an overhead close up shot of three chili dogs next to each other. a small bowl of shredded cheddar is next to them.

perfect chili for hot dogs

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True to its name, this chili is perfect for serving on top of hot dogs and bratwurst sausages. I like chili, but my preferred way to eat it is usually in a bowl topped with a dollop of sour cream, a fistful of shredded cheese, and lots of scallions and onions. My brain categorizes chili as a soup, and I just have a hard time conceptualizing soup + served in a bun.

With July 4 coming up and outdoor grilling unfortunately off the menu, Jimmy suggested we give chili dogs a try. So we set out to make a chili that would be perfect on a bun — a thick, scoop-able meat-n-beans chili that wouldn’t squish out or slide off your hot dogs or soak through the buns.

three chili hot dogs in a dish with two small bowls filled with shredded cheddar and minced red onion

This chili doesn’t get its flavor from ground spices — it comes packed with flavor from rehydrated dried whole chiles. This is a technique we picked up from Rick Martinez’s recipe for Chili Colorado (which is featured on Bon Appetit which, yes, I have mixed feelings about linking to BA right now but I love Rick’s recipe and always believe in giving credit + links back to recipes that inspire me!).

The dried chiles are seeded and then soaked in boiling beef stock for 30 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients and get the chili started on the stove. Then the beef stock and chiles get blended until silky smooth and added to one pound of browned pork shoulder and ground beef to simmer and reduce for three hours.

a close up eye level shot of a chili dog topped with shredded cheddar and minced red onions

About two hours into the cook time, we added one can of kidney beans and one can of butter beans (aka lima beans, but shh!) to give them time to soak up all those great chile flavors. The butter beans are huge (for beans, anyway) about 1½” wide but very soft and add a lot of nice texture to the chili.

The end result is a beautiful, rich, meaty chili. Letting it reduce for 3 hours is key to developing that thickness, as is the blended puree of beef stock and rehydrated chilies. But it’s the rendered fat from the meat finally emulsifying in the sauce that really helps bind everything together, creating a chili that is thick and scoop-able, the perfect chili for hot dogs or bratwurst.

three hot dogs topped with chili, cheddar cheese, and minced onions sit on a platter together. in the background is a pint of beer.

notes on chili for hot dogs

  • To puree the rehydrated chiles and beef stock mixture, we used our trusty Vitamix 5200 which can reduce pretty much anything to the silkiest of silky smooth consistencies. (Lesser blenders will get the job done, but when it comes to blending power — you really do get what you pay for.)
  • The butter beans are big beans! If you prefer smaller beans, just use two cans of kidney beans or one can of kidney beans and one can of any other bean your heart desires.
  • We buy our dried chiles at Chile Secos at Grand Central Market here in L.A. They’re high quality chiles and we can get exactly the amount we need for about $2. If you don’t have a local vendor or Mexican market, you might be able to find the chiles in the “International” aisle of your grocery store or you can find them online. I scoped out a few spice vendors and, as of publishing, the Spice House offers all three chiles.
  • A high quality dried chile will have a little bit of flexibility to it. If your chiles are hard and brittle, they’ll still work for this recipe but you might find the flavors are a bit muted. You may want to increase the cumin or add ancho chili powder in addition to salt and pepper at the end.
  • I haven’t eaten a hot dog since I asked for one at K-mart in 1994 and my dad told me what they were made of. So I prefer my chili dogs with bratwurst, because for some reason I have no problem eating sausage. You do you!

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three chili hot dogs in a dish with two small bowls filled with shredded cheddar and minced red onion

perfect chili for hot dogs

A thick, scoop-able meat-n-beans chili that won't squish out or slide off your hot dogs or soak through the buns.
Yield: 8 servings of chili or enough chili for at least 16 chili dogs.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 2 quarts


just the chili

  • 5 dried guajillo chiles
  • 5 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 dried pasilla chiles (optional)
  • 8 cups beef stock (2 quarts, divided)
  • 1 TBSP cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 lbs pork shoulder (cubed)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 6 oz tomato paste (1 small can)
  • 1 can butter beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 can kidney beans (rinsed and drained)

for chili dogs

  • 16 hot dogs (or bratwurst sausages)
  • 16 hot dog buns
  • 8 oz cheddar cheese (shredded)
  • 1 cup white onion (minced, for topping)
  • sour cream (optional, for topping) (get the squeezable kind)


  • Bring 2 cups of beef stock to a low boil on the stove. Meanwhile, wearing gloves, slice open the chile peppers and remove the seeds and ribs. Place the chile peppers in a medium sized bowl.
    Pour the boiling stock over the chiles, cover the bowl and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  • While the chiles steam, cube the pork shoulder.
  • Swirl a generous glug of vegetable oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Working in batches, add ⅓ of the cubed pork shoulder, stirring it occasionally for 3-4 minutes just to get the outsides nice and evenly browned. It's okay if it doesn't cook all the way through here. Transfer the browned pork to a bowl and repeat with the remaining two batches of the pork shoulder until all of it is browned and removed from the pan.
  • Keep the Dutch oven on the heat and add the ground beef. Stir with a wooden spoon to break it up and brown it all over, about 4-5 minutes. Then add the pork back to the Dutch oven with the beef.
  • Add the remaining 5 cups of beef stock to the Dutch oven along with the bay leaves. Reduce the heat to medium low and let simmer while you finish prepping the rest of the ingredients.
  • Place garlic, cumin, and oregano in a blender along with the rehydrated chiles and the beef stock they soaked in. Blend on high until a completely smooth, thick, silky sauce forms. If the mixture feels too chunky or has trouble breaking down all the way, you can ladle in some liquid from the Dutch oven.
  • Pour the chili paste mixture into the Dutch oven with the meat and beef stock. Stir in the tomato paste. Bring to a low simmer and let reduce, uncovered, 3-4 hours. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a low simmer, you shouldn't see a lot of active bubbling on the surface.
    Add the beans after about 2 hours.
    NOTE: As the chili simmers, fat from the meat will pool on the surface. Stir the pot occasionally, but mostly leave it alone. You'll know the chili is done when you stir it and the fat doesn't pool on the surface right away (check it after 5 minutes). This means its has fully incorporated into the chili.
  • Before serving, add salt and pepper to taste.

chili dogs

  • Toast buns on grill, on a griddle, or on the middle rack of your oven face-up under the broiler for 1 minute.
  • Cook hot dogs according to package directions.
  • Serve chili dolloped on top of hot dogs, topped with shredded cheese, minced onion, and sour cream.


  • This recipe was inspired by Rick Martinez’s recipe for Chili Colorado.
  • The best dried chiles come from local markets or Mexican grocery stores, but you can sometimes find them in the “International” aisle of your grocery store or online. The best dried chiles are still slightly flexible, not brittle.
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