Big Holes Beef Chilli – A Lesson in Flavour, Grammar and Punctuation

Back in the early 1960’s, there was a TV programme called The School Around the Corner, on RTÉ (Ireland’s then sole broadcaster). It was presented by the affable Paddy Crosby. On the show, he would interview schoolchildren. He had a way with him and managed to extract stories from the young ‘uns. Stories that were charming in their innocence. One infamous interview had a young lad telling a story about a horse that fell into a hole in the road. The horse was beyond saving. A vet was called and  he decided to shoot the horse. Paddy asked the innocent child “Did he shoot him in the hole?”. “No” replied the youngster, “he shot him in the head”.

As with so many of my conversations about food, this one took place while I was out on the bike, chatting my butcher friend, James Lawlor. As the weather is turning here in Ireland, the chat was all about autumnal food. As chilli is high on my list of cool weather favourites, I asked for advice about the meat.
I suggested perhaps using big, whole chillies (as I have a stock of them). James laughed, seeing some joke in what I said. Then he suggested, “You’re on to something there. Why not try a big holes chilli.” I have to admit, I did snigger like a schoolboy looking at a lingerie catalogue before he explained. “The holes in the normal mincer plate are 5mm. Why not try using the 10mm plate we have and see how the beef turns out?” So a plan was laid for (careful how you write it…) Big Holes Beef Chilli.

Back to my old ways. Not all the ingredients here...

Back to my old ways. Not all the ingredients here…


  • 1 kilo of coarse (very coarse by the standards set here) ground beef.
  • Half a kilo of beef pieces cut up nice and small.
  • 100 grammes or so of pancetta (a home prepared present from Stefan over at
  • 2 dried ancho chillies
  • 4 to 6 smaller hot dried chillies
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • 1 tin of kidney beans
  • 4 onions
  • 2 teaspoons of smoked sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons of red peppercorns
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons of dried tomato flakes (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • Half a pint of concentrated beef stock
  • 2 bottles of beer
There would have been a big hole in the flavour if I had not used these.

There would have been a big hole in the flavour if I had not used these.

Side note on the sliced beef: The coarse ground beef gives a particularly good “bit of chew” that one would not get with a finer ground beef chilli. By adding the sliced beef too, we get a really nice consistency. It’s worthy of consideration. 

The process is pretty straightforward. But, it does take a bit of time to complete. First, slice the pancetta into nice small pieces and fry it, in a large lidded saucepan, to release its fat.

Stefan will like this shot. Thanks for the pancetta Stefan!

Stefan will like this shot. Thanks for the pancetta Stefan!

Add the chillies to a bowl and pour in about a half pint of boiling water. Leave to stand for about a half hour.

Reconstituting the chillis will make them easier to blend.

Reconstituting the chillies will make them easier to blend.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and reserve. Fry the beef, in batches, in the pancetta fat. The beef tightens up and shows its chunkiness.

The beef really is chunky.

The beef really is chunky.

Slice the onions into quarters or eights.

We want to keep the onions chunky too.

We want to keep the onions chunky too.

Add the chillies and water to a blender and blitz to a smooth paste.

This turns thick and red. Wonderful heat and flavour.

This turns thick and red. Wonderful heat and flavour.

Dry fry the cumin seeds and pound them in a mortar.

The cumin adds a nice smokiness that works well with the ancho chilis.

The cumin adds a nice smokiness that works well with the ancho chilis.

Crush and slice the garlic.

I like lots of great garlic. You will too.

I like lots of great garlic. You will too.

Remove the browned beef from the saucepan with a slotted spoon. In the same saucepan, fry the onions and garlic, over a low heat, until very soft. Add back the beef. Then add the other ingredients bar the beans.

The tomatoes go a long way to creating 'a bowl of red'.

The tomatoes go a long way to creating ‘a bowl of red’.

Stir everything in and bring the heat up until the chilli reaches a simmer. You can now simmer the chilli for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally or do as I did. Pop it into a 150ºC oven for two hours. Remove it and simmer uncovered for half an hour. This will thicken the sauce.

A nice bit of bulk and carb added.

A nice bit of bulk and carb added.

Add the beans and stir to incorporate. Bring it back to a gentle boil to be sure everything is nice and hot. Serve it with rice and some cheddar cheese.

Delicious big hole chilli. A whole lot of flavour.

Delicious big holes chilli. A whole lot of flavour.

This big holes chilli is undoubtedly a big, whole chilli. It’s a lesson in punctuation and a pretty fine autumn dish too. Enjoy.

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Latest comments
  • Definitely the kind of comfort food for a cold autumn day. I often put chopped up leftover beef or pork in mine for extra bite and some hot smoked pimentón.

      • Ha ha – yes I do. I like that kind of thing myself 🙂

  • Still too much of a wuss to fling that amount of hot chilli into anything, but I’ll take inspiration, and I think my brisket trimmings have (moderate) chilli written all over them! And since I’ve never seen smoked salt, I’ll be substituting smoked paprika 🙂

  • I like the look of that as I’m not generally a fan of mince – we usually finely dice ours for chilli, though I recently tried a Jamie Oliver recipe where you slow-cook the entire lump of meat and then shred it, which was also very good. Love the story, too. Reminds me of my favourite Dublin joke, which is unrepeatable in polite company.

  • I just want a big massive bowl of chilli now. Looks great!

  • That looks wonderful!

    • A lot of warm greetings from Australia! Methinks we all think of Richard: he surely does not need a memorial plaque to be remembered~ Absolutely lovely to hear from you!!

  • Such a fun post! I was wondering where you were going with the big holes chili, and well, it makes perfect sense!


  • Oh this looks so good! I love the two ways of cutting/grinding the beef and use of beer.
    From a tip I got years ago and followed since – I would highly recommend adding a small amount of chopped Mexican chocolate to the stew. It does wonders. 🙂

      • Regular chocolate works well too, but Mexican chocolate is different as it also contains spices such as cinnamon and vanilla, with some ground nuts, usually almonds. It’s quite grainy and not as tasty to eat, but it’s great for cooking.

          • You’re very lucky to have such a friend! And I plan on making chili with your beer “trick” this weekend. 🙂

          • Will do! 🙂

  • Hey, you finally showed up in my reader board! We have a dearly departed Texas friend who would have raised an eyebrow at that tin of beans in the chili. But since I’m a transplanted Texan who puts beans in her chili now, I won’t give you any grief over that. 😉 Gorgeous chili, though.

      • You made me google pulses, lol. I had never heard legumes (or beans in our vernacular) called that.

  • Why on earth do the Irish always have to make such great sense . . . ? Now I am not a great big chilli eater but like the recipe, especially those bottles of beer [HF, I may have sinned 🙂 !] . . .

  • That is a good sounding chili, Conor. Growing up in Texas, we used to be able to buy meat that was ground through a larger hole…it was called “chili meat”. 🙂

  • I laughed at your comment at your gauge of a comfortable heat – the scale of blowing the nose. I laughed because I would completely agree with you a slighly runny nose is just right when the eyes start to stream we have hit the over the top mark!

  • Looks delicious, and a great comfort food for those cold, chilly days. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • I like your take on the humble chilli. You have raised the bar high, one for the bookmark.

  • Now this is one delicious bowl of comfort food! Loving your photos Conor. Sharing, of course

  • I simply need a major monstrous bowl of stew now. Looks awesome!..

  • ohh wow.. looks delicious…

  • That pour shot! Pouring water on the red pepper! Sexy 🙂

    Would love to take the idea of using coarse ground beef …gotta ask my butcher if he has got a ‘big-hole’ ground machine … He’ll freak out for sure as those type of words and demands dont usually come out of a Muslim woman’s mouth-hole 😀

  • Hey Conor, you owned this Chili as the kids say over here! 🙂 Color me impressed. Punctuation? It can save lives! “Let’s eat Grandma.” or “Let’s eat, Grandma.” *EG*

  • Love your recipes Conor. It’s hard for me to figure out how much a tin of something is. I’d really like if if you could translate ingredient measures into ounces or weight for us in the U.S. Your awesome. Thanks in advance

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