Whether you’re doing your tailgating in jeans and a T-shirt at Candlestick Park or huddled around a roaring barrel grill at Lambeau Field, nothing screams NFL season like a steaming, mouth-blistering bowl of five-alarm chili.

The most versatile of winter soups, chili can be poured over a grilled dog, it can top a quesadilla or be mopped up by a tortilla. You can scoop it up with chips or pour it into a bag of corn chips to create a “Frito Pie.”

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Really, with as many ways as there are to consume it, it’s a surprise that this big, hearty, tongue-toasting stew is often left off of our tailgating menus. But throwing a burger on the flame and toasting a couple of buns can seem a lot simpler than lugging a crockpot of chili to your favorite parking lot.

This simple, authentic recipe for firecracker chili, originally developed to be whipped up from the non-perishables stocked in the galley of my grandfather’s sailboat, allows you to pull together a great mug of chili with very little prep. And if you’ve got the grill space, you can even leave the crockpot at home.

Sailor Chili
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Difficulty Level: Medium
Yield: 6 servings


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 jar of picante sauce, medium or hot, 16 oz
  • 1 can light pinto beans, 16 oz
  • 1 can dark pinto beans, 16 oz
  • 2 cans Italian-style stewed tomatoes, 14.5 oz
  • 3-4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • Srirachi hot sauce, to taste
  • Shredded mild cheddar cheese


On the night before your tailgate, chop up your veggies, seal them in a gallon-size plastic zipper bag and store them in the refrigerator or cooler.

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On the morning of the tailgate, light the charcoal or flip on the gas and create a very hot set of coals on one side of the grill. Place a large soup kettle directly over the hot coals (you may want to purchase a cheap pot specifically for this use). Drop your ground beef into the pot and brown it over the hot coals for about five minutes, depending on the heat of your fire.

When the beef is cooked, pour in the picante sauce, the pinto beans and the stewed tomatoes. Stir.

Next, open your bag of chopped veggies and stir them into the mix. Bring the pot to a boil over the hot coals, then slide it away from the hot spot on the grill until it settles into a good strong simmer. On a charcoal grill, you can adjust the temperature by moving the pot closer or further from the coals, or by adding coals. On a gas grill, use your temperature control to keep the soup at a simmer.

Cook the chili over the coals for an hour or so, adjusting the temp as needed and stirring often. Be careful not to allow the soup to become charred at the bottom of the kettle.

Scoop into mugs or bowls, drizzle with Sriracha hot sauce and top with a sprinkle of shredded cheese.

Now don’t forget the dip! Here’s an awesome recipe for Southwestern Guacamole.

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Andrea Wodele is a freelance writer who has lived in the Twin Cities for eight years. She loves covering all things Minnesota and her work can be found on Examiner.com.