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Michael Waddell’s Tasty Elk Chili

Winter is well under way—and so are those blisteringly cold mornings and too-early, frigid nights. What better way to beat that unforgiving weather, or warm up from a day full of hunting ducks and deer, than with a steaming bowl of chili? Join the Bone Collector, Michael Waddell, as he “trespasses” on his wife’s kitchen and whips up his tasty elk chili.

How Waddell Makes His Elk Chili Unique

Waddell jokes that chili is one of the most controversial dishes in the world. There are as many spices as there are options when it comes to making it! He loves his version because it’s cheap, easy to make, and flat-out tastes great. And it’s perfect if you’re looking to feed an army—especially during deer camp.

For this recipe, he uses two pounds of elk burger that he got in Utah, but he says you can use whatever wild game suits your fancy. He prefers elk because it’s lean, tastes more like beef than deer does, and is healthier than plain ground beef.

To really make his elk chili pop, Michael uses a bit of bacon grease from breakfast to brown the meat. He admits any healthiness the elk provides is lost, but it adds a flavor to the chili that just can’t be beat. And, while browning, Waddell warns against wanting to overcook it. He says people tend to overcook wild game, mainly since it’s “dirty” from being exposed to the wilderness. But cooking it rare or medium throws the taste over the top.

Showing that he’s as “country as a chicken coop,” he breaks out his jars of fresh tomatoes that he and his wife canned themselves a while ago. He admits that you can also use store-bought cans of diced tomatoes—but they won’t taste nearly as great as the home-grown stuff.

When it comes to chili spices, there are nearly endless ways to mix and match—and Waddell says you can use whatever you want. But for his recipe, he uses what he calls “the bomb”: a simple packet of French’s Chili-O. Paired with a can of Rotel, some black beans, and onions, it adds that perfect chili taste.

To wrap up this cook, Waddell whips up some instant jasmine and brown rice. When plating, he likes to put down a layer of rice and then spoons some chili on top. It makes for a great, easy alternative to cornbread and helps you get that nice starch fixin’. When it’s all said and done, Waddell says this cook will warm your bones and have you eating like a king.

Michael Waddell’s Elk Chili

Cuisine: Wild Game, American

Difficulty: Easy

Michael loves this version because it’s cheap, easy to make, and flat-out tastes great. Plus, it’s perfect if you’re looking to feed an army—especially during deer camp.

Elk Chili Ingredients

  • 2 cans Diced tomatoes
  • 1 can Rotel
  • 2 small cans Mushrooms
  • 1 can Black beans
  • 1 packet Chili seasoning
  • 1½ – 2 lbs. Elk burger
  • 2 Yellow onions (diced)
  • Cajun seasoning (to taste)

Elk Chili Directions

  1. Place the elk burger in a skillet and cook until just browned.
  2. Sprinkle Cajun seasoning over meat, to taste.
  3. Once meat is browned, drain any excess oil and grease, and add in diced yellow onions. Continue to cook until the onions are soft.
  4. Transfer the meat and onions to a large soup pot, and add Rotel, diced tomatoes, mushrooms, and black beans. Stir the pot until ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
  5. Once mixed, stir in the chili seasoning and bring mixture to a simmer until warmed throughout.

Recipe Video


  • For additional flavor, brown your ground elk with a bit of bacon grease.
  • Serve the chili over rice (either jasmine or brown), with a bit of cornbread, or top it off with crackers of your choice.
  • You don’t have to stick with black beans—kidney or pinto beans work just as well.
  • To bring even more flavor out, throw the ingredients into a slow cooker. A slow simmer and all-day cook will work wonders.
  • If you want your elk chili a little soupier—throw a little more water in. Or, if you want it a little thicker—add some flour or cornstarch.

Michael Waddell (2023, December 4). Michael Waddell’s tasty elk chili. Exmark’s Backyard Life. https://backyard.exmark.com/recipe/michael-waddell-tasty-elk-chili/