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Here's a recipe for almost-award-winning bison & chocolate chili

Have any thoughts on what meats or special ingredients I should try next year? What's your "secret" chili ingredient? Let us know in the comments!
2021-10-07 mm 2021 chili cook-off
Mahoning Matters Editor Mark Sweetwood (left) and reporter Justin Dennis manned Mahoning Matters' table at the Boardman Optimist Club's 2021 Celebrity-Political Chili Cook-Off, hosted Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 at Avion on the Water Banquet Center in Canfield.

If you attended this year's Celebrity-Political Chili Cook-Off on Wednesday at Avion on the Water, hopefully you got a chance to try my "Velvet Buffalo" chili, which used chocolate to smooth out the texture of the bison slow-simmered with smoky peppers.

It was a chance to get face-time with local newsmakers, potential readers who still may not be familiar with our mission and role in the Valley's local news ecosystem — but also a chance to defend our title for "Most Original Chili," which we won at the last chili cook-off in 2019.

As I did with the Chipotle-Honey Chorizo Chili that brought home our trophy, I slightly re-engineered another recipe that I liked by adding extra flair like the cinnamon, cloves or allspice that I usually tend to put in my chili and adjusting the instructions for stove-cooking, rather than the crockpot.

It also went through several iterations, just like our last cook-off entry. My first attempt at a chocolate-bison chili used strongly brewed coffee and a little bit of stout for an extra-bold body. Turns out it was a bit too much body, as it ended up more akin to a tarry sludge that simply muddled the various flavors within.

Unfortunately, we lost "Most Original" honors to Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti. But that won't stop me from bringing a new, intriguing or somewhat unorthodox chili recipe each year.

Have any thoughts on what meats or special ingredients I should try next year? What's your "secret" chili ingredient? Let us know in the comments below!

Here's the recipe for the almost-award-winning bison-chocolate chili we served up Wednesday:

"The Velvet Buffalo"


  • 1 lb. ground bison
  • 1 ½ oz. bittersweet chocolate, grated
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. ancho chili powder OR 1 ½ tbsp. dried ancho peppers, ground
  • ½ tbsp. cumin powder
  • 2 tsp. chipotle powder OR 1 tbsp. dried chipotle peppers, ground
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼  tsp. cloves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tbsp. cane sugar
  • One 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • One 14 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil on medium-high heat in saute pan. Add 1 diced small onion, 1 diced red bell pepper and 1 tbsp. flour. Saute until peppers have softened.
  • Add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp. ancho chili powder (or 1 ½ tbsp. ground dried ancho peppers), ½ tbsp. cumin powder and 2 tsp. chipotle powder (or 1 tbsp. ground dried chipotle peppers) and stir to combine. Saute until fragrant.
  • Stir in 1 cup water to deglaze. Then transfer contents of pan to pot.
  • Brown 1 lb. ground bison in saute pan on medium heat. Drain most of the fat, then transfer contents of pan to pot.
  • Add 1 ½ oz. grated bittersweet chocolate, one 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes and 1 tbsp. cane sugar to large pot and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste (I recommend 1 tsp. of each).
  • Cook on medium-low heat for 3 hours, stirring every 20 minutes to prevent burning.
  • Stir in one drained and rinsed 14 oz. can of red kidney beans, ½ tsp. cinnamon and ¼ tsp. cloves. Add more cane sugar (1 tsp. at a time) to reach desired sweetness.
  • Simmer on low heat for 2 hours, stirring at least every 20 minutes to prevent burning.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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