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Lady Bird Johnson's Recipe For Pedernales River Chili

Another Presidential Take on Texas Chili

After all the talk of chili last week, the dish was in my dreams over the long weekend. It's no surprise that this all-American concoction is a White House favorite, so I went in search of other presidential interpretations. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum boasts a plethora of Lady Bird's recipes, and among them one for her Pedernales River Chili. Named for the former first couple's Texas Hill Country ranch, the recipe was apparently so popular that Mrs. Johnson had it printed and mailed to satisfy the thousands of requests fielded from around the country.

While chili is terrific on cold Winter nights or at crisp Fall tailgates, I find it's also right at home at Summer barbecues and backyard parties. It's a great accompaniment to dogs and patties, but if you're having trouble balancing all those dishes, you can invert that bowl right on top of your bunned delight.

I trust that the former first lady's brew was delicious in its own right, but I found myself making a few modifications, namely reducing the recipe to a more manageable household size but maintaining the original spice measurements to boost the heat and flavor. This chili packs a punch, much like my California-bred self believes that Texas chili should. For the recipe, just keep reading.

Texas Hill Country Chili

Texas Hill Country Chili

Texas Hill Country Chili


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 small garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons Mexican chili powder
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
2-6 dashes hot sauce or to taste
Salt, to taste


  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or pot. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 7 minutes.
  2. Add ground beef and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add oregano, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes, hot sauce, salt, and 1/2 cup hot water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 1 hour, skimming off the fat as it cooks.

Serves 4.

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