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It’s officially chili season!

Staff, America's Test Kitchen on

Ground beef is an easy base for chili, as it doesn’t require any preparation such as chopping or slicing beforehand — just put it in the pot and go! This convenience comes at a price, however, as ground meat can give up a lot of moisture as it cooks and becomes dry and pebbly. But don’t worry: This chili recipe uses a secret ingredient to keep the beef tender and juicy.

To keep the beef tender and moist, treat it with baking soda. Yes, baking soda! The baking soda raises the meat’s pH, helping its proteins attract more water and lock it in during cooking. This keeps the meat juicy and also helps it brown more quickly.

Beef and Bean Chili

Serves 6

1 pound 85% lean ground beef

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 (15-­ounce) can pinto beans

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-­inch pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons chili powder


2 teaspoons ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 (14.5-­ounce) can crushed tomatoes, opened

1. In a medium bowl, combine beef, water, and baking soda. Mix until well combined. Set aside.

2. Drain beans in a colander. Rinse beans with cold water and shake colander to drain well.

3. In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat for 1 minute (oil should be hot but not smoking). Add onion, bell pepper, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder, cumin, and oregano and cook for 1 minute.

4. Add beef mixture and cook, breaking up meat into small pieces with the wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

5. Carefully stir in broth, tomatoes, and drained beans. Use the wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

6. Remove lid and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until chili is thickened, about 20 minutes. Serve with your favorite chili toppings.

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