Presents for a chili cook?
December 8, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Present ideas for the chili lover. I'm trying to think of a gift basket for a burgeoning chili-chef, but I know very little about chili and have no ideas outside a nice cut of meat and it would be nice to get them something that would last a little more long-term. Chili-makers, are there any really nice spices you like in your chili or other special ingredients? A specific tool or pot you find indispensable? Any "idea" books (this person is not the type to follow strict recipes, but would likely follow something that said "try this for this effect")?

Caveat: I do not have a lot of money, so a Le Creuset dish is out of the question. Also, crock pots are strictly forboden.
posted by schroedinger to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What's your budget?

Rancho Gordo has really nice beans, dried peppers, and other spices, along with some gift sets. (Obviously beans are a highly contentious issue when it comes to chili styles, so make sure you know where this burgeoning chili-chef's loyalties lie before ordering.)
posted by bcwinters at 8:05 AM on December 8, 2010

Cast iron dutch ovens are really nice for slow cooking, and can be found for a reasonable price.
posted by pickypicky at 8:08 AM on December 8, 2010

Penzeys is good for spices, and you can order them online. They have several chili powders, and lots of peppers.
posted by amarynth at 8:09 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yes, I came in to mention Penzeys as well.
posted by librarianamy at 8:20 AM on December 8, 2010

You could buy or make a wreath of various chili peppers, allowing your friend to experiment on his/her own.
posted by DrGail at 8:26 AM on December 8, 2010

I put unsweetened Mexican chocolate in my chili. And a dark Guinness-style beer. And chipotle chiles.
posted by Killick at 8:27 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was thinking of a cast iron dutch oven. Maybe a used Griswold on EBay? I could order a spices sampler. I'd like to spend no more than $50-$60 total.
posted by schroedinger at 8:40 AM on December 8, 2010

Oooh, bottles or jars of smoked peppers like ancho would be really welcomed here. Penzeys is awesome. I have an enameled cast-iron dutch oven from Lodge that I am absolutely in love with. I bought it at the Lodge outlet (in South Pittsburg, TN) for a ridiculously low price, like 75% of what a Le Creuset would cost. Maybe if you can't swing that, you can point your friend in that direction for future consideration.
posted by cooker girl at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2010

Ristra of chiles, spice grinder (a whirly-blade coffee grinder is fine), cast iron pan for browning the beef.

Some chili recipes call for tequila and at least one - Buzzard's Breath - calls for cigar ashes so a nice sipping tequila and some cigars would be on-topic as well.
posted by jet_silver at 8:56 AM on December 8, 2010

maybe you could grab some cured type meats for something that would last a bit longer than a fresh cut of beef? i'm thinking something like smoked, salted pork products, good bacon, maybe a good chorizo...things that pack a flavor punch.

also, i would be overjoyed to receive a a sturdy dutch oven for christmas...a lifetime gift!
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2010

I love the Palo Alto Firefighters Pepper Sauce. It's home made using chillies grown in the back yard and all proceeds go to charity. Plus, it's delicious.
posted by londonmark at 9:08 AM on December 8, 2010

Oh, and check out the awesome Peppers of Key West for more great hot sauces and ideas. They do mail order if you can't get to the store (but they're a reason to visit KW all on their own if you can).
posted by londonmark at 9:10 AM on December 8, 2010

I love chili and only recently got a variety of dried chiles, allowing me to blend my own chile power. This was a fantastic experiment and yielded by far the best chile powder I've ever had. You can purchase a variety of chiles at a Mexican grocery, and they come in little bags marked with the variety - or perhaps loose. In my opinion, this is more fun than a ristra because a ristra offers only one variety of pepper, and what makes chili fun is that it uses a variety of peppers. Look for the following common chiles: ancho (dried poblanos), pasilla, and New Mexico.

Other very common chile ingredients: masa harina flour, extra fine, for thickening. Oregano is in almost every chili recipe, as are garlic or (good quality, fresh) garlic powder, salt, and certainly cumin. Cuminseed is a lot more flavorful than ground cumin, so a little sack of cumin seeds would be a great gift, perhaps along with a small mortar and pestle for grinding cumin fresh. It's so delicious that way. I have a small marble and a small ceramic one and both work fine. Also, cayenne pepper and paprika round out the heat and peppery flavors. Black pepper. I use an 8-0z can of tomato paste for thickening, and no beans, Texas style. People tend to be sort of opinionated about beans vs. no beans in chili, so see if you can suss out whether your chili lover is a bean person or not. In the end, if they don't like beans in chili, they can always just use 1 more can of beans for whatever, so go ahead and throw one in. Red beans and pinto beans are good choices.

One of my favorite "secret weapon" ingredients is unsweetened, pure cocoa powder. It adds depth and richness and makes the sauce a bit of a darker red. Love it. You could get Hershey's or a fancier kind, but the fancy doesn't matter so much since it's going to be one subtle flavor among many. Makes a big difference, though.

Think about chili accompaniments. I like to serve chili with a little fixin's bar including sour cream, jalepenos, grated sharp cheddar, sliced black olives, and fresh chopped onions. I also serve chili over steamed white rice. Texmati rice is a good choice and probably findable at your grocery store. People also like plain white rice made sticky-style. Hot sauces are sometimes good accompaniments so that people can customize the flavor and heat.

Also, beer.

Then there's hardware - I also use a cast-iron skillet. Hot pads are always handy, as are kitchen towels, because chili is messy. A good stirring spoon and a good, deep ladle for serving would be nice. Chili bowls, maybe - I like a nice compact bowl that allows the chili to stay hot for a while, a good deep ceramic bowl almost like a soup crock. For chopping onions and garlic, your basic 8" chef's knife and a small cutting board might be nice. Because chili is frequently fetishized, there are a lot of places on the web that you can find chili-themed kitchen towels, tablecloths, decor, etc.

If there's a good butcher shop near you, it might be fun to give a gift certificate. Chili is improved by using a "chili grind" mixture that can include beef, pork, and sometimes other meats. You usually can't find that at the grocery so it might be fund to send your giftee to a real butcher for that.

Have fun - hope your chili maker loves this. Great gift idea, and the world can use more good chili!
posted by Miko at 9:29 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

+1 to Penzeys as well
posted by zombieApoc at 9:36 AM on December 8, 2010

My favorite Penzey's spices besides that one over the top cinnamon (OMG) are all chili or taco seasoning-related. Nthing.
posted by ifjuly at 9:52 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

An alternative to Penzeys with a worse website but better selection of chilis and chili powders is Pendery's.

I love chili and one of my favorite things is a set of chili bowls that are generously sized with handles on them, similar to these. I often scoop up chili with tortillas or otherwise need to manipulate the bowls while I eat, so the handles are a big plus.
posted by TedW at 10:16 AM on December 8, 2010

I have the Tramontina 6.5-Qt. Cast Iron Dutch Oven, which was recommended as a "best buy" in Cook's Illustrated (they said, "Its larger capacity (6.5 quarts) and even lower price made it our preferred choice over the Lodge (6 quarts.)") I think I paid around $50 for it, and I love it. If you do decide to get a dutch oven, attach the No-Knead Bread recipe (or CI's "Almost No-Knead Bread") to it!
posted by amarynth at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2010

If it helps your budget, Marshall's often has enamelled Dutch ovens from Le Creuset, Tramontina, Lodge and others at a pretty solid discount. I think TJ Maxx does, too, since they're essentially the same store. You might be able to snag a bargain.
posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2010

Seconding amarynth and Miko--amarynth for the No-Knead Bread recipe (a nice touch), and Miko for the shopping suggestions (we've gotten great cast-ironware from Marshalls). If you go this route, you could also research making your own chili powder from scratch, and throw in a jar of that as well. Ingredients are cheap, and it is fun to have ground spices that are fresh instead of off the shelf.
posted by torticat at 12:16 PM on December 8, 2010

Nthing a variety of dried chiles, especially if they are hard to find where your chef lives.
posted by lvanshima at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2010

Yes to Pendery's. We have a pretty big selection of various chili powders, with and without salt, and dried chilis They sell a white chili blend, which is quite good with chicken, anaheims, serranos, garlic, onions, etc.

Also yes to the beer, and make sure to put some in the chili.
posted by waitangi at 12:47 PM on December 8, 2010

To get some ideas about spices, you could look at the International Chili Society's website. They list all the winners and the winning recipes from the world championship cookoff. It starts with 1967 (the famous Wick Fowler, now of the chili packet fame) through 2009 (2010 is not posted yet). These folks are winning $25,000 for having the best chili -- good stuff!

(Also, I think adding these recipes to your gift would be a neat idea.)
posted by Houstonian at 6:03 PM on December 8, 2010

I loved growing my own hot peppers! They are hardy, pretty, and don't require a ton of attention. Making my own hot sauces from peppers I'd raised by hand was incredibly rewarding and the yield from the plants was pretty substantial. So I'd totally recommend a few interesting varieties of seeds so that next year he can grow his own magic!
posted by troublewithwolves at 9:43 PM on December 8, 2010

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