Green Bay, Wisconsin isn’t known for its thriving culinary scene. I’m not here to convince you that it does. But like so many home towns, it has tastes that I crave that are only from that particular location. There are more delicious restaurants than I can eat at during my all too rare trips home.
What I’m saying is that if you’re looking for an authentic Green Bay recipe, this is your chili.
A Green Bay tradition, Chili John’s chili recipe is a secret kept by the Lithuanian immigrants that made it. Thankfully for us, Jane and Michael Stern recreated their favorite chilis from around the country. Their stab at Chili John’s is as good as I’ve tasted.
This is their recipe, with additional local notes added by me. (Go buy their book, it’s fascinating! Especially if you’re one who likes to host or participate in chili cookoffs.)
A regional flavor, this is a sweet, barbecue-y chili. It’s not the most chili-chili recipe at all, but if you’re looking for Green Bay representative food at your Superbowl party, this is the way to go. Since barbecue sauce is the most pronounced flavor in this chili, find a straightforward sauce like Sweet Baby Ray’s Original or something you’re already comfortable with.
Also nice is that the individual parts can be prepared ahead of time. Make the noodles right before serving and heat up the chili.
As is the Cincinnatian way, the flavor is only complete for me with all layers.
This means from top to bottom:
Ready? Let’s make it!
Ingredients for the chili
1/2 chopped large yellow onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 pounds ground chuck
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Worscestershire sauce
5 to 10 drops hot sauce, to taste
1 1/3 cups barbecue sauce
Ingredients for the spicy oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces spaghetti noodles
1 tablespoon butter
1 16 ounce can kidney beans
1 large onion, chopped
Shredded cheddar cheese
Directions for the chili oil
In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander and cardamom. Heat this mixture to a simmer and turn off the heat. Add the garlic and stir until bubbling subsides and garlic is soft. Cool the oil to room temperature and then pour oil mixture into a liquid measuring cup.
Heat the oil in a dutch oven or large skillet to medium high. Saute the onion in the oil until soft but not browned. Add the 2 pounds of ground beef to the pan and cook until brown and crumbly. Drain off the fat. Season the meat and onion mix with salt, pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Stir in the barbecue sauce and simmer over medium-low heat until heated through (10-15 minutes).
Stir up the chili oil and add half to the chili meat mixture.
Add the other half to a small squeeze bottle or pitcher.
Cook the spaghetti until as soft as you like it. Drain it. Toss the drained spaghetti with the butter and keep warm.
Open bean can, put beans in the colander you just drained the spaghetti in and rinse the beans. Add beans to a small saucepan with a half cup water. Heat over medium heat until warm.
Let guests build their own chili. In Green Bay, we arrange the noodles on a plate, topping each noodle pile with beans and onions. Spoon the chili over all of it and add the oil in the small squeeze bottle until it tastes right. On top of that, add shredded Cheddar cheese and sour cream. Sprinkle the oyster crackers liberally atop the sour cream.
Go Pack go.