Original Tommy’s Chili Recipe

July 2, 2018Van
Blog post

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves: 10

If you’re from Southern California you can understand my obsession with Tommy’s Chili Burgers. Their tomato-less chili con carne is very unique to the SoCal Region, often found smothered on anything you can imagine—from fries & hot dogs to burgers.

The Original Tommy’s was opened in 1946 by Tommy Koulax. The original location is still standing on Beverly and Rampart Blvd. in Los Angeles today (as well as 30 other family owned locations). A favorite of students from USC, who often line up in droves after a night out.

Tommy Koulax hit the jackpot with his top secret chili recipe. His chili sauce is a tomato-less chili con carne, that’s spiced and seasoned to perfection – it’s thickened with flour to create a creamy, thick chili sauce that’s very unique to Southern California Chili Sauce (Pink’s & The Hat are other famous restaurants serving this style). My copycat recipe comes very close to replicating Tommy’s in taste and texture. Mexene Chili Powder (purchase here) and Gebhardt Chili Powder (purchase here) are two amazing chili powders that are must haves for this recipe if you want the chili to taste great.

Reverse engineering this recipe was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve encountered as a chef. The cult following of Tommy’s Chili is so strong that entire forums exist to share tips and tricks to replicate this spicy treat. After desperately trying them all (with great disappointment) I had to jump through many hoops to deliver this amazing copy directly to you! I even went so far as researching the origins of chili con carne, chili powder, and chili dogs to help me determine what techniques and ingredients Tommy would have been using at the time he created this magical chili sauce.

Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe

Below is a timeline of events that helped me piece together my copycat recipe for Tommy’s Chili:

1860 to 1930’s – The many “Chili Queens” such as Martha Garcia and Sadie Thornhill open up food stands and introduce the legendary dish chili con carne in San Antonio, the Chili Queens are credited with popularizing Mexican American cuisine and are the foremothers of what we know today as Tex-Mex

1896 – William F. Gebhardt, the inventor of the chili powder, started selling bottles of his concoction and called it Gebhardt’s Eagle Brand Chili Powder. In 1908 his company published a cookbook, Mexican Cooking, in an effort to introduce and educate the American public about Mexican food – the book included several recipes for chili con carne

1906 – John Walker develops Mexene Chili Powder in Austin, TX – it becomes one of the most popular chili powders in Texas and the recipe has stayed the same for over a 100 years

1914 – Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island Wiener Stand – opened in Fort Wayne by three now-unknown Macedonian immigrants, serving a fatty pink hot dog with a “peppery-sweet” coney sauce on a soft bun – this appears to be the very first rendition of a chili hot dog

1917 – American Coney Island – opened in Detroit by Constantine “Gust” Keros, serving a hot dog on a steamed bun with loose chili (a Greek-inspired meat sauce), mustard, and chopped onions

1936 – Chasen’s – opened by Dave Chasen in Los Angeles and served the most famous chili “Chasen’s Chili” loved by Elizabeth Taylor, J. Edgar Hoover, Clark Gable, Eleanor Roosevelt – the recipe uses Gebhardt Chili Powder

1939 – Art’s Famous Chili Dog Stand – opened by Art Elkind in Los Angeles, started by serving two main items hot dog with chili and tamales with chili, his chili is the thin, saucy type – appears to be the first person to serve chili hot dogs in California

1939 – Pink’s – opened as a pushcart by Paul and Betty Pink in Los Angeles, they served a chili dog accompanied by mustard and onions on a steamed bun – the chili was thickened with beef fat, browned flour and water which “stretched” the portions during the depression and created the unique texture and flavor which is synonymous with California hot-dog chili sauce.

1946 – Tommy’s Hamburgers and Hotdogs – the original stand was opened in Los Angels by Tom Koulax, the original stand sold hamburgers, hot dogs and tamales topped with chili – Tommy’s chili is California style – a tomato-less chili con carne thickened with flour and water, very similar to Pink’s. Later known as “Original Tommy’s Hamburgers” because of all the Tommy’s knock off restaurants that popped up in Los Angeles

Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe

Browned Flour to thicken the chili, this gives the chili a bolder flavor and keeps the chili a nice dark color when thickenedCopycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe

My version on the left and Original Tommy’s Chili on the right. You can clearly see that Tommy’s version has a much higher fat content. I used 80/20 Ground Beef and didn’t want to add any additional fat – I browned my flour in a dry pan and mixed it with water. Tommy’s probably creates a brown roux using beef tallow and flour.  Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe

Gebhardt Chili Powder (purchase here) and Mexene Chili Powder (purchase here) have been around for over 100 years, they are a must have if you want to replicate the recipe. Chili powders are all so unique and so many of them have different spices and proportions, it’s important to have the right chili powder for this recipe. I did try using one or the other, but I got the best flavor using a combination of both chili powders.Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe

Chili Cheese Fries made with my copycat of Tommy’s Chili.Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe

Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Recipe
Print Recipe

Copycat of Original Tommy's Chili Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Serves: 10

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Ingredients

  • 1 Pound Ground Beef, (at least 20% fat, 30% will get it closer to Tommy’s)
  • 4½ Cups Water, divided
  • 3 Tablespoons Mexene Chili Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Gebhardt Chili Powder
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Large Jalapeño
  • 1 Teaspoon Ancho Chili Powder
  • 4½ Teaspoons Ground Cumin
  • 3½ Teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • 4 Teaspoons Paprika
  • 1½ Teaspoons Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon Mexican Oregano
  • 1 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
  • ½ Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 6 Tablespoons Masa Harina
  • ¼ Cup Barley Flour

Method

  • 1)

    Remove the stem and seeds from the Jalapeño. Coarsely chop your Carrot and place it with the Jalapeño into a food processor and process until it becomes a paste. If you don’t have a food processor, grate the carrot and jalapeño then chop them well so it becomes a paste. Place this mixture into the pot.

  • 2)

    Add these to the pot: 3 Cups of Water, 1 Pound of Ground Beef, 3 Tablespoons Mexene Chili Powder, 2 Tablespoons Gebhardt Chili Powder, 4½ Teaspoons of Ground Cumin, 3½ Teaspoons of Kosher Salt, 4 Teaspoons of Paprika, 1½ Teaspoon of Sugar, 1 Teaspoon Ancho Chili Powder, 1 Teaspoon of Onion Powder, ½ Teaspoon of Garlic Powder, ½ Teaspoon of Black Pepper, 1 Teaspoon of White Vinegar and ½ Teaspoon Mexican Oregano (if you’re not using Ground Oregano, put the dried leaves in the palm of your hands and rub them back and forth to break up the leaves into small pieces, there shouldn’t be any whole pieces).

  • 3)

    Using your hands, mash and break up the ground beef, there shouldn’t be any chunks left. This technique is how you get that fine texture for chili sauce (browning the beef will never give you the correct texture).

  • 4)

    Instant Pot: Press Sauté and adjust to the “More” setting, after 3 minutes stir constantly with a mixing spoon or spatula for 4 minutes. Then press Cancel to turn off Sauté mode, then choose High Pressure / Manual and set it for 15 Minutes.

    Stovetop: Turn the heat on high, wait about 1 minute then stir constantly with a mixing spoon or spatula until the mixture starts to simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover your pot and let it simmer for 1½ hours.

  • 5)

    *This step of browning the flour needs constant attention. Place a large stainless steel skillet pan on your stovetop and turn the heat to medium. Place ½ Cup of All Purpose Flour into the pan, shake and whisk the flour constantly for about 15 minutes or until the flour becomes a light brown color. Add 6 Tablespoons of Masa Harina and a ¼ Cup of Barley Flour and brown for 3 more minutes. Place the flour mixture into a bowl, once it has cooled. Add 1 ½ Cups of Water and whisk very well until smooth, then set aside. (See the picture above the recipe to get the correct coloring)

  • 6)

    Instant Pot: When the timer is up, wait 10 minutes while it releases the pressure naturally, then switch the knob to Venting – once the pin drops open the lid. Press Cancel to turn off Keep Warm mode, choose Sauté and press Adjust so it’s on the “Low” option. Pour in the flour/water mixture slowly while whisking the chili, then whisk very well. Let the chili simmer on Sauté mode for 13 minutes stirring occasionally.

    Stovetop: Remove the lid, then pour in the flour/water mixture slowly while whisking the chili, then whisk very well. Let the chili simmer for 13 minutes stirring occasionally.

    Use this chili sauce with hot dogs, hamburgers or chili fries. Enjoy!

↓ Supplies to make this recipe ↓














17 Comments

  • Karla

    August 22, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    You posted a picture of the chili cup, does it have an ingredients list on it? I think I can make out the word “Ingredients” on it. If so, what does it say???

    1. Van

      August 22, 2018 at 10:56 pm

      Hi Karla, the chili cup does not have the ingredients listed, Tommy’s doesn’t have an ingredient list posted anywhere – that’s why their recipe was so hard to figure out.

      1. Jodi

        January 15, 2021 at 6:39 am

        Thanks so much for this! I made it last night, it was really good. I miss Tommy’s so much and go every time I’m back home! My family enjoyed it as well, made chili fries and chili dogs.

  • Karla

    August 23, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Years ago I bought a chili cup to go with an In’n’Out burger and it listed ingredients, now I wish I had taken a picture of it.

    1. Van

      August 23, 2018 at 12:53 pm

      Tommy’s chili on a double double would be amazing!!! As far as I know, they have never printed an ingredient list anywhere.

  • Mike

    November 29, 2018 at 9:20 am

    The original recipe has Cloves in it. Believe me. Try it but just a little. Use ground.

  • Heidemarie

    April 10, 2019 at 9:38 am

    I like adding chorizo to my Tommy Chili recipe. I think my ex grandmother in law was right. It may be the secret ingredient

    1. AnnA

      November 14, 2020 at 7:54 pm

      Ive always told my husband that!

  • C. Koulax

    June 30, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    There is no ground beef in the chilli- tommys grandson

    1. Van

      July 1, 2020 at 4:24 pm

      I’m not going go into detail how I found out, but I know the ingredient list of the chili because I know who the supplier is and there is definitely beef in the chili – I just don’t know the exact spice mix. Either he never taught you the recipe or Original Tommy’s has been lying for 70+ years.

      This is posted on the site:
      chili

      1. ALR

        September 8, 2020 at 10:31 am

        Tommy’s uses RC Provisions chili con Carne https://www.rcprovision.com/chili/ as a base. They sell it at Smart & Final stores.

  • Brian

    September 27, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    You seriously did it. This tastes just like Tommy’s chili. Thank you! This is awesome.

    I will note though that at no point does the recipe ever say to add the Ancho Chili Powder, though it does list it as one of the ingredients.

    1. Van

      September 27, 2020 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks Brian, I updated the recipe to include the ancho chili powder in the instructions. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Steve

    October 15, 2020 at 5:49 am

    I tried this last night, I have lived in Southern California and moved to the Seattle area and I have been craving Tommys ever since, this recipe is spot on – Thanks

  • Russ Utsler

    November 10, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Have ingredients, making chili tomorrow, burgers next night for dinner.
    Moved to Columbus, OH in 2018 and missing The Shack. Will be eating in driveway, outside the car as per my Dad’s instructions. RIP Pop.

  • Peter

    December 27, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks for posting this — great job with the recipe! I made the recipe for the first time last night. As an LA native, the Tommy’s run is a sacred ritual, and always on the agenda whenever I travel down there. But, because we didn’t make it for the holidays in this pandemic year, I resorted to get my Tommy’s fix by making my own.

    I ended up mail ordering the Mexene chili because I couldn’t find it locally (Bay Area), and subbed pasilla chili powder for the ancho powder. The flavor is really really close — as close as I’ve come using different recipes I’ve found online. Your comments about the chili powder combination making the difference are spot on. Slopped that chili onto a burger, and the flavor was very familiar. It tasted great!

    The only flaw I found was that the texture ended up a little bit mealy. I had made the Kevin Is Cooking recipe a couple of weeks ago, and while his flavors were off (he’s a SF native, so he didn’t grow up with Tommy’s like we did), his recipe does get the texture closer. The flour mixture in that recipe calls for 2/3 all-purpose and 1/3 masa flours with 2 cups of water (no barley flour and no browning). When pouring that into the chili base, the mixture was watery.

    With the flour mixture in your recipe, I got something much pastier and that seemed to translate into the chili itself. Not sure if mixing more water with the flours would help make it smoother, but I’ll try that next time. Also, I was using purple barley flour and 85/15 ground beef.

    Looking forward to making more of this chili when we finish up the current batch. (Also plan on making a vegetarian batch using Beyond Beef.) Tried it on a hot dog today, and it also hit the spot!

    For the real Tommy’s experience with the hot dogs, go with either the Papa Cantella or Evergood all-beef franks with the natural casing. Cantella is Tommy’s current hot dog vendor, while Evergood supplied Tommy’s for many years prior. I use Evergood, since they’re made in San Francisco and easier to find in the Bay Area. Steam them up and it tastes like I’m back at the Shack!

    1. Van

      January 10, 2021 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks for trying it out, next time trying using ground beef with a higher fat content. Tommy’s has grease sitting on top of the chili, so at least 20% fat is needed, closer to 30% would be better if you’re trying to get it closer to the original. And you could add more liquid to the recipe if it seemed to thick or grainy. I checked out Kevin is Cooking’s recipe, it appears that he simply adapted my recipe and adjust a few ingredients without crediting my original recipe – sorry but you can’t simply recreate it only having it once. I’ve enjoyed Tommy’s for the last two decades and found out who the supplier was, that’s how I was able to come up with my ingredient list.

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