Colorado Cowboy Chili

Colorado Cowboy Chili


When the weather gets cold, one of the first meals I crave is a warm and hearty chili. This recipe is chock full of meat and beans and comes to life with lots of spices and a few “secret” ingredients you would most definitely find in a cowboy’s saddlebag, like coffee and cocoa.  While the list of ingredients may look long, you probably have most of these spices on hand. Plus, the method is very easy! With a few hours in the slow cooker, you’ll have a rich, smoky, and complex chili sure to sustain any Cowboy on a cold, Colorado night out on the range.


  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 lb. ground venison (or substitute a second pound of ground beef)
  • ½ large sweet yellow onion
  • 1 serrano pepper
  • 3 chipotles in adobo sauce, plus 1-2 tsp. Sauce
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced
  • 3 tablespoons J. Brady’s Cowboy Shake
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 double shot of brewed espresso, about 3.5 fl. oz.
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 28 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, diced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans great northern beans
  • 2 14.5 oz. cans red kidney beans
  • 1 14.5 oz. can pinto beans
  • Dash of apple cider vinegar

Optional garnish and sides:

  • Sliced fresh jalapeno
  • Green onion
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream or 5% fat plain greek yogurt
  • Tabasco-style hot sauce
  • Texas toast
  • Fritos 


In a dutch oven or deep cast iron skillet, brown each pound of meat separately on medium high heat until the moisture evaporates and meat is well browned, transferring to a slow cooker after each pound. While the meat is browning, chop the onion, poblano, serrano, and chipotle peppers into a small-medium dice or use a food processor, adding 1-2 teaspoons of the adobo sauce from the chipotle peppers. 

When the meat has all been browned and transferred to the slow cooker, turn the heat to medium-low and add the pepper mix. Cook until translucent and fragrant, then add fresh pressed garlic and dried spices. Cook, stirring frequently for an additional 1-2 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. 

Slowly add the beef bouillon or stock to the pan, scraping the browned bits of meat and pepper-spice mix off the bottom and sides of the dutch oven or skillet. Carefully transfer the liquid to the slow cooker. 

Add the brewed espresso, brown sugar, cocoa powder, tomato paste, tomatoes, and salt to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. 

Add the beans, rinsed to the slow cooker just prior to serving. Heat through. Add a dash of apple cider vinegar and adjust salt to taste. Serve with your choice of garnishes and sides!

Test Kitchen Commentary

I’ve been making a variation of this recipe for several years now and it is very forgiving and flexible. This time, I found local grass-fed beef from Lasater Grasslands in Matheson, Colorado, organic ground pork, and Durham Ranch venison from New Zealand. Last time, I used ground Wagyu and some leftover smoked brisket a friend dropped by. Sometimes I throw in a jalapeno or an extra serrano or if you like corn in your chili, you could toss in a can of sweet white or even try adding hominy. 

Next time, I might try a mix of just venison and elk and maybe a little bacon to add some fat because while I do love game meats, their lean and earthly flavor can get easily overpowered by the richness of grass-fed beef. If you don’t love red meat, you could readily substitute for ground turkey and bacon!

What I love most about this chili is that the sumac in J. Brady’s Cowboy Shake brings a bright, almost lemony flavor that melds with the rest of the spices to deliver a layered, complex flavor and a beautiful, rich burgundy color.  Don’t hesitate to make ahead, as the flavors keep maturing overnight and this freezes well, too!

I hope you enjoy cooking and serving it as much as I do and please let us know what you think!

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