I call this Cheater’s Chili because I’ve eliminated the time-consuming (and often messy) step that is the foundation of most meat stews: browning the chunks of meat before adding the remaining ingredients. It’s not that I don’t appreciate how browning adds rich, meaty flavors and color to a pot of stew, and it’s a step I still rely on regularly for making classic stews. But I also embrace the challenge of trying to streamline a recipe without sacrificing flavor, and that’s exactly what this one offers.

To compensate for the skipped step, I add a handful of full-flavored ingredients—tomato paste, bacon, beer, and a smidge of dark chocolate—along with plenty of aromatic vegetables and spices. Everything gets tossed directly in the pot before it is transferred to the oven for hands-off cooking until the beef is tender and the chili is fragrant. As part of my “cheat,” I use water in place of broth, and I use canned beans, which go in toward the end of cooking so they soak up the heady flavor of the stew without turning to mush. Of course, you could use broth (chicken or beef; you’ll need 2 cups). And you could also cook the beans from scratch, but I don’t think you can call yourself a cheater if you do.

I like to serve the chili with cornbread, but you can also turn it into a more substantial meal by serving it over rice. Like most stews, this tastes even better a day or two after it’s made. Once cooled, the chili can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days. It can also be frozen for 2 months.

This recipe is excerpted from All About Dinner: Simple Meals, Expert Advice (W.W. Norton, 2019) by Molly Stevens.

Serves 6 to 8

  • 2 1⁄2 to 3 pounds boneless chuck roast or brisket, fat trimmed, cut into 1- to 1 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or neutral-tasting oil, such as grapeseed, sunflower, or peanut
  • 1 thick or 2 thin slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 large white or yellow onion (12 ounces), chopped into 1⁄4-inch pieces
  • 1 large bell pepper, red or green, cored, seeded, and chopped into 1⁄3-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, chopped into 1⁄4-inch pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano, seeded or not according to your taste, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin, preferably freshly toasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander, preferably freshly toasted and ground
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • One 12-ounce bottle or can lager beer
  • One 28-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (60 to 65%), coarsely chopped
  • Two 14 1⁄2-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or 3 1⁄4 cups cooked black beans; see Bean Basics, page 75)
  • Hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Cholula (optional)

Garnishes (choose as many as you like)

  • Sour cream, fresh cilantro sprigs, shredded Jack or cheddar cheese, chopped scallions, diced avocado, sliced radishes, and/or minced jalapeño (fresh or pickled)


1. Heat the oven to 325°F convection (350°F non-convection) with a rack in the lower third.

2. Put the meat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven (6-quart). Season generously with salt and pepper and stir to coat. Add the oil, bacon, onion, bell pepper, carrots, garlic, jalapeño or serrano, chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, and cayenne, stir to combine, and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to release moisture, the meat has lost its raw appearance, and the spices release their fragrance, 15 to 17 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, to heat it through, 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the beer, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes (with their juice). Fill the empty can with 2 cups water, swish to rinse, and add to the pot. Stir in the chocolate and bring to a simmer.

4. Cover the pot and slide it into the oven for 1 1⁄2 hours. Remove the lid, carefully so as not to get blasted with steam, and stir in the beans. Return to the oven, uncovered, and cook until the meat is fork-tender, another 30 minutes or so.

5. Set the pot on a heatproof surface (like the stovetop) and use a wide spoon to skim the clear fat from the surface. Don’t worry about getting every last drop, just get most of it. Season the chili to taste with salt and pepper. If you want more spice, add a few dashes of hot sauce.

6. Set out whatever garnishes you’ve chosen in small bowls. Ladle the chili into bowls and invite people to top it as they like.