James Coney Island Chili – A Texas Favorite

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. Use this chili to make your favorite chili dog, Frito pie, or simply enjoy a bowl of it. 

chili con carne on top of hot dogs

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What Makes James Coney Island Chili So Good? 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 chilii, 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 downtown 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 one of the JCL grill locations, like a native Houstonian, or 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
  • Water
  • Vegetable oil
  • Canned whole tomatoes
  • Paprika
  • Chili powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Seasoned salt
  • Garlic salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Saltine crackers
  • Masa harina
chuck roast, tomato sauces, and spices to make a bowl of chili

How to Make James Coney Island Chili

Here are the steps for preparing this delicious Texas chili:

  1. Cut the chuck roast into small bite-sized pieces.
  2. In a large saucepan of high heat, brown the diced chuck roast in vegetable oil, stirring frequently until lightly browned.
cooked beef for James Coney Island Chili
  1. Add beef broth and water.
  2. Simmer the beef for 1 hour on medium-low heat.
  3. Place the tomatoes with juice in a blender and blend until pureed.
  4. Strain the tomatoes to remove the pulp and seeds.
  5. After the beef has been simmering for 1 hour, add pureed tomatoes.
  6. Add the spices to the meat and tomatoes and stir well.
ingredients for James Coney Island chili in a pot
  1. Simmer the meat mixture for 45 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. Combine crushed saltine crackers, masa harina, and water to make a thickening sauce.
  3. Slowly pour enough of the thickening sauce into the meat and tomato mixture while stirring constantly.
  4. 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.

copycat James Coney Island Chili on two hot dogs

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 to serve chili include topping with sour cream, chopped green onions, or shredded cheese. James Coney Island chili also makes great Coney Dogs or to use as a sauce for spaghetti.
Hot dogs with copycat James Coney Island chili on them.

What to serve the chili with? 

You can enjoy this hot dog sauce to make your favorite cheese coney, or you may want to serve this as a regular chili and serve it with some corn chips, tortillas, or crackers. You could top it with some freshly chopped white onions and top with a bit of Cheddar cheese. 

How to store hot dog chili 

1. Cool Down: Allow the homemade hot dog chili to cool down to room temperature before storing it. Placing hot food directly in the refrigerator can raise its internal temperature and potentially affect other items in the fridge.

  1. Choose a Container: Transfer the chili to an airtight container. You can use plastic containers, glass jars, or even resealable plastic bags. Make sure the container is clean and dry before adding the chili.
  2. Refrigeration: Homemade hot dog chili should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature below 40°F (4°C). Place the container on a shelf, away from raw meats and other potentially contaminating items.
  3. Freezing (Optional): If you don’t plan to use the chili within a few days, consider freezing it. Frozen chili can last for several months. Use a freezer-safe container, leaving some space at the top for expansion, as liquid may expand when frozen.
  4. Thawing: When you’re ready to use the chili, you can thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or use the defrost setting on your microwave for smaller portions. Reheat it thoroughly before serving.
  5. Use Within Safe Timeframes: For refrigerated chili, it’s generally safe to consume it within 3-4 days. For frozen chili, it can remain safe for 2-3 months or longer if stored in a deep freezer.

If you can’t get enough chili, try these favorite recipes!

More James Coney Island Copycat Recipes

Check out my easy chili recipes and the best copycat restaurant recipes here on CopyKat!

chili con carne on top of hot dogs

James Coney Island Chili

You can make James Coney Island Chili just like they do, with our copycat recipe.
4.64 from 11 votes
Print Pin Rate Add to Collection
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: James Coney Island Chili, James Coney Island Recipes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 12
Calories: 241kcal


  • 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

Thickening Sauce

  • 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.


Calories: 241kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 65mg | Sodium: 563mg | Potassium: 573mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 710IU | Vitamin C: 6.3mg | Calcium: 49mg | Iron: 3.2mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of CopyKat.com's Dining Out in the Home, and CopyKat.com's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Kerisa McCarn

    3 stars
    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.

  2. Margo Haynes

    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.

  3. George Schuller

    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.

    • Andrew Taylor

      5 stars
      Made this to the letter except unsalted beef broth and used a corn starch slurry to thicken it up. Perfect for hot dogs and Frito pies like I remember from JCI. This is my go to recipe from now on.

  4. Diann

    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

  5. Michael

    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.

    • Debbie

      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

  6. Barbara

    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.

  7. Lee

    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.

      • Barbara Barnhart

        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.

  8. Lannie P.

    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.

  9. Kevin Lawrence

    Had a coney today. The chili on the dog in the photo is far too chunky, doesn’t look like the original at all.

  10. Ratbert

    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.

    • Shannon

      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”?

      • Stephanie Manley

        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.

    • Kelly

      4 stars

      Chili Ingredients
      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)

      Thickening Agent:
      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)

      • Jack Tyler

        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.

    • Stephanie

      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.

  11. joe c

    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.

4.64 from 11 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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