Caveman Chili And The Garden of Eating

Caveman Chili

Nothing spells delicious, comfort food to me quite like chili. My dad’s venison recipe could have won competitions if he’d bothered to enter. I’d come home from school on a wintry afternoon to the savory aroma of venison chili and couldn’t resist. Us kids didn’t even wait until dinner time. Our dad would ladle his perfect, authentic, bean-less chili into our bowls, sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top, and set us down to enjoy our after school “snack.”

That’s why my mouth watered as I read the Caveman Chili recipe in The Garden of Eating, and I knew I had to try it. It’s even slow cooked in the crock pot, making it ultra-convenient for busy days.

One quick note: I found the original recipe really hot, even for my heat-loving palette. I think it’s because my current batch of chili powder is spicier than normal, as the amount in the original recipe seems like it would be a perfect fit for my taste buds. I “fixed” the heat with my not-so-super-secret trick, which I will happily share with you in the recipe below.

This recipe is printed as it appears in the cookbook, The Garden of Eating, on page 300.

The Players

  • 3 (5-inch strips) kelp or kombu seaweed, optional
  • 2 lbs boneless grass-fed beef stew meat (you can substitute bison, pork loin, venison, bear or moose for the beef)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp unrefined sea salt
  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil or cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil (where to find REAL olive oil)
  • 1 jumbo white or yellow onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 sweet red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, halved, seeded, and diced
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 4 heaping cups cubed fresh red tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced celery, optional
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish
  • ground black pepper for garnish, optional

The How-To

Pat meat dry with unbleached paper towel. Dust with pepper and sea salt, if desired. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Brown the meat on all sides.

While the meat is browning, make sure your veggies are prepped. I didn’t have any kelp on hand, so I opted to not include it and instead add an extra teaspoon of salt. Notice I subbed in green bell peppers for the sweet peppers. It will give a different flavor, but I like the colors.

Layer your browned meat and veggies in the crockpot or slow cooker.

Add your spices. Then, cover the crock pot with a lid and turn it on LOW. I made a double batch to put half in the freezer (always a good idea with recipes this easy!).

If you’re like me and can’t resist the aroma of stewing chili, you’ll occasionally stir and sample the chili as it cooks over the next 6 to 8 hours. That’s when I had my WOWSER-this-is-spicy moment. So, I did what I always do when I accidentally over-spice my chili:

I got out the molasses and dark beer. Both work wonders for reducing the heat in chili. (Sometimes I even add in about 1/4 cup of peanut butter if I don’t have any dark beer on hand.) You can hardly taste them, and they only make the flavor that more rich, subtle, and inviting. I added two tbsp. of molasses and a half a can of beer.

After 6 hours, the stew meat had fallen apart into super-tender slivers of savory chili meat. Because the chili was still just a little on the hot side, I served it with a dollop of sour cream on top. Normally, I’d do something like avocados & chopped cilantro as a garnish. But the sour cream helped take the final rough edge off my overly hot chili.

Caveman Chili

So, now you have a fabulous new chili recipe to try. And, you also now have a few extra ideas for how to fix the spiciness of a dish if you accidentally make it too hot.

This recipe is part of today’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival. Go check it out!


  1. Leesie says

    Oh wow, I’m salivating and drooling already! This looks absolutely delicious! I will want to try this IF my twin comes home with some venison during the next hunting season but will definitely try it with another mean in the meantime. Thanks so much for the gorgeous pictures and for the recipe share.

  2. says

    That looks phenomenally good! We’re having “June Gloom” here in Los Angeles (overcast, chilly). Great weather for chili and cornbread with butter! I’m gonna try your recipe in the crockpot.


  3. says

    Looks great! I’m going to save this to try later.

    I remember the first time I ever had chili without beans, it was quite a few years ago at the best BBQ restaurant I’ve been to, so far. My friends and I were a little surprised at first. We’d never even hear of chili that didn’t have beans, but it became a “must have” every time we went there, and was soon the standard we would compare everyone else’s chili to.

    I’ve wanted to try making my own beanless chili for a long time, but until recently, I wasn’t concerned enough about having beans in it to look to hard for a recipe. I just usually follow whatever looks easiest to cook, and those recipes almost always have beans.

  4. says

    CleanerLife — Beans and Chili really don’t mix in my mind, probably b/c my dad NEVER used beans in his chili. :)

    Cheeseslave — Let me know how it turns out, and be wary of the heat. Like salt, it’s the sort of thing that’s easy to add but not so easy to take away.

    Leesie — If you use venison, I would definitely add the beer. My dad’s venison chili always had beer cooked into it, and it was DEEE-LISH.

  5. says

    This looks fantastic!! I should go eat lunch now so I don’t end up at the vending machine!
    I always have new mexico chile powder on hand which I like because it is warm but not hot. I then will add ancho, arbol or cayenne (or chile flakes) to up the heat. This recipe looks so simple and fantastic. Yum!


  6. Kelli says

    Boy, I am not sure that a cookbook that plays off of the Garden of Eden in the Bible and then uses a title like Caveman Chili is one that I will be buying. God did not create use cavemen, and people ate grains in the Bible.

  7. says

    Kelli — You would hold bad puns (assuming they are bad, which I’m not saying they are) against a cookbook? This is really one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever gotten my hands on, perhaps one of the only ones I’d recommend to EVERYBODY. Not only is it full of great recipes, but more than half of it teaches you how to set up and organize your kitchen and your meals so that eating REAL food is as easy as eating fast food (no jokes, her system is awesome!). I’ll be posting more recipes from it in the coming weeks, along with a review. I’d encourage you to hold off judgment until then.

    Alyss — I should find me some of that chili powder. Do you know of any good sources?

  8. Julie says

    why the kombu? I know it’s good for making beans more digestible, but wonder about it being in this recipe. Just curious.

  9. says

    Julie — To be honest, I don’t know why she’s got it in the recipe. I *do* know that she really likes to minimize salt (even unrefined sea salt), so perhaps she’s using it as a natural way to get some salty flavor as well as the benefits of sea minerals into the diet.

  10. says

    Mmm. Nothing like chili — you’re absolutely right. And here, even on this sunshiney spring day, your post is making me drool.

    I’ve got some venison in the freezer… and a crockpot that’s all ready to go!

    As far as the kombu goes, I can’t second guess her intentions — but I do often add a strip of it to my cooking for exactly the reasons Kristen suggests — some added minerals and sea veggie goodness. It adds so little flavor, you don’t even know it’s there!


  11. says

    I’ve been craving chili lately . . . now I’ll have to try your new recipe!

    For me, chili ALWAYS had beans in it (actually, my grandma calls her’s “Chili Beans” and I never ate anything different.). The first time I encountered chili without beans was in New Mexico. In college. And it just seemed . . . strange. Like just eating bolognese sauce. Without the pasta. Chili came with beans and that was that.

    Now that I’m doing low carb, and have been craving chili, I may have to break out my crockpot to try this recipe out! Thanks so much! :)



  12. says

    This sounds amazing! I love this book, but I haven’t done this recipe yet! I echo Kristen’s praise of this book; it’s incredible and worth looking into regardless!

    Organic and Thrifty

  13. Lori Allen says

    PLEASE, PLEASE do not put peanut butter in chili. Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies. I have heard of using peanut butter in chili only one other time-when a college student ordered chili in a cafe and died from the allergic reaction. It made national news. My mother called me to alert me to be even more careful. As a person with a nut allergy (tree nuts, not peanuts), my greatest fear is eating a food totally unassociated with tree nuts only to discover the hard way that someone has found a new and inventive way to include them because they are “healthy”. For example, I once saw a cooking show that used ground almonds in the paste for tamales! I couldn’t believe it. I would never associate tamales with nuts. This is the danger. Few people -if anyone- would think to ask if chili has peanuts or nuts in it. By the time they realize what is going on, even the epi pen might not be enough.

  14. says

    Julie asked (above) “Why the kombu?” in the chili. When I wrote The Garden of Eating, I was following a lower sodium paleo diet as advocated by Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet. I studied macrobiotics years ago and the work of Dr. Weston Price. I value sea vegetables for trace minerals, a slightly salty flavor, their high potassium content, and ability to chelate heavy metals. They’re a great food to include in your diet and stews are a great way to get them in. That said, I would add more salt to that recipe if I was making it today.

    Chef Rachel

  15. says

    Hi Kristin,

    Beautiful pictures, great descriptions, directions, and tips! I learned something new from you! I knew about adding more fat to balance something that’s too spicy (full fat yogurt, greek yogurt, sour cream, or avocado w/lime). I didn’t think of molasses (which I have in my cupboard) or beer (which I don’t keep in the house but many of my clients and cooking students do).

    There’s a book you might like that focuses on balancing different flavors. Have you heard of One Bite at a Time by Rebecca Katz? While if focuses on cooking for someone w/cancer who’s taste buds may be challenged, it has some neat tips and tricks w/flavoring.

    Chef Rachel

  16. says

    I make chili a lot during hte fall and winter and while my family enjoys it Ive been looking to kick it up a notch … your tricks of using molasses, beer, and peanut butter really got the gears turning … thanks for sharing them

  17. David in Atlanta says

    I make a big pot of chili about once a month. I modified the recipe from Nourishing Traditions. The main difference with the above recipe is that it has a couple cans of black or kidney beans, and we don’t have a problem eating legumes, even in chili.

    My wife and I found that we prefer greek yoghurt to sour cream in our chili. Greek yoghurt is just regular, plain yoghurt that has been strained so most of the whey is removed, leaving you with a thick, nutrient-dense white paste. We buy whole-fat (“Total”) “Fage” brand. (It’s supposed to be pronounced fa-yay!, but we jokingly just call it fage.)

  18. Daryl says

    I made this chili and it is DELICIOUS. The only thing I would add is a little more tomatoes. That’s it. Loved it.

  19. altered states says

    Love the recipe – added it to my list of upcoming meals. Thanks for the tip about adding dark beer to reduce the heat in an overly spicy chile. It seems sacrilegious to use Young’s Chocolate Stout for that purpose – I wouldn’t be able to resist drinking it whilst consuming the chili – I’d search out some Guinness for that purpose, if available.

  20. says

    I can’t wait to try this. I’ve been looking for ways to cook venison. I think the reason I haven’t liked it in the past is that I just didn’t like the way it was cooked

  21. says

    Ate this for dinner tonight, we all loved it. Only modification I made was because I was cooking in my parent’s kitchen (visting for the day), they didn’t have but 1 type of chili powder. I added a tiny bit of cayenne for a little kick.

    Can’t wait to eat the leftovers tomorrow.

  22. pamela says

    This looks delicious, and I’d love to try it, but I don’t have a crockpot/slow cooker. How might one modify it to cook in a regular pot on the stove?

  23. Meghan says

    This looks amazing! One question though…where does the liquid come in? Do the veggies produce enough? It seems the finished product has a fair bit of liquid. Thanks!

    • Jennifer says

      Yes, the veggies make the liquid – thought it’s not a lot, so I like the suggestion of extra tomatoes. I think that would make it perfect! I’ve always made chili with ground beef or chicken. These chunks of meat made it an instant favorite!

  24. Equilibrium says

    This chili concoction is praiseworthy. Fresh ingredients always better than canned or packaged. Participating in a chili cookoff soon and this could win for this competitive cook (novice actually but drawn to challenges). Can smoked turkey be used as meat substitute? I want eye appeal as well (presentation). Sour creme with cilantro may be that added touch (lagniappe). Ideas?

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