I would hit any beer bar in the world with Kerry Byrne. The self-described “Boston redneck” has the physical presence to defuse tension in a seedy dive, and a raucous sense of humor that would win over any hostile locals. And the man can eat: we survived eye-watering curry in Thailand, and I think he beat me to the last helping. His considerable knowledge about beer, food, and good living appears in the pages of The Boston Herald.

However, football fans know another Kerry J. Byrne: Chief Troll and publisher of the attitude-filled ColdHardFootballFacts.com (motto: Our Facts Can Beat Up Your Opinions). Kerry and the CHFF crew deal mercilessly with lame pundits, over-rated quarterbacks, and baseless predictions that can’t stand up to their cutting-edge analysis.

Kerry took home the top annual honors twice in the competitions of the North American Guild of Beer Writers, and has now done the same in the Pro Football Writers of America Awards—a prize winner in both beer and football.

What’s more Kerry butchers his own hog once a year, and smokes his own bacon. So, whose tailgating party would you like to attend? Kerry has the pickup and the beer, and now you have his take-no-prisoners recipe for venison chili.—JJ

Schlenkerla Rauchbier Venison Chili

Kerry J. Byrne

Years ago, I was asked by Esquire magazine to suggest a beer to go with venison chili. I suggested Schlenkerla Rauchbier because, one, it’s one of my all-time favorites beers and, two, it’s a perfect match for a nice, smoky chili on a cool fall day, especially during a tailgate.

I wasn’t too fond, though, of the chili recipe that they ran with the story. So I crafted my all-time dream-team smoked venison chili: I use smoked paprika, homemade smoked ham, homemade smoked bacon and, yes, Schlenkerla Rauchbier—the classic Bamberger smoked beer—typically its märzen.

It took a while to perfect, but it’s been a huge hit for me at tailgates and competitions. In fact, it’s my signature dish. Fox Sports even got wind of it and used it one of their tailgate cookbooks. But the greatest compliment came from a parking lot attendant at a Penn State football game. He was dressed in camouflage and lived smack dab in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Deer Hunter country.

He said it was the best chili he’s ever had. It’s not exactly Michelin three stars, but it’s high praise from a qualified authority just the same.

You don’t have to smoke your own hams and bacons. Only if you’re like me, and got a problem. But just use some high quality stuff from a good butcher or smokehouse—the full-flavored smokiness adds a lot of cool-weather character.

The best way to serve this chili is for breakfast: we take a fresh fluffy biscuit, cut it in half and put it in the bottom of bowl. Then we pour the chili over the biscuits, and then top it off if with a couple runny-yolk fried eggs.

It’s as if the gods of tailgating themselves have reached down to touch the soul of mankind. But maybe I’m a little biased.

Serves 8 to 12

For the spice mixture:

  • 3 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablepoon smoked paprika (or substitute with regular paprika)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 8 to 12 juniper berries, crushed

For the chili:

  • 5 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 potatoes, chopped
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
  • ½ pound high-quality smoky bacon chopped into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch chunks
  • ½ pound high-quality smoky ham, cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch chunks
  • 2 pounds ground venison
  • 8 to 12 ounces Schlenkerla Rauchbier
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 6 fresh jalapenos, roughly chopped (leave in the seeds for hotter chili)
  • 2 fresh habanero peppers, finely chopped (optional, for very hot chili)
  • 1 14.5-ounce can of chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 1 15.5-ounce can of dark red kidney beans (they must be “dark red” beans or they’ll lose their color)
  • 1 7-ounce can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Frank’s Red Hot, to taste (optional)
  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste (optional)

1. Mix the spices and store in an airtight container. Chop celery, onion, garlic and bell pepper and set aside in a large bowl. Set aside chopped potatoes in another bowl.

2. Fry chopped bacon in a 13-inch skillet or 3- to 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl. Brown chopped ham in bacon fat. Remove with slotted spoon, and set aside with bacon. Brown ground venison in bacon fat, breaking it up while it cooks. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside with ham and bacon. Venison will soak up most of the bacon fat, so add some vegetable oil to the skillet, and fry potatoes until lightly browned. Remove potatoes and add to bowl with meat.

3. Add chopped vegetables to the skillet (with a little more oil if needed) and sauté until lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Add beer and beef broth to the vegetables, and return all meat and potatoes to the skillet. Add jalapenos and/or optional habaneros. Mix very, very well while slowly adding all the spice mixture until it’s well incorporated. Mixture should turn an attractive reddish-brown color. Deepen the color by adding more paprika, chili powder or cayenne (very hot!) to taste. Cover and simmer on low heat 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (if mixture starts to look too dry, add a bit more beer or beef broth).

Finally, add canned tomatoes with juice, dark red beans with juice and chipotle peppers with adobo sauce. Mix well.

Simmer for another 15 to 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add optional ingredients, such as Frank’s Red Hot or Worcestershire sauce, if desired.

See you next week!