Cooking from the Bar Cart: Rumrunner Chili

Rum roll, please! A splash of booze added at the end of simmering elevates the flavors of this game-day chili

Photo: Blueline Creative Group

Whether you make chili for the big game or with big game, start this big batch recipe the day before you plan to serve it. The generous pour of aged rum added at the end of simmering is key to the flavorful complexity in this recipe. Grabbing a bottle from the bar cart or beverage fridge isn’t necessarily novel when it comes to chili. A few glugs of Bloody Mary mix, stout, or bourbon are all common additions. But they are more typically incorporated as a component of the braising liquid or used to deglaze the pan after browning the meat, which means the flavors dissipate and get muddied over hours of simmering. Here, adding the rum (I like Campesino) during the last 15 or so minutes allows its distinctive notes of caramel, honey, and oak to bloom, mellow, and meld perfectly. Consider it like adding a splash of vinegar, citrus juice, or a drizzle of really fruity olive oil to brighten a dish at the end of cooking.

photo: Blueline Creative Group

See other recipes in our Cooking from the Bar Cart series.


  • Overnight Rumrunner Chili (Yield: 8–10 servings)

    • 1 tbsp. olive oil

    • 2 lb. ground brisket, chuck, and short rib blend, available at many supermarkets (or you can substitute ground venison)

    • 1 lb. bulk mild Italian pork sausage

    • 2 large onions, chopped

    • 8 garlic cloves, minced

    • 2 red or orange bell peppers, seeded and diced

    • 1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

    • 3 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced

    • 1 tsp. dried oregano

    • 3 tbsp. chile powder, such as ancho or New Mexico red chile

    • 2 tsp. ground coriander

    • 1 tsp. ground cumin

    • 1 tsp. kosher salt

    • Pinch cayenne

    • 1 cup strong-brewed coffee

    • 2 tbsp. cane syrup or molasses

    • ½ cinnamon stick

    • 2 bay leaves

    • 2 canned chipotles in adobo sauce, minced

    • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes and green chiles, such as Ro-Tel, undrained

    • 1 quart beef broth

    • ½ cup aged rum, such a Campesino Aged XIV

    • Garnishes: pickled red onions (recipe follows), crumbled queso fresco or shredded cheddar cheese, cilantro leaves, sliced radishes, corn chips, sour cream, and lime wedges


  1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Working in batches, brown half of the ground beef blend (or venison) and half of the sausage, breaking the meat up with a wooden spoon, about 6 minutes. Transfer the meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the remaining batch; transfer to the bowl after browning. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of accumulated fat from the Dutch oven and discard.

  2. Add the onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeño, poblanos, oregano, chile powder, coriander, cumin, salt, and cayenne to the pan with the fat and sauté until the onions are translucent and vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the coffee, cane syrup, cinnamon stick piece, bay leaves, chipotles, tomatoes and green chiles, and beef broth, and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, 2 ½ to 3 hours. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Once cool, refrigerate the chili overnight to let the flavors concentrate.

  3. Remove any excess fat from the surface of the cold chili, if desired. Bring the chili to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Add the rum and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Ladle chili into bowls and serve with garnishes.

  4. For the pickled red onions: Bring 1 cup white vinegar to a boil with ½ tsp. kosher salt and ½ tsp. sugar. Peel and thinly slice 1 red onion. Pack the slices into a pint-size canning jar. Pour the hot vinegar over the onions. Add water to bring the liquid to the rim as needed. Secure the lid and let cool. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Makes 2 cups.

Katherine Cobbs is a cookbook author and editor. Her most recent books are Pantry Cocktails (2021) and Tequila & Tacos (2020) published by Simon & Schuster. She also developed recipes for Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook – Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories.