It’s impossible to get an idea of the scope and remoteness of Big Bend National Park without visiting. The 800,000 acre park is a 10 hour drive from Houston, but four hours of that is spent getting from I-10 to the center of the park, where there are facilities for camping and a lodge with restaurant. In fact, the most effective way to see the park may be via the 150 miles of dirt roads, since the paved roads penetrate only a small section of the land.
We arrived at Rio Grande Village, on the east end of the park, around 6:00pm after a long day of driving. With sunset rapidly approaching, everyone quickly threw together their tent while I scrambled to start a fire and dinner. The desert doesn’t hold heat and within minutes the temperature dropped from a balmy 60 to 50, then below. What better meal for a chilly evening than… chili?
As the sun set and I stirred the fixin’s into a pot, a howl arose from behind our camp. Oh Matt, I thought to myself, that funny guy, what a joker. I started to laugh, when more howls joined the first one. We ate dinner to the mournful tunes of a pack of coyotes as the stars lit up across the sky, then bundled up in our tents for a frigid night.
The easiest way to prepare things for quick and easy cooking at the campsite is to do as much prep at home as possible. Freezing ingredients ensures they stay good when all you have is a cooler and as a bonus, cuts down on the amount of ice you need.
Prep: Chop 2 lbs tomatoes and put in the bottom of a large (32 oz works well) jar. On top of that, layer a chopped onion, a few cloves of chopped garlic, and a chopped ancho chile pepper. Depending on the length of your journey you may want to freeze your beef. I froze 2 lbs of beef and put it in the fridge the day before we left. By the evening of our drive it was thawed enough for me to break it apart with my fingers. You will also need a jar (quart size or so) of your favorite broth, which you may also freeze depending on how long you need it to stay cold. Just keep in mind there is no quick and easy way to thaw a jar of liquid out in the woods!
Equipment: You will need a large camp pot or dutch oven, preferably with a lid, and something to stir & serve the chili with. You can cook this on a camp stove with propane or over a hot fire on a grill. Don’t forget biodegradable soap and a sponge to clean up after!
Brown the beef in the dutch oven over a hot fire until most of the liquid has evaporated. To this, add the top layer from your chopped vegetables jar: chiles, onions, and garlic. Saute until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, broth, and your favorite chile seasoning – I like to use Lloyd & Buck’s chili mix. It has just the right amount of heat and lends a rich flavor to the broth.
Cover and stick the pot on a hot fire until everything is to your liking. If you like, you can toss some beer into the mix – we always seem to have that around our campsites.
Serve with fritos, more chopped onions, jalapenos, and shredded cheese.
Flickr set from day one here!