Lady Bird’s Chili

Lady Bird's Chili

I know. I know. I know what you’re thinking!

‘Uh, M., shouldn’t you be talking about egg nog? Or gingerbread? Or at least blogging about cookies or something?’

‘What’s going on with your brain?’


Recipe And Red Onion

What can I tell you?

The temperature has dropped here in Arizona and I need some warm comfort. Maybe you do too?

Those of you who are students of the cuisine and culinary history of Texas will know that Lady Bird Johnson was not to be messed with when it came to the cooking up a storm, Texas style. I will confess that I fell in love as soon as I came across this heritage recipe for her Pedernales River Chili.

Was it the ease of preparation?

Or maybe all of those luscious spices?

Perhaps the mass quantities that it yields, perfect for feeding the comings and goings of a holiday crowd?

All of the above for sure.

Either way, I urge you to throw together a batch of this simple, sumptuous, one-pot meal. Get spicy. Get comfortable. And get warm, Texas-style.

Lady Bird Johnson’s Pedernales River Chili

recipe adapted from the original recipe, found in the online archives of the LBJ Presidential Library

Chef’s Note:  This recipe can easily be halved if you prefer a smaller yield. Note that if you do make a half batch, you will likely need to simmer in the last step for approximately half the time (just 30 minutes).

4 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. oregano, dried, ground
1 tsp. cumin, ground
1 1/2 c. canned tomatoes, chopped
2 to 6 dashes hot sauce, or to taste
ancho chile, ground, to taste
chile de árbol, ground, to taste
salt to taste

Cook the meat, onion and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring, until lightly browned. Stir in the oregano, cumin, chile powder, tomatoes, hot sauce, salt and 2 cups hot water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour, skimming off the fat as it cooks.

Yield:  approximately 12 servings


  1. 14


    Ahh this looks great and you’re reminding me that I need to make chili for Curtis – he loves chili!! And then uses the leftovers for chili dogs. :D Hope you have a nice holiday and I get to see you again in 2013!!

    • Meagan says

      Hi Alice! Thanks for your comment, as I mentioned below, I personally don’t ever use chili powder, as I prefer to make up my own seasoning mixes. So, for example, in a recipe like this, I opted to add ground ancho chile and ground chile de árbol instead of using a store-bought chile/chili powder. Thanks for your comment!

  2. 9

    Pam Webb says

    Ummm…you didn’t list chili powder in the ingredient list, but it’s in the directions.
    Thank you for this recipe. Growing up I’d heard about Lady Bird and what a down to earth woman she was. My Grannie worked for a family that had the Johnsons over for dinner often. She got to meet them both and couldn’t say enough nice things about Mrs. Johnson.

    • Meagan says

      Hi Pam! I personally don’t ever use chili powder, which is why I didn’t list it in the recipe. I just feel that store-bought chili powder is sort of a waste, someone else’s idea of proper heat and spice. I prefer to toast, grind and add my own chiles to recipes like this (ancho chile, chile de árbol, etc.), which is what I did and why I omitted the chili powder. Thanks for reading!

  3. 4

    Lee says

    Ok, I understand the whole chili thing. And I LOVE egg nog too! But good lord, really? This is quite possibly the most boring sounding chili recipe I’ve ever seen! Maybe it’s ok, but I’m taking a pass on this one. My two boys would be wondering why the chili has no flavor. Or beans(easy Texans!)… Or vegetables (onions, peppers). I’m perplexed.

    • Meagan says

      I hear you, Lee. But in this chili’s defense, it is the perfect dish for setting up in a heated vessel and serving a crowd. It is also infinitely customizable, so you can throw in whatever you have on hand, like I did the last and penultimate times that I made this chili: dark chocolate and canela/cinnamon the one time, and bacon and tequila the other. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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