Sound the alarm! It is a time-honored tradition that firehouses serve up the best bowls of chili. Here are some smokin’ chili recipes from firehouses around the state.
I’ve often wondered if it is a rite of passage for firefighters to undergo the gastronomical challenge of eating chili–and not just any chili. The mouth-scorching, eyewatering, air-gasping, nose-numbing type. After all, I’ve been to my share of chili cookoffs where firemen dish out four-alarm chili that nearly melts the ladle. But I’m told that isn’t the case. Much to my disappointment, there isn’t some type of fireman test for taste buds. Come to find out that chili happens to be a traditional firehouse food not as a means to prove one’s toughness; rather it’s the perfect dish to economically feed large groups with large appetites. You get your meat, your beans, and your veggies in one big bowl with a dash of bravado to boot.
Beckley Fire Department
The Beckley Fire Department has won numerous awards in the annual “Chili Nite in October,” a chili contest in Beckley. “We normally do three different chilis: a mild chili that’s not too hot with a very mild bite that will let you know you’re eating chili and not a glorified vegetable soup; a hot chili that is our all-time favorite that turns up the heat for those who enjoy breaking a slight sweat as they please their pallet, yet it doesn’t destroy their digestive tract; and a third chili that we like to label ‘The O’ So You Think You’re Tough’ chili,” explains Captain Kevin Price, the fire marshal for Beckley. “For the guys at the firehouse, this one has always been their favorite. It has a kick that will rock your socks! But we don’t make it so hot that the guys feel that it’s a test of their manhood to just hold the spoon in their hand, much less eat it. We want people to enjoy
it, not endure it.”
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
3 green peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
1½ pounds ground beef
1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
2 (28-ounce) cans tomato sauce
8 large fresh tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
3 poblano peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 habanero pepper, seeded and finely diced
4 (15½-ounce) cans red kidney beans
4 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons salt
6 tablespoons paprika
Basil, to taste
Parsley, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add onion and green pepper. Sauté until onions are translucent, set aside. In a large pot, brown ground beef and sausage. Add cooked onions and peppers, tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, kidney beans, poblano peppers, habanero peppers, and spices. Cover and simmer for at least 4 hours, stirring and adjusting seasoning as necessary. Add kidney beans and simmer for 1 hour. Serve with your favorite chili toppings and cornbread.
Burlington Volunteer Fire Department
Lieutenant Robert “Herk” Dawson was a small town boy in need of a life challenge when he joined the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department in 1998. He believes that chili should have some kick. “Unfortunately a lot of the guys and gals around the station don’t quite like as much heat as I do,” he says. “This recipe is the result of years of experimenting in the kitchen until I finally got it right. Once in a while when the fire department has a get together I bring this dish. It is well received by those who can handle the heat!” Here’s his favorite one pot chili.
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound deer burger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 (40-ounce) cans dark kidney beans
64 ounces tomato juice (more or less depending on how thick/thin you like)
2 palm fulls of cumin
3 palm fulls of chili powder
4 poblano peppers, finely diced
Sauté the onion in a few drops of olive oil. In the same pot, brown deer burger, adding garlic. Combine the remaining ingredients over medium heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Williamson Fire Department
Fire runs through Jerry Mounts’, Chief of the Williamson Fire Department, blood. “My dad worked 30 years for the fire department. I’m in my 34th year, and we just hired my son. Our other son is a deputy. Public service—helping those in need—is in my genes,” he says.
The King Coal Festival in Williamson is celebrating its 30th year. The week-long festivities celebrate the heritage of the region, culminating with a day-long gala in downtown where the streets are blocked off, live music fills the street, and artisans and vendors display and sell their wares—and don’t forget the Chili Cook-off, where Jerry will be dishing out his award-winning recipe. “The Festival is a celebration of our heritage in the southern coalfields and is a great week of fellowship,” says Mounts.
Here’s his “2008 Best Overall Chili” recipe.
2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds ground pork
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, diced
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1 (28-ounce) canned whole tomatoes, broken
4 fresh red hot peppers, chopped
1 (12-ounce) tomato paste
6 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon oregano
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
2 (15½-ounce) cans light red kidney beans
2 (15½-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans
Kosher salt, to taste
Chipotle sauce, to taste
Mix beef and pork. Brown meats and drain fat. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Combine beef and pork with sautéed onions and garlic. Add juices from tomatoes and stir. Add tomatoes, peppers, tomato paste, and spices. Simmer 2 hours; add beans after 1 hour. Use bottled water to obtain the consistency desired.