Dad’s Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Chili

Today, we’re celebrating.

Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
We’re celebrating the fact that it is October and it has finally started to consistently fall below 70  (even 60!) degrees during the night here in Santa Barbara. We’re celebrating the fact that we are in the throes of football season (the ‘Niners even pulled out a win last weekend…..heyyyaaa!) and we are celebrating that maybe, MAYBE  in the next week it may feel”fall-ish” enough to head out to a pumpkin patch (I know, I know, I’m totally behind in this department this year.)
I thought that the perfect way to celebrate this turning of the season would be to put a big pot of my Dad’s Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Chili on the stove to simmer, after a long weekend of traveling and eating hasty meals every night, I have been waiting and waiting to tell you guys about my Dad’s chili and the moment is finally here.
Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
This chili is not just your average chili. It’s bean-less (yay for happy tummies!) and has the perfect balance of heat and sweet (I’m noticing this is a theme in my recent recipes here and here). And, as with most of my recipes, it’s easy to adapt for specific taste and dietary preferences.
When I was younger, I went through a period of a year or two of not eating red meat (I had some crazy nutritional notions that I thankfully grew out of but that’s for a whole different post.) Previous to this phase of mine, my dad had made his chili with ground beef, but to be so kind as to accommodate my crazy dietary preferences, he started making it with ground turkey. Although I’m back to eating red meat on occasion, I still find myself preferring the ground turkey version of this dish. If you want something heartier, feel free to go with the beef. Or for a more sustainable hearty option, why not try ground bison? For vegetarians, ground tofu would work just fine. There is so much flavor in this chili that it really doesn’t matter what type of protein you use.
Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
Speaking of the flavor in this chili….let’s just say “wowza.” I’m not too sure how my dad was graced with a palate that can come up with these amazing combinations of the most random ingredients, but I like to think I inherited just a little bit of this. We combine tomatoes, brown sugar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, ground cinnamon and Tapatio to create a wonderful burst of flavor in your mouth. And, as with most of my sweet and spicy recipes, you can totally adjust the spice as needed. It’s also REALLY easy to make up for mistakes with this recipe. If you add too much Tapatio, balance it out with some more balsamic or brown sugar. If it’s too sweet, add more Tapatio. The opportunities really are endless.
Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
So, without further ado, let’s get this recipe going so you can get a pot of Dad’s Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Chili simmering on the stove in our favorite Dutch oven and cuddle up with a warm bowl in front of the TV watching The Blacklist on Netflix (I know that’s what I’ll be doing.) Happy Fall!
Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
Dad’s Sweet ‘n’ Spicy Chili

Serves 4-6


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground turkey (or your choice of protein)
  • 1/2 bottle of chili powder (I like Gebhardt's)
  • 1 large can of diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 medium can of tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 - 2 teaspoons Tapatio


  1. Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and onions, saute until fragrant. Add ground meat. Stir until meat begins to brown.
  2. Add chili powder; stir to coat.
  3. Add diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer.
  4. Add brown sugar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and Tapatio.
  5. Let simmer on the stove for at least 30 minutes or up to 3-4 hours (as long as you're home to keep an eye on it!)
  6. Taste and re-season as necessary (this will be your time to add more sweetness if it is too spicy or add more spice if it is too sweet.)


Wine & Beer Pairing Suggestions: A light, fruity Pinot Noir (try ones from California as opposed to France) or my favorite drink of the season: a pumpkin ale!

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Dad's Sweet 'n' Spicy Chili | CaliGirl Cooking
That’s a big bowl of comfort right there!

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