On my way to a cousin’s wedding weekend on a fall Friday night outside Houston, I drove by my high school alma mater’s football stadium, where the lights were bright and the stands were packed. While I didn’t have time to watch the game, I was hungry, so I walked up to the concession stand to grab a bite. This being Texas, there were nachos, chopped beef sandwiches, and fat pickles on offer, along with the Texas football piece de resistance: Frito pie.
If you’re unfamiliar with Frito pie, it’s a tangle of crispy, salty corn chips smothered in a beefy chili that’s heavy on the peppers, and, since you’re in Texas, should never, ever have beans. To finish, the chili is covered in shredded yellow cheese, diced onions, and pickled jalapeños. Often, it’s served straight from a Fritos bag, though it can also be presented in a bowl, on a plate, or in a cardboard boat, too.
Its exact origins are unknown, though the dish had its first mention in print in a 1947 Abilene, Texas, newspaper. My grandparents can confirm that it was popular then, as when they were in graduate school in Kentucky in the late 1940s, they would bring cases of canned chili and bags of Fritos to recreate this iconic Texan treat in their distant home.
While any batch of chili can be used in Frito pie, for mine, I favor one that has a sauce made from dried chile peppers, such as ancho for their bittersweet earthiness, and morita or chipotle chiles, for their smoky heat. Using whole chiles instead of a ground chili powder also gives the sauce more depth, which is important when doing a quick cook. The beef is ground beef, which I form into larger pieces to give the chili some heft. When all is said and done, the dish comes together in about an hour — which means you’re just that much closer to scoring a Frito pie, a Texan football icon.
Frito Pie with One-Hour Texas Chili Recipe
For the one-hour Texas chili:
6 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
2 dried morita chiles, stems and seeds removed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced minced
4 pequin chiles
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
Pinch ground clove
Pinch ground allspice
5 cups water, divided
2 pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons corn meal or masa harina (optional, but will thicken chili if needed)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
For the Frito pies:
4 cups Fritos
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, for serving
¼ cup diced onions, for serving
Sliced jalapeños, for serving
Step 1: In a large skillet, heat the ancho and morita dried chiles on medium-high heat for a minute, turning once. Fill the skillet with water, and just as it begins to steam, turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until rehydrated, about 30 minutes.
Step 2: In a Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil on medium low and, while stirring occasionally, cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Throw in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Place the cooked onion and garlic into a blender. Turn off the heat.
Step 3: Drain the chiles from the soaking water and add them to the blender along with the chile pequin (you don’t need to pre-soak these little chiles). Add the cumin, oregano, clove, allspice, and 1 cup of water. Blend until smooth.
Step 4: Blend the ground beef with the salt and pepper, then form the meat into little balls, about the size of a ½-inch marble. (This does not need to be perfect, so don’t spend too much time doing this. The purpose is to emulate chili chuck, a very coarse grind of beef sold in Texas)
Step 5: On medium heat, cook the beef while stirring occasionally, until lightly browned all over, about 10 minutes. Add the chile puree and the remaining 4 cups of water, heat on high until boiling, and then simmer uncovered on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 6: After 45 minutes, taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt as desired. Also, if the chili isn’t thick enough for you, slowly stir in the masa harina. Add the lime juice and then cook for 10 more minutes.
Step 7: To make the Frito pies, divide the Fritos between 4 to 8 bowls and ladle the chili over them. Top with the cheddar, diced onions, and jalapeños.
Lisa Fain is a Texan who loves to cook. She writes about Texas food on her blog Homesick Texan, and is the author of several cookbooks, including Queso: Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa