    3- coffee in the chili paste? ‘Nuf said!

    In one of the chili cook offs I entered, one guy, after having tasted this chili, said with amazement, “this is real chili!”

    It is real chili indeed. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I’ve been following Hank for a year now, bought his cook book and have tried multiple recipes, which all have been great. I made his Venison Chili for Superbowl and I was amazed how it came out perfect! I use our pasture raised Wagyu/Angus beef 1/2 stew meat and 1/2 sirloin diced, followed recipe, excluded molasses and got raved reviews from everyone! Also, I’m from Orangevale, but that did not weight in to my review… EXCELLENT!

  3. This chili is the best ! It’s only taken me 50 years to find you! ? I used ground moose and added a pinch of cinnamon and some red bell peppers otherwise followed your recipe to a T. You are absolutely right, this is a winner. I cook one of your recipes at least 3 times a week. And look forward to your insightful and heartfelt essays. Thank you Hank! With love from Juneau.

  4. Cooking this for the city chili cookoff with Axis meat, how much does this yield? I am to make 5 gallons.

  5. Hey Hank, we have a surplus of calf testes in the freezer from last year’s calves. Do you think if I add a pound of ground testes that they would have a good texture in this chili? I’m trying to come up with practical uses for them.

    Thanks in advance!

  6. A little prep intensive, but so worth it! The depth of flavor in this recipe is amazing. I didn’t have the molasses, but it was fabulous without it. I also did add a little more tomato paste, and a can of drained whole peeled tomatoes. Highly recommend.

  7. I spoke unkindly of this chilli recipe a while back stating it was too rough (or some such) with all the dried chili’s. I have since dialed back the amount of chili’s and I love it.

    So, now that I’ve found the sweet spot (for me), I want to say thanks for the recipe. I love it.

  8. i love this recipe, you can tweak it and still stay close to this one with bear, rabbit, moose, goose….and stick to the chiles he recommends. it will be mild for folks that don’t like it hot, and you can pull out your favorite hot sauce. i’d like to try canning some next

  9. Delicious. I tend more to a chunky, non-bean, no tomato, Texas style. But my wife asked for some “regular” chili, and when I tried this version it still suited me. The dried red chiles give it a depth without being too hot. Far better than the usual Midwestern hamburger, bean, and tomato soup that most folks here bring to a fall potluck.

  10. Making the recipe for a friendly chili competition at work. I am finding that the finished chili is heavy or stodgy. I added some vinegar to brighten it up, but then I added too much. Baking soda to neutralize that mistake seemed to help.

    I am seeing that there is a book version that contains tomatoes. I’m thinking that that is what this needs.

    Its good tho.

  11. I used the older sharptails we shot as protein. Spot on boss. Rural America can be tough to find bulk dried peppers, I order mine online just for this recipe. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Gloria: Huh. THat’s never happend to me and I’ve made that chili 100+ times. Maybe it’s the coffee? Did you maybe burn the chiles that made that puree?

  12. Excellent recipe! I’ve made this for about 3 years now. The only change is that I roast a large onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 red bell peppers and 2-3 ancho chilies until soft and edges are brown. I puree the whole lot with 2 shots of espresso. Leave that in the fridge overnight. Amazing flavor! Favorite of the hunting camp.

  13. Excellent recipe! I used 1 lb of bear summer sausage (made with pork fat) instead of bacon, then just 1 lb of ground bear meat. I used the cooking liquid from mule deer lengua (Hank’s recipe) as my broth. I will certainly make this again.

  14. Hi Hank,
    This chili is absolutely the best. I make it all the time with all sorts of meat: venison, bear, you name it.
    Anyway, I noticed that in the book version you add tomatoes, but in the online version you don’t. Any reason? I usually make the book version, but I had to look up ingredients so I went to a the online one while in the grocery store and that’s when I noticed the discrepancy. Just curious.

  15. Love your recipes and books. I assume that after you brown the venison you remove it from the pot. At what point do you add it back in? Thanks

  16. I followed the recipe exactly the first time. We used ancho and guajillos which were what was available at the supermarket. The finished chili is spicy but not hot, and so delicious and satisfying. Printed and saved this recipe to make again. It’s a keeper.

  17. Hank,
    Fabulous chili. Made this time with diced venison roast. I toast my seeded chilis in a cast iron skillet, careful not to burn, then soften them in boiling water. The soaking liquid can be bitter, so I use just a bit and the coffee in a Waring blender. I always push it through a fine sieve to remove the hard bits of chili skin, then I “fry” the chili sauce in a tablespoon of butter— mellows, darkens, and deepens the flavor I think. Then proceed as outlined. Authentic chili. I have all of your books, purchased or gifts. You and Rebecca Gray taught me to cook wild game and fish. Thanks so much. Like the website, like the emails. Down on the Flint River, middle Georgia.