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With the intensity and thoughtfulness of one who contemplates the night sky, wondering what it means to be human, Dean Harvey ponders the chili cook’s existential quandary. Beans or no beans?

It’s a subject that “Mean” Dean—Harvey’s chili cook-off nickname—can debate endlessly. Does chili have beans? The purists say no. But the average guy on the street says yes. If most people expect beans, then what is chili when it’s beanless? It’s like wondering about the tree falling in the woods.

“I am a twisted man to have this much thought about chili,” laughs Harvey, 43, a Gloucester resident who, while he’s not working at his day job as an accountant, has made a name for himself competing in chili cook-offs around New England with the International Chili Society. In 2011 alone, he racked up six second-place finishes in a variety of categories and placed third and fourth in two others.

Harvey is nothing if not a restless cook. He loves to riff on the classic bowl of chili, making it a launch pad for other flavors. Chili that tastes like you’ve just taken a bite out of a cheeseburger? Sure. How about chili with turkey and cranberry sauce that tastes like Thanksgiving leftovers? Definitely. Currently on his mind is whether he can make a chili version of Thai food. “I think it could work….” he says, his voice trailing off.

Being creative with his chili recipes requires Harvey to experiment with flavors and ingredients until he captures perfectly whatever food he’s trying to recreate. His Buffalo wing chili, for example, contains chunks of chicken tenderloin, powdered ranch dressing, Buffalo wing sauce, and celery and carrots that are roughly chopped and added near the end of cooking. Not to mention the “other hidden things in there that I wouldn’t ever tell you,” he says.

It’s that kind of creativity that gets Harvey “mocked by some of the purists” and adored by chili cook-off attendees. He says he tends to do well in the competitions’ People’s Choice category because his chili stands out from the endless bowls of straight-up ground beef and beans. “I always get a lot of votes just for being different and creative,” he says.

Participating in chili cook-offs has also made Harvey feel like he’s really found his place in the world, surrounded by other hard-core “chiliheads” who are as obsessed with chili as he is and who love to debate the merits of different types of meat or the minutiae of chili powder. He’s even gotten into arguments about salt.

“Salt!” he repeats, incredulous and delighted. “Chili can be whatever you want, and that’s kind of what’s fun about it.”


 Mean” Dean’s Texas Chili: Serves 8

Step One

3 lbs. of tri-tip, 1/2-inch cubes  – “You can substitute the tri-tip with another well-marbled, inexpensive, tougher cut of meat,” Harvey says. “I’ve used blade steak and sirloin.”

3 bacon strips (cooked, reserve fat and chop)

2 tsp. bacon fat

1 medium sweet onion, finely diced

2 shallots, finely diced (2 tbsp.)

6 cloves garlic, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, slices cut along its sides (to float in the pot)

1 tbsp. cumin

3 tbsp. chili powder

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce

1 4 oz. can diced green chiles

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 15 oz. can beef broth (or try subbing with a malty beer like Ipswich Oatmeal Stout)

1 15 oz. can of chicken broth


1. Brown meat in batches. Drain each batch, then set aside.

2. Cook bacon fat, onion, shallots, and garlic on low heat for several minutes until onions are soft, then add meat to pot and cook for another minute. Add bacon. Next, stir cumin and chili powder into meat mixture and cook for several minutes. (This is a process called “blooming,” which brings out more flavor from the powders.)

3. You want to use pure, premium, and fresh powders; cumin turns bitter and chili powder loses its pop after a while.

4. Add tomato sauce, green chiles, and oregano, and cook for a few minutes more. Add just enough broth or beer to slightly cover the meat and add more as needed during cooking.

5. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a slight boil (about a 10-count boil, where you can count about 10 bubbles on the surface at any time). Cover and let cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Step Two

3 tbsp. chili powder

1 tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. Sazon Goya seasoning (available in the international section of your local grocery)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. oregano


Add the above spices, add broth if needed, and cover for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test for heat level; if it is to desired level, pull out jalapeño pepper and discard.


Step Three

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 c. ketchup

1 tbsp. cumin

3 tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. Tabasco

Juice of 1 lime


1. Add the above ingredients, add broth if needed and cover for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Test for heat level, if it is to desired level pull out jalapeno pepper and discard.

2. Thicken with masa flour or thin with chicken broth to get desired texture.

3. Add salt or brown sugar to taste.



Chili-Making Tips: use these tips to make your chili scorch

There’s really just one chili-making rule: “If [you want] to make really good chili, you want to use good product,” says “Mean” Dean Harvey.


1. Don’t use store-bought chili powder, since this actually already contains a blend of other spices. Instead, opt for pure chili powders from purveyors like All Things Chili, Pendery’s, or Mild Bill’s Spice Company.

2. Try making a chili sauce by rehydrating dried chilis, blending them smooth, and pushing them through a sieve.

3. Using ground beef from the grocery store will make your chili taste like “spicy baby food,” Harvey says. Instead, use chunks of tri-tip or another tough, inexpensive cut of meat that can stand up to the long cooking process. If you’re working with a chili recipe that calls for ground beef, ask your butcher to grind the meat for you using a coarse grind, such as a chili grind.

4. The heat of a jalapeño can vary from pepper to pepper, so Harvey has a trick for controlling the fire: Make four slits along the sides of the jalapeño and float it in the pot of chili to extract the flavor and heat. Remove the pepper when it tastes hot enough.

5. Remember your definitions: When it comes to competition chili, the International Chili Society says Traditional Red Chili is made with red chili peppers, and Chili Verde is made with green chili peppers. In each, beans and pasta are “strictly forbidden.” Red or green chili at chili cook-offs is made during a timed cooking competition; those entries are eaten and judged by a panel.


People’s Choice Chili isn’t part of the timed competition; it’s eaten and voted on by cook-off attendees and must contain beans. Learn more at