Frito pie is best described as a guilty pleasure. Corn chips piled high with homemade chili, cheese, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, and a dollop of cool sour cream. Its origins are up for debate, but one thing is clear – it’s delicious.
For a long time, I thought Frito pie was made up by someone suffering from a hangover as a way to ward off the pain and discomfort after hitting the bottle a little too hard.
It wasn’t until I moved to New Mexico that I learned that the Frito pie is a real thing with a long history that includes a border war between Texas and New Mexico since both states claim to have invented the dish. However, it may be that both states are wrong and that the famed pie originated the same way the chocolate chip cookie recipe did – by a company trying to sell corn chips. Go figure.
After I left New Mexico, Frito pies were harder to find so I started making my own. Admittedly, this is not what some would consider “authentic”, but instead, my own homemade-take inspired by the Frito pies I had in New Mexico. My version has a simple ground beef and bean chili that is spooned over a bed of crunchy corn chips and topped with an array of toppings.
Ground Beef Chili with Beans
A Frito pie starts with the chili and the chili recipe I’m sharing is a simple one that takes about an hour start to finish. You can, of course, substitute your favorite chili recipe because once the chili’s made there’s no more cooking and it’s more of an assembly operation.
- Ground beef
- Onions and garlic
- Bell pepper
- Chili seasoning
- Pinto beans
- Beef stock
- Tomato sauce
The chili is a dump and stir recipe and only needs about 30 to 40 minutes to simmer. I like to use tomato sauce in my chili because it helps speed up the cooking process because you don’t have to wait for the tomatoes to cook down. The sauce also helps thicken the chili.
The beef stock gives the chili a “slow-cooked” flavor without having to simmer it for hours. That said, I’ve also made this chili with water (be sure to add extra salt and pepper) and with chicken stock when I don’t have beef stock on hand.
Frito Pie Toppings
How you top your Frito pie is only limited by your imagination, but I tend to stick to a few choice toppings for mine.
- I like to pile the Fritos in the bottom of a bowl first and top them with some chili.
- Top the chili with some shredded cheddar cheese.
- Add some shredded iceberg lettuce.
- Top the lettuce with some tomatoes. Any sort of tomato works, but I like to use grape or cherry tomatoes because they tend to be a little sweeter.
- Add a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of sliced green onion.
Frito pies tend to be my own personal guilty-pleasure, but they are great for serving a crowd because you can prep all the toppings, pop them in some bowls, and let everyone serve themselves.
Happy Frito pie-making!
More Comfort Food Recipes
Looking for more comfort food recipes? Here are a few of my favorites…
- Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches with Cheddar Cheese Sauce | Like the ones you might get through a drive-through, these hot sandwiches made with roast beef, a super simple microwave (!) cheese sauce, and an easy mayo-horseradish sauce.
- Chili Like My Mom Used to Make | A thick and hearty ground beef chili served with all the toppings.
- Grown-Up Sloppy Joes | Made with red wine, roasted veggies, and ground beef I considered calling these sloppy “josephs” because they’re a little fancier than the ones I grew up with.
There are a few things I miss about living in New Mexico and close to the top of the list is Frito pie. Now I make it at home and it’s one of my favorite guilty pleasures – crunchy Fritos topped with homemade chili, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. I whipped up a simple chili for this recipe, but feel free to substitute your favorite chili – the rest is very easy!
For the Chili
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bell pepper (pick your favorite color), diced
- 3 tablespoons chili seasoning (see note)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste (see note)
- 1 can pinto beans, drained
- 2 cups beef stock (see note)
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
For the Pies
- Frito corn chips
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Iceberg lettuce, chopped or shredded
- Grape tomatoes halved
- Sour cream
- Sliced green onions
- Chopped cilantro
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan or stockpot. Add the ground beef and let it brown while breaking it apart with a spatula or wooden spoon. Once it’s released some of it’s fat, add the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and all of the spices. Stir the mixture and cook it until the ground beef is cooked through.
- Add in the pinto beans, water, tomato sauce, and cilantro. Bring the chili to a boil and then lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer the chili for 30 to 40 minutes or until it has thickened.
- To serve, place some corn chips in a bowl and top with the chili, cheese, lettuce and other toppings. Garnish with chopped cilantro and dig in.
- Be sure to use your favorite chili seasoning and not just chili powder. Chili seasoning already has a mix of spices that is ready to use.
- Depending on the kind of chili seasoning you use, you made need to add more or less salt, so be sure to taste your chili so you can adjust the seasoning.
- I like to use beef stock because it gives the chili a “slow-cooked” flavor even though it’s not cooked for hours. That said, I’ve made this chili with water (be sure to add more seasonings) and with chicken stock when I don’t have beef stock on hand.
- Because the amount of toppings you like on your Frito pie may differ from mine, the nutrition estimate is for the chili only and does not include the toppings.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stove
- Cuisine: American
- Serving Size: 1/6 of chili recipe
- Calories: 338
- Sugar: 3g
- Fat: 18g
- Carbohydrates: 23.2g
- Fiber: 1.7g
- Protein: 21.2g
Keywords: Frito pie
The nutrition information in this recipe is an estimate only and was calculated using Nutrifox, an online nutrition calculator.