One of the most iconic food institutions in the DC area is Ben’s Chili Bowl. Locals, politicians, and celebrities alike flock to the establishment for its famous “half-smoke” sausages covered in house-made chili, onions, and shredded cheese. A favorite of Bill Cosby’s, half-smokes are basically a slightly spicy smoked half pork/beef sausage that have been a staple at Ben’s since they opened their doors in 1958.
Since the dog is the official tubed meat of the Washington Nationals, it seemed only fitting that we create our own rendition of Ben’s Chili Bowl Half Smokes as part of our MLB Recipe Series.
To make the magic happen I called in the assistance of local bloggers/friends Mr. Beerbecue and Danger Men Parenting. I provided the half-smokes, Beerbecue his custom made smoker, DMP the necessary allotment of beer, and together we set about fine-tuning the chili recipe.
First a little background on Ben’s chili. For better or worse the “iconic” chili is basically a finely ground meat gravy overloaded with chili powder. It’s lacks complexity and any degree of subtleness, but nonetheless people dig it. Our rendition is more of an evolutionary step away from Ben’s in an attempt to create a more sophisticated meat gravy…if that is even possible.
The backbone of chili powder remains in the recipe but is balanced by an equal amount of smoked paprika and a few key spices allegedly in Ben’s. Depth and complexity comes principally from the incorporation of Garam Masala, while a small amount of freshly grated cinnamon at the end rounds out the chili and provides a final subtle pop.
Overall, the gathering of “Merry Beer Men” pronounced the chili experiment to be a success and many covered half-smokes were happily devoured during a afternoon of gluttony. Even the wives and children who showed up to collect our sad souls gave their approval meaning once again that men can never fail when a grill, smoke, and beers are involved.
- Half-smokes* and hot dog buns (click here to order half-smokes from Ben’s)
- 2 lb freshly ground meat
- 1 lrg yellow onion (finely minced)
- 4 cloves garlic (finely minced)
- 1/2 lrg ripe tomato (finely minced)
- 28oz tomato puree
- 7 tsp smoked paprika
- 7 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 1 tsp tumeric
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp hot paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pepper
- Olive oil
- Cinnamon stick
- Woodchips (optional)
*Any other sausage or hotdog can be substituted for the half-smokes.
- Fire up that grill or in this case Beerbecue’s custom made smoker and add woodchips (if necessary, presoaked).
- Add the half smokes or whatever sausages you have on hand to the grill/smoker. Cover and smoke until the proper internal temperature has been reached.
- While the sausages are cooking prepare the chili.
- First saute the onions with a splash of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until translucent.
- Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Toss in the ground meat and cook until browned.
- Stir in the fresh tomatoes and puree.
- Then the remaining spices and cook over low heat for at least 30 mins.
- Season to taste, along with a light grating of cinnamon.
- Load up a bun with a half smoke, onions, chili, and, if desired, cheese.
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