James Coney Island Chili is famous in Texas. Don’t miss out on your chance to have a taste of what Texans enjoy. What makes their chili so special is that they use diced chuck steak instead of ground beef. The diced meat really adds a nice rich flavor to this chili.
This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Full Flavored Beef Chili
Hot and filling, a bowl of chili is the perfect dinner on a cold winter’s evening or really any time you want a hearty meal. This recipe is made from diced chuck roast and not ground beef like most chili recipes and doesn’t contain a single bean.
Like any other good chili, this one takes time to develop the best flavor. Start cooking the chili in the mid-afternoon, and by the time dinner rolls around, the wonderful smells will bring your family to the table before you have a chance to call them!
Not All Chili is the Same
What makes a great chili depends on where you live. This chili recipe falls squarely into the Texas-style chili category with its use of cubed meat, beef stock, and lack of beans.
Other regions of the country have their own favorites such as Cincinnati-style chili made with ground beef, cinnamon, and, most surprisingly, chocolate powder.
Springfield-style chilli, yes, with an extra ‘l’, they like to do things their own way in Illinois like using ground turkey, bacon, beans, and beer to cook up their regional variation.
And you can’t forget the Coney Island-style chili from New York City. This beanless version is more of a sauce than a stew, and it is usually served up on hot dogs known as Coney Dogs.
The Origin of James Coney Island Chili
This recipe is inspired by the classic chili served at James Coney Island, a Houston tradition since 1923. When brothers Tom and James Papadakis opened up their tiny stand on the corner of Walker and Main they couldn’t have known it would grow to become the multiple-location chain it is today.
While some things have changed (you won’t find goose liver and Roquefort sandwiches on the menu today, sorry), others, like the chili, have not. That is why Houstonians are just as crazy about James Coney Island food now as they were close to a hundred years ago.
Stop by if you are ever in town, but if you can’t make it to one of the restaurants, cook up a big batch of the recipe below.
James Coney Island Chili Recipe Ingredients
Here’s a list of what you need:
- Chuck roast
- Beef broth
- Vegetable oil
- Canned whole tomatoes
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Seasoned salt
- Garlic salt
- Cayenne pepper
- Saltine crackers
- Masa harina
How to Make James Coney Island Chili
- Cut the chuck roast into small bite-sized pieces.
- In a large saucepan, brown the diced chuck roast in vegetable oil, stirring frequently until lightly browned.
- Add beef broth and water.
- Simmer the beef for 1 hour on medium-low heat.
- Place the tomatoes with juice in a blender and blend until pureed.
- Strain the tomatoes to remove pulp and seeds.
- After beef has been simmering for 1 hour, add pureed tomatoes.
- Add the spices to the meat and tomatoes and stir well.
- Simmer for 45 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Combine crushed saltine crackers, masa harina, and water to make a thickening sauce.
- Slowly pour enough of the thickening sauce into the meat and tomato mixture while stirring constantly.
- Simmer on low heat and stir until chili reaches the desired consistency and is ready to be served.
Coney Island Chili is great over hot dogs or served alone with your favorite accompaniments.
Extra Hints For Making and Serving James Coney Island Chili
- Toast your spices to really bring out the flavor. Heat a dry heavy-bottom skillet over medium heat. Add the paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper to the hot pan. Heat slowly while continually stirring until you can smell the toasted spices. Remove from the heat immediately to avoid burning.
- Serve the chili right. Toppings are almost as important as the chili itself. Favorites serve chili includes topping with sour cream, chopped green onions, or shredded cheese. James Coney Island chili also makes great Coney Dogs or use as a sauce for spaghetti.
If you can’t get enough chili, try these favorite recipes
- 2 Alarm Chili Kit
- Chili Cheese Burrito
- Chili Cheese Tater Tots
- Chili Con Queso
- Chile Verde
- Cincinnati Chili
- Easy Chili Recipe
- Frito Chili Pie
- Instant Pot Wendy’s Chili
- Steak and Shake Chili
- Weight Watchers Chicken Chili
More James Coney Island Copycat Recipes
Check out more of my easy chili recipes and the best copycat restaurant recipes here on CopyKat!
Love copycat recipes like James Coney Island Chili? Never miss our newest recipes when you follow us on Twitter!
James Coney Island Chili
- 2 1/2 pounds chuck roast (tenderized and diced finely)
- 21 ounces beef broth
- 30 ounces water
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 29 ounces whole tomatoes with the Juice (food process, strain seeds and pulp, measure two cups for Chili, save remainder for another recipe)
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 5 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 3/4 teaspoon season salt
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 5 tablespoons Saltine crackers finely crushed
- 4 tablespoons masa harina
- 1 cup water – more or less, just enough to make a medium thick, smooth sauce
- Cut the chuck roast into small bite-sized pieces (diced).
- In a 4-quart saucepan, brown the diced chuck roast in vegetable oil, stirring frequently until lightly browned.
- Add beef broth and water.
- Simmer beef for 1 hour on medium-low heat.
- Place tomatoes with juice in blender and blend until pureed.
- Strain the tomatoes to remove seeds and pulp.
- After beef has been simmering for 1 hour, add 2 cups of the pureed tomatoes.
- Add all the spices to meat and tomatoes and stir well.
- Simmer for 45 to 50 minutes on low heat, stirring from time to time.
- Combine the finely crushed saltine crackers, masa harina, and enough water to make a medium thick, smooth mixture (thickening sauce).
- Slowly pour enough of the thickening sauce into meat and tomato mixture, to bring it to a thick state, stirring constantly. Depending on how much the liquid has been reduced, you may need less of the thickener.
- Simmer on low heat and stir until chili reaches the desired consistency and ready to be served.
Lovely just what I was looking for.
This is my favorite chili.
Okay flavor after I doubled the seasoning. I added 25 oz. potato flakes for thickening. Also, if I make this again, I would double the meat or leave out the water. I made it in a pressure cooker. It took 2 hours.
I never heard of using crushed crushed crackers to thicken chili, though it would work, IF the crackers were crushed to an extremely fine powder, while in my opinion a slurry using masa harina also adds to the flavor of chili a lot better than a cracker slurry, but there are times that you have to make do with what you have on hand & believe me when I say if all I had on hand was crackers, then I too would be using a cracker slurry as a thickening agent. I’m 82 & have always used a bit of masa harina mixed into a small amount of the chili to make a paste or slurry, you then stir your masa harina paste or slurry into the chili & cook on low a little longer, at least 30 minutes to thicken it & to cook the masa harina. A masa harina slurry has to cook down just like you have to cook down a flour slurry, you do not want to taste the flour nor do you want to taste the masa harina. A truly good chili recipe calls for adding some cumin. I never put tomatoes in my chili, maybe James Coney Island did, though I seriously doubt it! You would be able to taste the tomatoes in chili & their chili did not have a tomato taste! I’m with Jack Tyler here folks; tomatoes do not go in chili. To Texan, tomatoes in chili are anathema. I used to love the James Coney Island coneys, but the last time I had one of their Coneys was over 45 years ago. Real Texas chili does not have tomatoes in it & James Coney Island was founded by Texans I think back in the 1920s & perhaps they tried tomatoes back then & found it did not work. You use a mixture of different types of chili powder to get the right flavor for a great chili. However I do use about a 3 1/2 to 4 lb. chuck roast beef cut into bite sized pieces to cook down, I do not use any type of ground beef in chili, that is just my preference. I used to be married to a man that hunted & then I was able to also add some venison &/or elk meat to my chili with my beef. YUM! I use real onions diced very small & fresh garlic minced fine, not powders; this way your onions & garlic cook down & almost melt into the chili itself. If you can help it, don’t start out by searing your meat in vegetable oil. You season your pieces of beef or whatever other meats you have in the chili. Sear your bite sized bits of beef & other meats if any, in either some bacon drippings or some pure lard (not Crisco) remove your meats, set them aside, saute & cook down your diced fresh onions & fresh minced garlic in the drippings; just until you smell their aroma. Then before you add your meat & other ingredients back in gently scrape up all of the goodies that are in the bottom of the pot, add your meats, onions & garlic back in & then your liquids & other spices back in the pot to cook.
Once all put together in the pot, I simmer my chili on low for right at 2 or 3 hours for the spices & everything else to meld well. When more liquid is needed I will add a bit of water, or sometimes, I’ll add a really good beer or ale, the alcohol cooks out, & sometimes some a small amount of beef broth. What I add where liquid is concerned sort of depends on what happens to “trip my trigger” at that point in time & what I think it needs to get the taste just right. It should be that way for everyone because lets face to every “chili head” what they like in their chili is a personal “thang”. I would like to end my message with a sincere apology to Stephanie Manley. Sweetheart, I came on a little strong, I was not condemning you though. I do understand what it is like when I haven’t made a recipe in a longtime & there have been so many times that I too have had to go back & cook a recipe that I haven’t made in a long time to get my ingredients & spices just right to get the taste that I want. At 82 I have probably had to do that more times that you are years old! I kid you not! IF I hurt your feelings then I ask you to please forgive me & accept my sincere apologies for that was not my intention.
I wonder if you could look into the Brown’s Chicken chain, a small chain in the Chicago area? IMO, one of the top fried chicken recipes in the USA. Also, other menu items, especially the cole slaw and fried mushrooms. Moved away from the Chicago area in the early 90’s and really have a craving for it.
Thank you for your suggestion. I will keep it in mind during my travels.
When you come up with the chili SAUCE recipe, let me know. That is all we bought for the wieners, the fries, and for dipping (anything). I’ve tried Cadberry’s hot dog sauce, but it’s a pale intimation! Really miss James Coney Island at Town and Country Mall (Westhimer).(sp.) Hooray, Houston!!!!! Love your website! Thanks-a-lot, xTexgal
Is that the hot sauce you pour over everything? I love that stuff.
I think the mistake everyone is making in trying to make chili similar to James Coney Island is the addition of tomatoes. I tried making this leaving out the tomatoes and I was surprised at how close it came to the original. It’s basically just chili gravy with meat. Pretty simple, just need to get the spices right. The tomatoes really throw the whole recipe off. Believe me.
I think the real mistake is not going to downtown Houston and experience the atmosphere.
My husband has eaten there for 50 years his dad worked downtown.
Personally I’m not eating a hot dog but I make for him-no tomatoes,,,
What about onions. Real thing
Just not used in Texas chili.
My husband and I like this recipe for the hot dog Chilli better than JCI. Sorry JCI. We have been known to go to JCI to purchase their Chilli for our hot dogs at home. No more.
james coney island in texas use 2 types of meat, not one. Ground beef and roast beef type of meat. Been eating their chili for 40 years. Not quite sure if they cook the roast beef seperately first and then add it to the chili once its cooked or if its intentionally reduced into shreds of meat like pulled pork is. Recipe is good but not quite a copycat of JCI.
They use Mrs Baird’s hot dog buns
Hi can you let me know what thickening sauce is to be used?
The original recipe calls for crushed, premium saltine crackers to thicken. It really works.
This recipe does not indicate what a thickening sauce is. I substituted tomatoe sauce for the canned tomatoes. It works well. If saltine crackers are used to thicken the Chilli do you crush them down and about how many crackers are used for this recipe.
Thanks from the Austin, TX area. Now I don’t have to drive to Houston. Awesome recipe!
I am glad you enjoyed it.
Can’t wait for your revised recipe for the chili (JCI) w/thickener. Please don’t wait another 8yrs. We love your recipes.
i lived in Houston for approx 6 years and ate as many JCI as i could along with my entire family.
i just made your recipe for brick chili and have not tasted it yet. my question is: do you have the recipe for their hot dogs?
I do not know how they do their hot dogs.
Great recipe, I have made several times. What changes I made was 1lb course ground chuck and 2lbs of rib eye meat ( worth the extra expense) I also used 2- 14.5 oz cans of beef broth and 1 can of water as I have found 3-5 cans of water was to much…Fantastic It just keeps getting better.
I will have to check out your suggestions!
Had a coney today. The chili on the dog in the photo is far too chunky, doesn’t look like the original at all.
The recipe says to “Slowly pour enough of the thickening sauce” but there is no such sauce listed in the ingredients and no previous reference in the instructions regarding creating one.
Also, if straining the tomatoes after processing to remove seeds and pulp, does that mean the ultimately we’re just adding tomato sauce to the mix?
Thanks for your help in concocting this recipe, JCI is one of the top 5 things I miss about Texas.
Stephanie- Please post an answer as this is my question exactly. (Although I live in East Texas and am tempted just to drive over to JCI and get some chili to go.) What “thickening liquid”?
I will have to remake this recipe in the near future. This recipe is more than 8 years old. I am sorry, but I need to work my way back through this recipe to be clear about it. It is possibly and likely that I left out a flour and water slurry that needed to be added to this to help thicken this up.
2 1⁄2 lbs chuck steaks (tenderized and diced finely)
2 (10 1/2ounce) cansbeef broth
5 1⁄4 cans water
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans whole tomatoes, with the juice (food process,strain seeds and pulp, measure two cups for Chili, save remainder for another recipe)
1 tablespoon paprika
5 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
3⁄4 teaspoon season salt
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic salt
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon salt (optional)
5 tablespoons saltine crumbs (finely ground)
4 tablespoons mesa flour (Google it)
1 -1 1⁄4 cup water (use enough water with dry ingredients to mix into a medium thick, smooth sauce)
I thicken mine with masa harina. But I consider tomatoes to be a tragedy in chili. Anyway I used to eat at the downtown JCI location in the early 1950’s with my mother I actually love their chili.
Adding MSG? Really? Can’t we just add salt? (seriously, google “MSG neurotoxin”)
Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I have deleted the 1/2 teaspoon of MSG from this recipe. I had later read about MSG and while it was an ingredient used a few years ago pretty regularly, and it is a flavor enhancer, I understand that it is not a healthy thing for people to consume.
The only thing MSG does to your food is make it taste better
does anyone have the recipe for that chili sauce stuff that james’s coney island makes that you can squirt into your chili or on the hot dogs? it is a red sauce,chili powder based that they have as a condiment for the chili.
I don’t have a similar recipe at this time.
i love that sauce and wish someone would post the recipe
Hot dog sauce. Comes in a can at Walmart.