Questionable Gourmet – Quick Skillet Deer Chili

PREVIOUSLY ON Questionable Gourmet…

“Come back next time, dear reader, for my take on a quick skillet venison recipe that’s sure to upset at least two different types of connoisseurs.”


THIS TIME ON Questionable Gourmet…

It’s Quick Skillet Deer Chili!

Already, some of you are likely to be offended. If you’re new here, don’t worry. That kind of thing happens a lot. Just wait until I get to the post on pineapple.

For those of you that either get your chili out of cans, or at least aren’t too srs bsns about it, this dish isn’t something that’s usually described as ‘quick’ or even ‘skillet’. Pair up those words at a cook off and you’ll have people that pucker so tight even Mexican water won’t get through.

‘Quick’ is of course, a relative term here. This still takes a good two hours or so to cook, but most chili recipes have it slow simmered for half a day or more.

The other chili con connoisseurs that will be offended? Well, that sort of depends on where you live. In the United States, most Northern folks’ll say they like beans in their chili, while the South West has folks that say chili ain’t no chili if it’s got beans.

My deer chili?

It’s got beans.

By now most serious chili cookers have clicked away, but hopefully they’ve seen that I’m talking about them and they’re at least still reading this sentence, because it’s not as bad as they think. The main ingredient in this chili is MEAT.

And not just any meat, but ground venison. Deer. Wild, untamed, and home processed.

You know one thing that’s not bigger in Texas? Deer. :)

But what if you don’t live in the white-tail capital of the world, and have to pay high prices for venison at your local specialty shop? What if you don’t like beans? Or what if you’re a vegetarian?

Don’t worry! If deer is expensive, feel free to substitute your favorite blend of ground beef and pork, or even some elk. Ground sirloin would be mighty tasty with this, but it’s not going to taste the same. The spices should go great with any meat you toss in there, but they’re best with the wild flavor of a game animal.

If you don’t like beans, don’t add them! You should, of course, but if you’re that stubborn about it you don’t have to.

And if you’re a vegetarian… Hey, look! The ingredients list!



2  1/2 lbs ground venison
2   15oz cans pinto beans
1   14.5oz can petite diced tomatoes
3 cups water
4-6 cloves garlic
1 large onion
1 tbsp cooking oil

Spice Mix
1/4th heaping cup chili powder
1 heaping TBsp cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 TBsp paprika
1 heaping tsp unsweetened cocoa
1/4th tsp cinnamon
1/4th tsp cayenne


Yup. You read that right. Cocoa powder and cinnamon.

The more adventurous of readers should already know that chocolate actually goes great with spicy foods, and the bitter taste of the unsweetened variety blends nicely with the sweet tang of the tomatoes and the robust flavor of the deer.

Okay, so that last part is just after the fact and off the top of my head. I used to make this without the chocolate and just threw it in there one day to try it.

The cinnamon? I have Chef John of Food Wishes to thank for that. He uses it in a chili recipe, and it was exactly what this needed. I’ve used it every time I cooked this, adjusting the spice each time, and now it’s not just a suggested ingredient, it’s right up there with the chocolate as a must-use!

I did some other tweaks based on his recipe, and unless you’re on a diet, you should check out his site.

Before we go on, I should probably add this…

Cutting Board
Chef’s Knife
Large Skillet with Lid

And by ‘large’, I mean ‘at least 12 inches across and 2 1/2 inches deep’.

For most people, this makes six servings. If you’re a big guy, then four servings.

If you’re a big guy with an athletic wife, and she’s got a near bottomless appetite… two servings each.


Step One – The Spice Must Flow

Prepare your dry ingredients first. Grab a bowl and toss in everything that’s listed under the spice list.

Please note that when I say ‘heaping’ I mean it! :D

Once you’ve got those in a bowl, take a tined utensil and give a good forking.

Fork it deep.

Get it all nicely mixed.

You can also add some crushed red pepper flakes, but this will kick the heat up quite a bit depending on how much you use. Those of you with athletic wives, please check with them first to see if they’re okay with spicy foods. Without the crushed red pepper, I wouldn’t say it’s not spicy, but it’s much more agreeable to those on the tender side of the heat index.

I tend to set out some red pepper flakes when serving it, so bowls can be individually seasoned.


Step 2 – Slice Onion

Because the chili has over two hours of cooking time, any onion you put into this is going to end up soft and translucent, and the smaller pieces practically disappear. The point of them being in there is to impart their flavor, but I also want people to know they’re in there. I don’t like them raw or crunchy, but they need to be visible.

To make sure they are, I don’t dice the onion, but slice it into long, wide strips.

Take your chef’s knife and slice a large onion in half. (You can use whatever kind of onion you prefer, but for this I like just regular white onions.)

Put each half of the onion on a cutting board, flat side down.

Peel the thin skin of the onion.

Next do a series of slices across each half. Because the onion shrinks so much during cooking, make them 1/4th to 1/2 inches wide.

Do not cut around spilled milk.

After that, break apart the onion’s layers and transfer them to a bowl to wait until you’re ready to add them. The result should be a big pile of curved strips in varying sizes.

Not a breakfast cereal.

I also usually take a handful of the onion slivers and chop them up. It’s optional, and I’m not sure if it actually does anything.

Depending on my mood, I’ll use either half of the onion or the whole onion. this time I used half, and while it still tasted good, I think I’d rather have had the whole onion in there. If you’re not a fan of onion, feel free to only use half, or use a whole medium to small sized onion.


Step Three – Saute Onion

For those of you new to cooking, ‘saute’ might sound impressive, complicated, or even daunting. But don’t worry, it just means ‘fry in a tiny bit of oil’.

Yup. It’s just lightly browning the onions in a hot skillet.

You can use whatever cooking oil you prefer. I like to use safflower oil for this.

Put the cooking oil in there and turn on the heat to medium.

Once the oil is hot, it will look a bit shimmery.

Toss in the onion and stir it around, so that each piece gets some oil on it.

Saute? Oh, you mean fry.

Saute those for about eight minutes, stirring occasionally. They should just barely be starting to turn translucent, maybe browning a bit around the edges.

Just barely starting to turn tranlucent.

While that’s cooking and you’re stirring occasionally, you need to do the next two steps.

Don’t worry. Eight minutes is plenty of time. :)


Step Four – Chop Garlic

Part of learning to cook is learning how to balance the steps, so that you’re doing things while you’re doing things. Sure, you can get everything prepared before hand, but that takes a lot longer than if you just multi-task.

I suck at multi-tasking.

But at least with cooking, I’m not terrible.

If my wife helps.

Feel free to do the step ahead of time, but honestly, even I can do it quick enough it’s not a problem during the eight minutes it takes to saute the onion, and that’s even with occasional stirring.

So grab some fresh garlic and tear off between four and six cloves, depending on how much you actually like garlic.

Smash them with the flat of a knife and peel off the skin, then just roughly chop up the cloves. Set the garlic aside for right now. DO NOT ADD IT TO THE SKILLET YET.


Step Five – Drain Blood

If you haven’t done so already, it’s probably time for one of those occasional stirrings of the onion in the skillet.

Once that’s taken care of, get out your ground venison. In the ingredients list, I say to use 2 1/2 lbs of it, which is 40 oz. That’s more of a suggested number to aim for than a definite measurement. The packages I thawed out were 46 oz, so that’s what I used.

Does it make a difference? Sure, but in a good way! Chili is a manly meal, so a bit more meat ain’t gonna hurt it.

As for the rest of this step, if you’re using some other kind of meat or if you bought your venison in a supermarket, it might already have most of the blood drained out. But if it’s home ground, it can have a bit more blood in it than is needed for the chili.

It needs to be juicy, just not excessively so.

Plop some of that meat in your hands and hold it over a bowl, then give it a gentle squeeze. Repeat this for all of the meat, and you should have a bowl of blood left over.

Depending on the time of year, feel free to save it for use in ritual offerings to your local harvest god.

Sorry, but pictures aren’t allowed for that part.


Step Six – Cook Meat \ Garlic

Once the eight minutes are up, keep the onions in the skillet and add the meat. On top of that, add the garlic.

Keeps away vampires AND vegetarians.

An important thing to note here is that garlic is delicious when cooked, but bitter when burned.

I put the garlic on top of the meat, so it gets mixed in as the meat gets chopped up.

Oh yeah, you’ll want to take a spatula and chop up the meat once it’s in the skillet, and continue to do this while you cook it. This effectively crumbles the meat, as you don’t want meatballs in your chili.

Or at least you shouldn’t.


No, no. Cook it properly. Just keep chopping with the spatula and stirring it frequently. Do this for about 8-10 minutes until the meat is mostly browned.

I said 'mostly'.


Step Seven – Spice It Up

Once the meat is mostly browned, there should be some fat sizzling around in the skillet.

Don’t you even think of draining that! It’s full of flavor!

Sure, it can be detrimental to some dishes, but for this, leave it in there. We’re going to use it like a hot oil to help wake up the flavors in the spice mix.

So take the spice mix and plop it into the skillet.


Use your spatula to mix it around until the meat gets a good coating, and keep stirring it frequently.

Cook it for five minutes.

Mmm... Chocolate.

The meat will take on a chocolatey hue, and the spices will make the whole kitchen (and maybe your whole apartment\house) smell delicious.


Step Eight – Tomatoes, Water, Stir!

After you’ve cooked the spices for five minutes, add the can of petite diced tomatoes, juice and all.


Next add the three cups of water.

Use your spatula to stir it around until it’s well mixed.


Step Nine – Simmer!

Then turn the heat up to high and bring it to a simmer.

It's starting to look like chili.

A simmer just means that whatever your cooking is just barely starting to boil. Not huge bubbles, but lots of tiny ones.


Step Ten – Lid and Cook!

Once that simmer happens, turn the heat down to just a bit above low and put the lid on it!


Let it sit there and cook for one hour.

It doesn’t need stirred, and don’t take the lid off during this.


Step Eleven – The Magical Fruit

Once the chili has simmered for an hour, you can take the lid off.

When you do, you’ll see that the color has deepened even more and there will be a nice layer of oil on top.

Almost chili...

Like with the fat from the ground meat, this isn’t something you want to skim off. That oil is infused with spice!

Next add both cans of pinto beans. Don’t drain them, just dump them in.


Step Twelve – Even More Cooking!

Use your spatula to give it all a good mix and turn the heat back up about halfway to medium.

Toot! Toot!

Leave the lid off and cook it for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.


And there you have it, my quick skillet deer chili.

If you want it to get a bit thicker, you can cook it for longer, but as it is this chili is thick. You’re not cooking bean and meat soup, after all.

So take a spoon and try some, and if you like it, serve it!


I’d also suggest serving it with some shredded sharp cheddar or a few cubes of Velveeta, and a dollop of sour cream.


So that’s the first full recipe in Questionable Gourmet, here on

Did you like it? Did you hate it? Did you try it?

Leave a comment and let me know! Also, feel free to use the social media buttons below to share\taunt your friends.

~Matt Booker

8 thoughts on “Questionable Gourmet – Quick Skillet Deer Chili

  1. Tried this with elk and it was yummy! I was so surprised that the chocolate and the cinnamon tasted so good in it.

    We didn’t even eat crackers with it.

  2. Also, I think you could substitute premixed chili spice packs, remembering to ad the cinnamon, cocoa and cayenne. This is similar to how I usually make chili, save for the cinnamon and cocoa. Of course there’s nothing wrong with using beans!

  3. Cooked this, but instead of deer I used beef and pork. The chocolate and the cinnamon were so good in it!

  4. I haven’t had this with crackers yet either, but that doesn’t meant I wouldn’t try it. Elk sounds like it could be good, but I actually have to pay for that stuff.

    Bumblegirl, Tophat, glad you liked it! The cinnamon almost gives it an exotic taste, but it compliments it so well.

    L.T., I may try that sometime. And I agree, beans are great in chili! So, next time you make chili, you going to try the cocoa and cinnamon? :D

    ~Matt Booker

  5. Long time reader, first time poster :)

    Chili in the UK generally comes with beans, it’d just be spicy mince otherwise :)
    My mother in law puts mushrooms in her chili too, they’re v nice
    We eat it with hot buttered toast.

    May have to have a go at your recipe, will make a change from the marinara I usually cook


  6. Thanks for posting, Doug! :D

    If you try the recipe, come back and tell me how it turned out.

    I haven’t tried mushrooms in chili, but I’m interested. Are these canned slices or fresh, and does she have to cook them first, or just toss them in? :)

    And hot buttered toast with it sounds even better than crackers, actually. I definitely want to try that. Thanks!

    ~Matt Booker

  7. Everything’s better on toast :)

    Fresh button mushrooms, just stalked, quartered and put in raw at the same time as the beans


  8. Thanks, Doug. If I can nab some next time I make chili, I’ll toss in some mushrooms.

    The toast thing? Oh yes, that’s going to get tried :D

    ~Matt Booker

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