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What is Colorado green chili made of?

Colorado green chili is a staple ingredient in Southwestern cuisine, known for its rich flavor and just the right amount of spice. But what exactly goes into this iconic regional dish? Here is a comprehensive look at the main ingredients that make up authentic Colorado green chili.

The Chile Peppers

At the heart of any good green chili are fresh, flavorful green chile peppers. The most common varieties used include:

  • Pueblo chili – A medium-hot pepper that is considered the “classic” green chili pepper of Colorado. It has a rich, earthy flavor.
  • Anaheim chili – A milder pepper that still provides a nice balance of flavor. Anaheims have a crisp, veggie-like taste.
  • Hatch chili – A popular New Mexican variety that is hotter than Pueblos. It offers a bright, acidic punch.
  • Jalapeño – Sometimes added for extra heat and a sharp, grassy flavor.

The exact combination of chile peppers can vary depending on who is preparing the chili and how spicy they want it to be. Many traditional recipes call for at least two types of peppers, like Pueblos and Anaheims, to achieve the right depth of taste.

Broth or Base

The chili peppers are simmered in a flavorful broth or base that forms the foundation of the dish. There are a few main options:

  • Meat broth – Many recipes call for chicken or beef broth, intensifying the hearty, savory notes.
  • Tomato base – Tomatoes provide tanginess and richness without overwhelming the chiles.
  • Roux – Some cooks start with a roux of melted butter and flour to thicken the chili.
  • Green chile juice – For a very pepper-forward flavor, some boil the chiles first to extract the juice.

The broth or base ingredients impact the overall taste and texture of the chili. A meat-based broth makes it heartier, while an all-chile juice keeps it lighter. Tomato adds viscosity and vibrancy.

Spices and Seasonings

No chili is complete without the spices and aromatics that round out its flavor profile. Look for these ingredients in authentic Colorado green chili:

  • Garlic – An essential base aroma in any Southwest dish.
  • Onion – Provides flavor depth along with the garlic.
  • Cumin – The signature Southwest spice – earthy and warm.
  • Oregano – Dried oregano adds woodsy notes.
  • Paprika – Boosts the mild heat and peppery quality.
  • Salt – Critical for balancing all the flavors.

In some recipes, you may also find extras like bay leaves, ground coriander, or red pepper flakes. But the core spices are garlic, onions, cumin, oregano, paprika, and salt.

Meat and Other Ingredients

While the chiles are the star of the show, green chili often includes extras for protein, texture, and bulk:

  • Pork shoulder – The most typical meat, slow-simmered until tender.
  • Chicken – Thigh or breast meat provides a lighter option.
  • Onions – Chopped onions add more flavor and crunch.
  • Garlic – Minced or crushed garlic boosts aroma.
  • Potatoes – Diced russet or gold potatoes soak up flavor.

These ingredients augment the complex flavors of the chili peppers without overshadowing them. Pork shoulder is especially classic, as its fatty texture melts into the broth.

The Cooking Process

Creating the rich, nuanced flavor of Colorado green chili requires a specific process. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Sear or roast fresh peppers at high heat until skins are charred.
  2. Place peppers in a covered bowl to steam and remove skins.
  3. Simmer peppers in broth and spices until soft.
  4. Puree the pepper mixture into a thick sauce.
  5. Return sauce to pot and add meats and veggies.
  6. Gently simmer everything until meats are cooked through.
  7. Adjust seasonings to taste.

First the fresh peppers are fire-roasted at high heat, then peeled, to extract their essence. Simmering them slowly in broth infuses the liquid with pepper flavor before blending into a sauce. Finally, protein and vegetables are added and cooked into the chili until the flavors marry.

Serving Colorado Green Chili

This tasty chili can be served in many ways, including:

  • Spooned over burritos, enchiladas, tacos, and other Mexican dishes
  • As a dip, with tortilla chips for scooping
  • Poured over eggs for a New Mexican breakfast
  • Ladled over meat as a sauce
  • In bowls with warm tortillas on the side

The uses for Colorado green chili are endless! It can transform from a flavorful sauce to a complete meal depending on how you serve it. Many local restaurants will smother multiple dishes with ladles of this iconic regional specialty.

Key Takeaways

Here are the key points to remember about what goes into authentic Colorado green chili:

  • The base is fresh, flavorful green chile peppers – typically a combination of varieties like Pueblo, Anaheim, and Hatch.
  • The chiles are simmered in a savory broth or tomato base, seasoned with garlic, onions, cumin, oregano, and other spices.
  • Pork shoulder is usually added for richness, along with extras like chicken, potatoes, or garlic.
  • The peppers are roasted, simmered, and blended into a complex sauce.
  • The chili can be served over many dishes, used as a dip, or eaten in bowls.

With the classic ingredients and traditional cooking methods, an authentic hearty, delicious Colorado green chili is guaranteed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes Colorado green chili unique?

Colorado green chili gets its distinctive flavor from the combination of fresh roasted green chile peppers and Southwestern spices. The method of simmering the chiles to extract their essence before blending into a sauce also sets it apart.

Why is pork the traditional meat?

Pork shoulder or pork butt is often used in Colorado green chili because it has a high fat content that melts down into the broth, giving it extra richness and body. The pork also shreds easily after slow cooking to incorporate into the dish.

What heat level is classic Colorado green chili?

Authentic Colorado green chili has a mild to medium level of heat. It gets a gentle kick from the mix of peppers used, like Pueblo, Anaheim, and sometimes jalapeño. But a good chili should have robust Southwest flavor with just enough spice to make things interesting.

Should beans be added?

Adding beans is an optional extra in Colorado green chili. Some recipes call for pinto beans for more protein and heft. But the most traditional version is made without beans, letting the chiles, spices, and pork stand out.

What’s the difference between red and green chili?

Red chili uses ripe red chili peppers and follows its own regional style. Green chili is made with unripened green peppers for a brighter, more vegetable-like taste. Green chili is also more brothy like a thin sauce, while red is thicker like a gravy.


With its origins in Pueblo and Denver, Colorado green chili has become beloved for its fresh pepper flavor highlighted by cumin, garlic, and pork. The process of roasting and simmering the chiles, then blending them into a sauce, gives the dish its signature taste. While recipes vary across families and regions, the core ingredients of green chile peppers, savory broth or tomato base, Southwestern spices, and stewed pork remain hallmarks of the style. Served over everything from breakfast eggs to tacos to enchiladas, Colorado green chili can transform any meal into a delicious regional delight.