Smoky Venison Chili

Do your kids ever talk you into things that no one else can?

I grew up in a hunting family. but I’m the only one of my siblings who has never killed a deer. My dad always offered — I was just never that interested.

My husband, too, has offered, and while I’ve always been on board for fishing or boating, sitting in a deer stand all afternoon just never held much appeal.

But my oldest is really into hunting. And he’s in that adolescent stage where connecting is sometimes difficult.

So when he asked repeatedly that I go with him last fall, I finally said yes. Granted, I came armed only with my current novel. We stopped at a gas station and I bought our favorite junk food to share — Sour Patch Kids and Twix but no chips because “those are noisy!”

It was beautiful watching dusk approach out in the woods. We saw a few does, but nothing he wanted to shoot. He told hunting stories and we talked about what we were reading and school and sports and friends. There weren’t any grand epiphanies, but we both enjoyed each others’ company. And I’ll definitely go again next year.

Even though we didn’t see much that day, he did have a good enough season that we bought a new deep freezer last fall, and we have yet to experience a meat shortage.

This is his favorite venison recipe. It’s not my family’s traditional one (with hamburger and kideny beans). This is more complex, smokier, bean-free, and just the right balance if your reluctance to use venison has been its “gaminess.”

It’s adapted from The Southerner’s Cookbook by the editors of Garden and Gun.


  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 lbs ground venison (or ground hamburger)
  • 2 medium/ small yellow onions diced (or 1 1/2 large)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 12 oz dark beer
  • 2 (12 ounce) cans Ro-Tel tomatoes, drained (or 24 ounce can crushed tomatoes)
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 3-5 chiles from a can of chiles in adobo sauce, chopped (NOTE — use 3-5 chile peppers, not 3-5 cans of chile peppers. These are spicy!)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • sour cream, limes, cheese, cilantro, sliced jalapenos to garnish


  • Turn the stove to medium high and salt the ground meat. In a heavy skillet or pan (I use my Dutch oven), heat one tablespoon each of the oil and butter. Brown the meat well.
  • Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and palce on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
  • Add the remaining oil and butter to the pan. Add the diced onion and saute for 8-10 minutes, until translucent and beginning to brown.
  • Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. The spices will be aromatic.
  • Add the beer to deglaze the pan. Then add the tomatoes, beef stock, brown sugar, chopped peppers, and oregano.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 2 hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and for seasonings.
  • Serve with optional garnishes.
  • This is even better the next day, and also freezes very well.

Enjoy with your favorite hunters while they dream of fall!

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