Recipe: Wag’s Chili

Recipe: Wag’s Chili

By Emma Jackson

Wag’s Chili

Serves 6-8 

Wag’s chili is a recipe that I have associated with home since I was a little girl. Thinking about chili makes me feel the comfort of home, and reminds me of fall days at my parents’ house (also the time in high school when I accidentally spilled three pounds of chili on my parents’ kitchen floor), and most importantly, spending time with my mom’s family.

This recipe was created by my great grandpa, Ervin Wagner, my mom’s grandpa. By the time he passed, I was not old enough to remember watching him make his famous chili, but I do remember watching my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles make it when we gathered as a family. When I think of Wag’s chili, I think of being at my Aunt Cathy’s cottage in Bellaire, a very small town in Northern Michigan. I come from a very big family — my mom is the youngest of six, so when we all get together, there is usually at least 50 of us there.

My fondest memory of spending time with my mom’s family is every December just before the new year when we all travel up north for our annual ski trip. This has been a tradition in our family since I was about 10 years old, and always makes me feel the comfort of home. Since there are so many of us up there, each of my mom’s siblings takes a turn making dinner for the whole family, one night always being “Wag’s chili.” Standing in my Aunt Cathy’s kitchen with everyone praying before dinner, looking around the room at 50 people that I love so much makes me feel so at home. My mom, aunts and uncles always say making this chili was “Grandpa Wag’s” favorite thing to do, and I know he smiles down from heaven every time one of his grandchildren or great grandchildren makes it for the family.

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 large onions finely chopped
  • 1 quart whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 regular cans chicken broth
  • 1 can chili hot beans 16 oz.
  • 1 can plain navy beans 16 oz.
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 small green peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 6 level teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 clove garlic minced 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)

Lightly brown meat, onions and garlic. Pour off excess fat. Combine meat and all other ingredients in a large kettle and cook slowly uncovered for 45 minutes. Add small amount of cooked spaghetti if desired. Give spaghetti about 12 minutes to cook.