If you’re a die-hard hot dog lover, tossing a grilled frank in a bun without fancy toppings can be enough. But when you’re hosting a cookout with friends or a family movie night, you need something hearty to go with your hot dogs.
Cue hot dog chili—a crowd-pleasing option that should make its way to the snack bar at your next gathering.
Chili dogs are simply classic American hot dogs served in a bun and topped with flavorful meat sauce. The best part about this dish is you can add even more toppings—shredded cheddar cheese, mustard, onions, pickle relish, or whatever you prefer.
So, here’s how to make the best homemade hot dog chili sauce that’ll have your guests coming for second and third helpings.
Get the Ingredients
Lean Ground Beef
The best ground beef lean to fat ratio for a rich hot dog chili is 80/20 or 85/15. The fat bastes the meat during the browning, adding richness and flavor.
You can drain the fat before you add your spices or skim the excess off the surface of the chili after it’s stewed.
If you’re watching your fat intake, you can use extra lean beef, but it won’t be as tender or as flavorful.
There are some basic spices that every hot dog chili must have:
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Black pepper
- Sweet paprika
Other rarely-used spices give chili a modern twist, and you can pick and choose based on your preferences:
- Soy sauce
- Balsamic vinegar
- Dark chocolate
- Pickling liquid
Tomato sauce and tomato paste give the best flavors for chili dogs. It’s good to saute the tomato paste in some fat before adding it to the pot to prevent it from tasting raw. You can use fresh tomatoes or ketchup instead of tomato sauce—both add sweetness to balance out acidic flavors.
Select the Method
Chili recipes are a personalized thing—everyone has their dos and don’ts. While all the different recipes are excellent and sure to satisfy a crowd, there are some basics that you shouldn’t overlook.
At its core, chili is a braised dish. You have lean meat that you need to soften and infuse with flavor. You also need to end up with a silky broth that’s great to scoop and layer over your hot dog. To achieve this culinary greatness, take note of the following.
Brown the Beef
Raw meat is the ultimate no-no for a pot of hot dog chili. Before adding anything to the pot, your first order of business is to sear your meat until it’s no longer pink. Why? Because doing so:
- Adds extra savory flavor
- Dramatically improves the meat’s texture
Break Up the Beef Chunks
The final texture of the chili is totally up to you. But ground beef comes in chunks that would hardly look presentable in a chili pot. Use a potato masher, wooden spoon, or fork to break the meat to your preferred size. You can go for smaller, tender pieces or chunky, meaty ones.
Tenderize Your Meat
One downside to browning ground beef is that it might not get that much softer. To beat this, brown the meat in liquid. You can either sear it first and add the broth towards the end or brown it in broth from the get-go. Either way, you end up with tender pieces of meat.
Add Spices at the Right Time
Sure, searing the meat and cooking it on low heat brings out the best flavor. But, hot dog chili isn’t the same without herbs and spices. If you wait until the end of cooking to add seasoning, you’ll miss out on so much flavor. Always season the beef immediately as it browns to end up with rich, balanced flavors.
End With Some Acidity
Acidic ingredients are a double-edged sword when it comes to chili—on the one hand, they amplify the flavor significantly, but on the other, they can slow or prevent the meat from becoming tender. Your best bet is to add the tomatoes, vinegar, or lime juice toward the end of cooking. This method might seem strange, but it works like a charm.
Use This Foolproof Hot Dog Chili Recipe
- I pound lean ground beef
- 1 large white onion, diced
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- I teaspoon apple cider vinegar/lemon juice
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- ¾ cup ketchup
- Brown ground beef and diced onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the meat is no longer pink. Use a fork or potato masher to break the meat into smaller chunks, while adding beef broth to create a finer texture.
- Add the remaining ingredients, except the vinegar, to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer until the chili has thickened to your liking.
- Take it off the burner and add a teaspoon of vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Difference Between Hot Dog Chili and Traditional Chili?
A can of drained, rinsed beans makes the difference between hot dog chili and traditional chili. The classic version isn’t complete without red or pinto beans, whereas the variety that tops your hot dogs doesn’t have this ingredient.
What Is the Best Secret Ingredient for Chilli?
Each family’s favorite hot dog chili recipe has a secret ingredient that people swear by. From coffee to molasses, these ingredients give your chili that extra oomph that’ll get everyone at the cookout talking.
- Alcohol – a little red wine gives a rich flavor, and a shot or two of bourbon elevates the seasoning.
- Fish sauce – a dash of fish sauce emphasizes the meaty flavor while adding some saltiness.
- Coffee – although unconventional and bitter, a moderate amount of brew can highlight the complex flavors of chili.
- Chocolate – in the form of cocoa or unsweetened baking chocolate, this ingredient adds a bit of sweetness to complement the spicy flavors.
- Molasses – the unsulphured variety adds a sweet and smoky taste to chili.
What Can You Not Put in Chili?
Chili is an everything-goes kind of dish. It’s highly customizable, and different recipes call for different ingredients. However, some definite no-nos should never make it to your pot of meaty, velvety goodness:
- Uncooked vegetables – saute onions until translucent and garlic until lightly browned.
- Commercial “chili spice” mix – assembling your spice mix takes mere minutes and assures you of the quality of your ingredients.
- Too much water – chili isn’t a soup; it’s a stew. It must have texture and contrast so if you need to, add some cornstarch for the thick consistency.
What Can You Do With Leftover Hot Dog Chili?
Because hot dog chili is sweeter than the traditional kind, you probably won’t want to eat it on its own. Leftovers are great served over crispy french fries and topped with sliced jalapeno and grated cheddar cheese.
More Hot Dog Goodness!
While this homemade hot dog chili is better than anything you’ll buy at the hot dog cart at a football game, it’s not the only type you’ll love. You can go classic New Yorker with these crispy onions or get a bite of the Midwest with these Chicago Dogs. You might also enjoy these keto crescent dogs that fit right into your low-carb diet.