Dinner Recipe: Backcountry Chili

A near weekly dinner at home for Amanda and me during the colder months is chili. It’s particularly gratifying to make with DIY elk meat and homegrown peppers and tomatoes.

It seemed like my chili recipe could be converted for backcountry use, and I asked David last spring to develop a recipe. On its maiden trip, the reactions were excellent: “If it had Fritos, I’d score it higher than Beans & Rice,” said one multi-time alumnus. If you’ve tried that dish, you know that’s high praise!

Based on 84 client evaluations in 2019, this chili recipe scored a 2.55/3.0, putting it in a close fourth-place behind Beans & Rice (2.79), Peanut Noodles (2.58), and Pesto Noodles (2.57).

Meal Stats:

  • Recipe weight: 5.5 ounces
  • Total calories: 512
  • Calories/ounce: 93

Ingredients


This recipe relies on several ingredients that are difficult to find locally. But they’re worth it.

Re-fried beans can be found in some grocery stores. In Boulder, for example, Natural Grocers carries them in the bulk. Buy more than you need and use the leftovers for Beans and Rice. Some brands contain gluten, so read the ingredients label if you’re sensitive.

Tomato powder is a vital base ingredient. A little goes a long way. It’s convenient to have in the pantry for home use.

The most common complaint about this dish is the textured vegetable protein (TVP). If you’re unaccustomed to it, it can be difficult to digest, making even a palatial tent too claustrophobic. So consider using more beans and less TVP.

Alternatively, substitute dried beef crumbles for the TVP. This would significantly increase the cost, but would be easier on sensitive systems. Be aware that beef crumbles are not particularly shelf-stable. Once the package is opened, refrigerate it and use it within a week; in the field, use it within a day or two, depending on ambient temperatures.

To increase the calorie count and caloric density, add more cheese, Fritos, or olive oil.

A few more specialty ingredients than some other recipes, but each makes a big difference in the final flavor.

At-Home Preparation

For solo trips, you can mix everything together in a small bag, except the cheese — keep that in it’s own bag. Cheese makes most meals better, and on longer trips I often pack a big block of it.

For groups, you can carry all the ingredients in a single bag and divide it in the field, or you can give each group member an individual ration (as we normally do). Again, hold out the cheese. The spices tend to settle towards the bottom of a bag, and shaking the bag helps to redistribute them.

Backcountry Chili

Cooking Instructions

  1. Bring about 12 ounces of water to a boil
  2. Take the pot off the flame. Add in the chili mixture
  3. You can let it sit, covered, to re-hydrate. It will take about 10 minutes. You can let it simmer too, stirring so as not to burn it.
  4. Mix in the cheese
  5. You can add a few extra ounces of water to the cooking process though to make things even easier.

As noted in my Argument for Soups and Gruels post, I tend to make meals for watery in the backcountry. Using up to 16 ounces of water will help make cleanup easier.

Have questions about or an experience with this meal? Leave a comment.


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9 Comments

  1. Charles on December 6, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Hey Andrew,

    First of all, thanks for posting your meal recipes. Your beans & rice was probably the best overall morale booster on my PCT thru. Forever grateful.

    Regarding beef vs. TVP, have you ever used freeze dried meat? I’ve considered it a few times and never pulled the trigger.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 6, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      I’ve used crumbled bacon a lot, but never beef. As I think about it, beef jerky might be a better option, though you’d have to spend some time cutting it up.

      I never use TVP besides in this meal, and we don’t consume very much soy. I find it makes me gassy but not bloated.

      • Sean on January 1, 2020 at 3:55 pm

        If you’re the dehydrating sort the Backpacking Chef guy Glenn McAllister says that you can mix ground beef up with bread crumbs before dehydration to help in their hydration.

        Looks like you could kick this up a little with some pasta. Elbow macaroni averages about 100 calories an ounce so you’d be adding caloric density to the meal (not much though). Again, you’d have to be the dehydrating sort.

        Good looking recipe though!

  2. William Kapes on December 7, 2019 at 9:26 am

    We have been dehydrating our own beef with good results. Usually pre-cook it on the smoker (for flavor and to begin the drying process) after slicing it thin. Cooks quickly and the smoker adds a lot of flavor. Then either dry as is or dice up then dry depending on the planned application. You can take it way past the “chewy jerky” stage and dry it out pretty thoroughly and it seems to last quite a while between the smoke, salt and drying. Just make sure you trim the fat all off (which never really drys out anyway). We used it for a beef stew last year on a PCT section with great results.

    Now I’ve gotta make a new batch to test out this recipe. December is a good time to test recipes when the weather isnt agreeable to get outside much.

  3. Patrick Ploenzke on December 10, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Is their a one stop shop that has alot of the main ingredients for you recipes. For example the dried vegetables, TVP, dried beans, etc. Im not interested in paying that much shipping to all the sites. Just wondering.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 10, 2019 at 10:45 pm

      I buy nearly everything off Amazon, assuming I can’t get it at Costco. Maybe some small orders from Just Nuts, Harmony House, North Bay Trading.

  4. Kyle on December 22, 2019 at 10:52 am

    Hey Andrew, any tips on keeping cheese fresh on longer and hotter trips?

    • Andrew Skurka on December 22, 2019 at 10:57 am

      First, let me say that I believe the concern about cheese on hotter trips is somewhat overdone. It will get greasy, but I’ve had cheese out on week long trips, standard sharp cheddar type of stuff, and it’s been entirely fine.

      That said, harder cheeses do better on hotter trips, somewhere like Parmesan then cheddar or Colby jack. These cheeses have less water, and the structure just seems more durable.

      Another tip is to store your food overnight in some way that it cools down to cold ambient temperatures, and then insulate your food inside your backpack. This is more easily done in the mountain west, where nighttime temperatures are usually in the 40s even in the peak summer months. If you will store your food away from your shelter, it should be somehow properly protected. There’s another tutorial on this website on proper food storage techniques, but in general it will be either a bear canister, soft sided bear resistant sack, or a rodent hang.

  5. Loki on July 29, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    “Bear Creek Country Kitchens “Darn Good” Chili Mix” is a pretty good base for chili. It has a mix of beans, converted rice, veggies, and not nearly enough seasoning. Don’t follow the water instructions as it makes way too thin of a chili (even for someone that likes soupy dinners 😛 ) Half of a pack is approximately 5 oz and it rehydrates perfectly with 12-15 oz of water and about 1 tablespoon of taco seasoning(the package instructions called for 28 oz of water for half of a pack)

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