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July 31, 2010 / lainiefig

Texas Prison Chili

About a decade ago ,when we were living in Texas, Mr. Fig and I became pen pals with a couple of prisoners through a prison charity group.  Mr. Fig’s prison pen pal was named Marvin and he was a cook or was at least studying cooking at the prison. He sent Mr. Fig a recipe for chili which we promptly made and it turned out beautifully. We then named it Prison Chili and we make it often (though actually not often enough).

So, here it is, our delicious Texas Prison Chili (with many thanks to Marvin–hope you are out of prison and doing well, Marvin!).


  • 2 Tbsp shortening or oil
  • 1 lg onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1.5 lb chopped chuck (I am not even sure what this means–I use ground beef or ground bison)
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz can tomatoes
  • 1 hot cherry pepper, sliced (usually find these in jars)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne peppers or 1 finely chopped jalapeño
  • 2 16 oz cans of red beans
  • salt & black pepper


Marvin never included any particular instructions with his recipe, but we just did what made sense and it worked for us, so I’ll tell you what we do:

  • Use a fairly large stockpot–probably at least 8-qt
  • Brown the ground beef and sausage–can use same stockpot or use a separate skillet if you prefer
  • Be sure and drain fat after they’re browned
  • Put meat and all other ingredients in stockpot and mix together
  • I usually chop and open cans as I go along so part of the chili is already simmering as I add new ingredients
  • Simmer on medium to medium-high for about 10 minutes
  • Then switch to low to medium-low for 20 minutes
  • Serve hot with crackers, sour cream, shredded cheese, whatever you like

This chili gets better and hotter after a day or two in the fridge; the flavors sort of concentrate over time.  I think you could easily make it in a slow cooker as well.

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Leave a Comment
  1. Ranylt / Aug 2 2010 4:26 pm

    My chili cup runneth over…first Papaw’s, now Marv’s. I’m making both as soon as chili-season (read fall) rolls in around here!

  2. Matt / Aug 2 2010 10:34 pm

    There are four types of ground beef based on meat/fat percentage. Hamburger(73%), chuck(81%), round(86%), and sirloin(91%). There are steak and roast versions of the later three. A butcher will generally have scraps of meat and fat that they can use to make hamburger. Percentages are close, but might be a percent off. It’s been awhile since I worked in a meat department.

    Point is, chopped chuck is really just the chuck part of the cow cut up. If a meat department doesn’t have a package of it for sale, it can easily be requested, or done by yourself by cutting up a chuck steak, or roast.

    And I’m willing to bet a lot of people make burgers using ground chuck versus actual hamburger.

  3. lainiefig / Aug 3 2010 1:05 pm

    Thanks for that, Matt. I had no idea (obviously). I suppose I could have Googled chopped chuck to figure out what it was before this, but I never did because the ground beef always worked fine for us (and we started using this recipe before Googling was a common occurrence).

    Yes, Ranylt, that’s when I start making chili–too hot for it right now.

  4. Bob Alexander / Sep 2 2011 10:11 pm

    This is not Texas Prison Chili! I have the recipe that won the first ever chili cookoff in Terlingua, Texas in 1967. It was called Texas Prison Chili because it was served at the prison in Huntsville, Texas. It was published in Holiday Magazine in 1968 in an article about the cookoff. I have cooked this recipe several times and it is delicious! My Baja Red Chili has its origins in this recipe. I have been cooking competition chili since 1978. I also cook green chili, or Chile Verde. My stuff hasn’t won any big championships yet, but I have been close. Let me know if you think you could cook the original!

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