And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire! 

I’ve been wanting to make Johnny’s chili for ages.  I have two versions in different cookbooks, but they both use brands of chili powder and seasonings that we can’t get here in the UK.  The last time Heather and Nathan went to the States, they kindly brought back some McCormick Chili Seasoning Mix and some Mexene chili powder, both of which Johnny specified in early incarnations of his recipe. 

McCormick Chili Seasoning

Then just this week, I stumbled upon another variation of Johnny’s recipe, as transcribed by his son John Carter Cash, which helpfully specifies proper quantities of seasonings.  The other recipes I have are rather vague…

So I made a batch as close as I could to this version of Johnny’s recipe, and I’ll be freezing some for Heather and Nathan.  What I plan to do is make another batch, exactly the same, but using British chili seasoning mix and chili powder, to see how close I can get to Johnny’s original. Then we’ll have a taste test to see if they match up.

Johnny Cash Chili

Why am I going to all this trouble?  Because I really want a version of Johnny’s chili that everyone can have a go at, for the Columbo cookbook.  YES, Johnny Cash is in an episode of Columbo.  And what’s more, he has a party at his house and serves up chili.  SQUIRREL chili.  So we need this chili recipe to do Johnny justice.  But not using squirrel, obv.


Like Trish Van Devere’s All Day Chili in a Pot, this takes a while.  So be prepared to be pottering around in the kitchen for a couple of hours making this.  A Sunday afternoon is perfect.  I recommend getting hold of the Johnny Cash Columbo episode and watching it with your chili – that’s what me and Mr R did.  It’s from season 3 and the episode is called Swan Song.

Title 'Columbo 3.7 Swan Song' (1974)

The only real change to the recipe I made, was to use a large can of kidney beans in chili sauce and a small can of ordinary kidney beans – it should have been the other way round really.  Otherwise, I stuck as close as I could to Johnny’s recipe which you will find in full here on the Crook and Chase website.  The recipe is also in the book House of Cash written by John Carter Cash which I am hereby putting on my Christmas list…

House of Cash - John Carter Cash

I did half the recipe, as I just don’t have a pan big enough for that much chili!  I think the resulting chili would feed 6, so if you want to feed 12, go for the full monty.  So here’s how I made it, halved, with metric measurements, to feed 6.

450g / 1lb minced beef

225g / 1/2 lb sirloin

1 large onion

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

680g tomatoes (about 1.5 regular sized cans of chopped tomatoes)

1 green bell pepper

1/2 red bell pepper

2.5 jalapeno peppers (I think I used about 50g of pickled red jalapeños from a jar)

1/2 habanero pepper (I had a dried one, so I soaked it in warm water, then chopped it finely)

1 packed McCormick’s Original Chili Seasoning Mix

Salt and black pepper (I used 1/2 teaspoon salt and a good few grinds of black pepper)

1 tablespoon chili powder (Mexene brand)

15g cumin

1/2 tablespoon sage

3/4 tablespoon oregano

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 standard sized can black beans, drained

1 standard sized can pinto beans, drained

1 standard sized can kidney beans in chili sauce (I guessed this was what was meant by chili beans)

1 x 1/2 sized can kidney beans, drained

175 ml beer (I used Hammerton beer of course – N1)

25g sugar

A handful of self-raising cornmeal – see NOTE in the original recipe – for the method – please see the original recipe too.

Note: I was scared to use 1/4 cup of the chili powder as I wasn’t sure how hot Mexene chili powder is, so I went for 1 tablespoon.   I used a bottle of the family brew – Hammerton Brewery’s N1 Pale Ale.


The chili definitely left a tingle on the tongue and lips, but it wasn’t super spicy.  Mr R said that he thought the spicing was just about perfect and even said this: “I’m going to push the boat out here, I think it’s as good as James Garner’s.”  Holy Moly – as good the all time best film star chili recipe ever?  See here for James Garner’s chili for comparison – scroll down to the bottom for the recipe.

I’m not sure.  I really enjoyed making Johnny’s chili, it took a while but the result was worth it.  As Mr R said, the flavours are more complex and there is more going on textually.  We definitely liked the combination of minced beef and chunks of sirloin.

But whose chili would win in a fight?  Maybe we’ll have to stage one to find out!


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