A Burger Expert Points to This Chili as a Go-To for Leftover Ground Beef

Variations on a theme from the author of ‘Hamburger America’ and founder of the 13th annual Food Film Festival

Heated Editors
5 min readOct 22, 2019


Photo by George Motz

George Motz — who co-founded and directs The Food Film Festival, which begins Thursday in New York City — is a filmmaker, author, and burger enthusiast: He is the creator of “Hamburger America,” available in both book and documentary forms. Here, he shares with Heated what he does with excess ground beef, which appears frequently in his kitchen. On the next cool and rainy night — perfect weather for watching a movie — Motz wants you to consider making this bowl of chili.

By George Motz

As you may know, I make a lot of burgers, and sometimes I have leftover ground beef. That beef goes into other recipes of mine, like taco filling, Coney sauce, and cottage pie. But for the most part, extra fresh ground beef finds its way into my mother’s family-famous chili: Mama’s Kiss Ass Chili Con Corny.

Let me just get this out of the way — this recipe is “award-winning” thanks to me. Sorry to brag, but in a room full of 36 very talented chefs, my mother’s chili, our go-to spicy meal at the dinner table growing up, was deemed the best. The moment was compounded by the fact that Mama herself was standing right next to me when my name was called.

In reality, at this point it’s not really her recipe anymore. Like all chili recipes (or any recipe for that matter) it has been altered over the years to create the perfect super chili. My version today, which has made over 30 years of dinner table appearances, is complex, smoky, deep, and not too spicy. And it’s award-winning, don’t forget.

All of my siblings and their respective others and partners are no strangers to the kitchen. A potluck meal at my mother’s house may appear casual, but the food presented is usually off the charts. Every meal that involves my family is one to remember, and we seem to eat and drink together often. One Thanksgiving, not to be outdone by my siblings, I chose to rotisserie cook a 28-pound turkey on a pig spit for seven hours over charcoal. The result was an insanely tasty bird, but I’m never doing that again — it was an immense effort and I proved my point. Every member of the family has a specialty they bring to the table, and every so often someone brings their version of Kiss Ass chili.

My mother’s chili is actually a riff on her mother’s recipe, a classic Southern ground beef version. “Hers was too watery,” she told me recently. “It wasn’t unctuous at all or a bit spicy.” Her contribution to the recipe, other than making it less watery and more spicy, was the addition of frozen corn. “I was trying to get some veggies into you kids, and used whatever I had around.” Corn was nearby that day, and her Kick Ass Chili Con Corny was born. (It was years later that my brother, then in his teens, asked her to write down the recipe. On an index card she mistakenly wrote “kiss” instead of “kick.” The name stuck, and the laughter continues to this day).

When I asked my sister Jen if she had a different version of mom’s original chili recipe, she responded bluntly, “Don’t we all?” And when I asked another sister, Mary Beth, if she had her version written down, she told me, aghast and almost breathy, “It’s in my heart.” True, all of our recipes have ventured away from the core, but for the most part, the element of corn has remained. My brother Tim, however, has probably ventured the furthest. “I’ve gone rogue,” he told me. He officially abandoned Kiss Ass in favor of a more classic Paul Prudhomme Texas Red recipe, which replaces ground beef with braised or seared chuck. “The corn was mom’s special touch,” Tim reminded me. “There’s nothing close to corn in what chef Prudhomme was doing.”

My recipe adds major flavor enhancers like bacon, beer, and a special red chile powder from New Mexico. Tim admitted that in college he used whatever he had in the house. “We had lots of tequila!” And for sure a splash of tequila always made it into his chili. Mary Beth’s current version is served in a layered “bean dip” style topped with chopped raw scallion. One of the layers is cooked cold corn niblets, not mixed in. “I like the fresh crunch,” she told me. Experimentation is the truest path to chili greatness. I hope that yours wins awards and kicks (or kisses) some ass.

Mama’s Kiss Ass Chili Con Corny

Makes enough for like 14 people


1 pack gooood bacon

1 large sweet onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, pressed

2 tablespoons butter

3 pounds ground chuck (80:20 or fattier)

3 tablespoons classic chile powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons New Mexican mild red chile powder (optional)

1 1/2 tablespoons Sugar in the Raw (or 1 tablespoon white sugar)

1/2 cup beef broth

2 28 oz cans of crushed red tomatoes

1/2 can tomato paste

1/2 can beer (something simple like Tecate, not an IPA!)

1.5 oz very dark chocolate (or 1 cube unsweetened bakers chocolate)

1/4 cup diced, roasted green chile (or Anaheim peppers)

Frank’s Red Hot

2 16 oz cans red kidney beans

1 bag frozen corn

For garnish:

Shredded sharp cheddar

Sour cream

Corn chips


Chop bacon into tiny squares and cook down in a large stockpot to just before crunchy (still soft). Remove cooked bacon and drain grease, but keep a slick on the bottom to sauté the onion. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and butter, cook for 1 minute more. Add ground beef, then chop and cook until all the beef is pebbly and slightly browned. Drain all the fat off and add the cooked bacon. Next, add chile powders, spices, sugar, and broth and stir. Simmer covered for about 15 minutes, then allow the mixture to cook down until broth mostly evaporates. At this point, the cooked beef should taste amazing. If not, add more spice and broth.

Once the beef is where you want it, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beer, chocolate, and green chile, then cover and simmer for an hour, stirring here and there. After an hour, taste again, and if all is well, add the corn and kidney beans and cover. Twenty mins later, check for spice heat and add hot sauce. If the chili is too watery at this point (it shouldn’t be), just cook it longer uncovered.

Serve immediately with sour cream, shredded cheddar, and corn chips. Fritos are king in my house, a great chip for this chili. Also, it freezes well, and makes a great midnight snack.

George Motz is America’s foremost hamburger expert.