DIY Disney: Uncle Walt’s Chili

Every month, our resident Chef Big Fat Panda puts together his amazing step-by-step, photo-filled posts where he and Chef Mickey show you their adventures in the kitchen cooking up Disney goodies! Today, Chef Big Fat Panda’s DIY Disney Recipes brings us another classic, one of Walt Disney’s personal favorites. (BTW: I had no idea you had to “sort” beans. Chef Big Fat Panda is so good to us.) Don’t forget to look for the hidden Mickeys! Take it away, Chef!

Hello! Chef BigFatPanda here! What an interesting cooking recipe this turned out to be – allow me to tell you:

I was very excited to come across the recipe entitled “Walt Disney’s Own Chili and Beans.” The cookbook says: “This was Walt Disney’s favorite meal, and this recipe, created by the Disneyland chefs, truly seemed to satisfy his palate. You’ll find it seasonally on the menu at some Disneyland restaurants, including the Plaza Inn and the River Belle Terrace.”

I thought it would be a great fall recipe as the weather begins to cool. I also felt it would be very easy and approachable. The truth is, I was wrong on both counts, BUT Mickey and I did save the day. Let’s get to the recipe before I get ahead of myself — but if I were you, I would not start cooking anything until you read my results. I am really looking for feedback on this one, both in ideas and from those of you that do recreate it.

Chili Ingredients

As usual, the recipe’s instructions will be bolded for easy reference should you wish to print this out and skip my commentary. But then, could you still sleep at night? :)

The recipe says you will need (I disagree later):

2 pounds of Pinto Beans, dry
2 medium onions, sliced
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, diced
2 pounds of lean ground beef
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste

So, as I am picking up the ingredients, I realize they want dry beans and the whole easy and approachable concept is about to be thrown out the window. This meant we were going to need time to soak the beans. I’ve made great chilies with canned beans before, but I wasn’t about to go that rogue when it was reported as Walt’s favorite meal.

I did make do with some ingredients I already had. For instance, I had 1 large onion rather than 2 medium ones. I already had 2 cans (totaling 28 ounces) of “diced” tomatoes rather than the requested “chopped.” This brings me back to what I always say: “Don’t let the ingredients scare you.”

1. Wash and sort beans and soak overnight in cold water.

Oh Brother! It’s an all nighter! But I’m hungry now – into the microwave went the Lean Cuisine :)

Now, 2 pounds of beans is no joke. These little buggers are going to expand as well, so unless you halve the recipe you are going to need a big pot. Keep running and draining water over them to wash them a few times.

Sorting beans is literally checking for rocks or objects that might have gotten into the bean bag from the factory. It’s a long, laborious process of checking through them on a large flat surface but actually can be made into a fun game with kids. Children actually enjoy sorting beans.

After the beans are washed and sorted, you will want to add enough cold water to go over them a good few inches. A lot of the water may be absorbed overnight. Cover them to prevent evaporation.

Beans, soaked and ready for cooking

Good morning little Beanie Babies! Today we can eat you! :)

2. Drain beans and place in a 2 quart saucepan. Add fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Add sliced onion and simmer, covered for 2 hours until tender.

Sliced Onion

Really, 2 whole hours of cooking? You bet ya, or more. We want tender beans. I covered the beans with water and added the hand sliced onion. The beans are under there.

Onions Added To Pot With Beans

Beans and Onions

3. Heat oil in a large pan and saute’ garlic. Add beef and celery and cook until lightly browned. Add chili powder, paprika, and thyme. Mix in chopped tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

It has to be a large pan to hold 2 pounds of meat, 1 cup of celery and 28 ounces of tomatoes. The fact that they think you have room to mix 2 pounds of beans in later tells me this recipe was not altered for the home cook.

Chopped Celery

Beans and Onions in Pot; Meat, Celery, and Tomatoes in pan

Ready to Get Cooking

Simmering on the Stove

4. When beans are tender, combine with meat, stirring gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. The recipe notes “An ice-cold beer goes best with this meal.”

Chef Mickey with the Finished Product

It sound easy enough, just very time consuming and most people are not going to want to sort and soak beans overnight. But for something that tasted special, I would say it was worth it 100%.

This was not the case in my opinion.

Before I tear this recipe apart, and Oh Boy! I’m gonna :) — Let me tell you that I believe in simple flavors. If you watch great chefs through the years, they teach you that simple, identifiable flavors make much better dishes than ones where people felt the need to throw dozens of ingredients in just for the sake of complication.

That being said, this recipe DOES have simple flavors that really come through. Here is where it goes wrong:

I was unable to mix the beans with the meat as instructed. Not only did I not have a pot big enough (and I have gigantic pots), the amount of beans was tremendous. I keep thinking they made a misprint or I made a mistake, but my bag said 2 pounds as instructed. I thought it was much more realistic to spoon the beans into the mixture on an as-needed basis. So, I plated some beans and then added some of the tomato meat mixture.

While the recipe says “Salt & Pepper to taste,” I found it required a lot of salt. I think this was because no seasoning had occurred anywhere during the cooking process. I usually never have to add salt to any meal. My palate is one that enjoys flavor rather than salt. This was a very bland recipe.

I felt the onions, in with the bean cooking water, gave a nice flavor, but I would have preferred some onions also be added to the meat mixture as well.

Here is what I don’t understand: They asked for 1 teaspoon of Chili powder for this whole giant recipe. Surely, something is amiss. 1 teaspoon of Chili Powder or 1 teaspoon of anything gets lost in 2 pounds of meat and 2 pounds of beans with a load of other ingredients. It simply was NOT chili, nor did it have a hearty zesty chili flavor.

But, I still had something good on my hands. I had delicious beans and a healthy meat mixture. I used very lean beef and fresh veggies. What to do? What to do?

I consulted with Mickey and we decided this…
1. Keep the beans separate to use on an as needed/wanted basis
2. Use 3 teaspoons (at least) of Chili Powder (I chose Mexican style)
3. Next time, chop in some onion with the celery as well
4. Add some salt during cooking (just a bit)
5. For each serving, throw in a slice or two of Velveeta or American cheese

NOW WE HAD SOMETHING DELICIOUS – Really delicious. …And I am NOT a fan of processed cheeses at all — but a smooth, creamy, melting cheese is what this recipe needed to be saved. It’s not your expected red chili, etc.

I would love to know if Walt was on a restricted diet of some sort when he requested this and if there were any misprints in the book. I’d love to find out if you tried it — either the book’s way or my way.

I am very passionate about what I deliver here to you and hope you enjoy my honesty about not every recipe turning out as planned. I also will take full responsibility if the issue was my fault. So tell me what you think in the comments section below.

I hope to bring you more great, and possibly more frequent recipes in the near future.

Once again, thank you for allowing me into your kitchen with peachy vigor! :) Big Hugs to all of you and keep wishing on those stars!


Thanks again, John! Remember, all, you can watch for Chef Big Fat Panda’s column posts right here! Who knows what he’ll make for us next month!


  1. says

    I can tell you that the recipe is identical to the one that appeared in the early 1990s edition of “Cooking with Mickey, Volume II,” so if it’s wrong (and it certainly sounds like it is!) it’s been wrong for a while.

    How odd that it’s as bland as it is…

  2. says

    I’m still scratching my head on this one. If you are the cooking type, I would love to know what you think if you give this a try. It’s the first recipe from Disney that has me crying foul! Some of my comments are certainly a matter of opinion but some are factually odd and don’t add up.
    I’m thinking a dessert next, what do you think?

  3. Alan says

    There are thousands of Chile recipes and all I can say is that this is one of them. It looks like a recipe from the fifties, when Americans were just starting to embrace these flavors.
    ( Except maybe for the Southwest and So. California.) It needs at least a little more garlic, some chopped jalapenos and most importantly cumin. That is one of the signature spices of southwest cuisine. This is one of those dishes where everyone wants it to taste the way they grew up eating it.

    I heard of bean counters but never bean sorters.

  4. Elisabeth says

    As someone who grew up in the midwest…they like bland chili. It wasn’t until I moved to Texas I understood the combinations of the different spices that go in a good chili. The recipe is probably right, because I made creamed chipped beef recently that was directly from the 50’s and it was bland as all get out. Chili is subjective and any chili that takes equal parts beans and beef has me questioning anyway. My 2 cents.

  5. Sarah says

    Just reading through the ingredient list, I knew this recipe would be a flop. There is no heat in it! Then again, I’m a huge chili fan, and once it start cooling off here in Orlando, I’ll be busting out crock pot and making my own!

    Chef – I’ve been using my crock pot to cook dry beans. In fact, last night I cooked a cup of dry chickpeas in about 3 hours on high, then shocked and peeled them for hummus tonight. I used a cup of beans and a cup of water, and added a little more water about halfway thru to keep the beans covered. Worked perfectly. Last time I’d soaked them overnight and cooked them on low the next day for about 8 hours, and got the same result. It seems, at least with the high setting, the soaking is unnecessary (though I’ll have to test the method with dry kidneys and pintos when I next make chili).

  6. says

    Chef — DESSERT! You know I’m biased.

    Alan — Your first line is hilarious!

    Elisabeth — Yay Texas! They really DO do things different down here, don’t they? Having lived in lots of big cities, I thought I knew good food, but I had another think coming when I moved here!

    Sarah — Awesome comment and suggestion! Can’t wait to see what Chef says about the crock pot suggestion!

  7. says

    As someone who can never eat enough chili, I loved the review of this. I appreciate the candid comments that the recipe was either misprinted and/or awful. I make my own chili based on a recipe I found once but I found this article useful in looking at some other options. Great job as usual!

  8. Heather says

    I love chili, but I think I’m going to skip this recipe and stick to my own crock pot version. Thanks for the great review!

  9. says

    Matt — Thanks for the kind words. While I’m not a Chef, even I can benefit from the way John presents these recipes. Very user-friendly.

    Heather — I hear ya!

  10. says

    Alan – Great insight – I wholeheartedly agree

    Elisabeth – Bland is an understatement! :) And the amount of beans – Holy Cow!

    Sarah – I LOVE my Crock Pot! We joke around that you can throw anything in there (including old sneakers) and later that day something delicious comes out. I have to try your fast forward method – maybe it’s pressure cooking them as well a bit with a tight lid…

    Matt – I was so excited because my Hero, Walt, supposedly loved this. I thought about candy coating the results and knew I just had to be ‘real’ and I am so glad people do seem to appreciate that. THANK YOU!

    Heather – While we are at it, if you have a way to cut & paste, I would love to see your recipe (or any others) for good chili. Feel free to post them here and we can all share if A.J. is okay with that.

  11. says

    Great review you two! I really like how you presented what the original was, then offered what should be changed, and I think it really flows wonderfully. I dont look at your changes/additions to the recipe as changing what Walt liked or whatnot, I think of it more as adding to it and making it better, which there’s nothing wrong with it. Next time we do chili, we’ll make your version of it and Ill let ya know how it goes

  12. says

    I did try this recipe a few years ago, and–like you–followed the recipe to the letter, because I wanted to have the exact same dish that Walt would have eaten. And, also like you, I came out with the same result: a very bland chili, that I wouldn’t even call a chili. I was very disappointed. Your suggestions to make it a better dish are very good. Thank you for confirming what I found when I made it. I thought I may have done something wrong, or forgotten a step somewhere; it saves me from having to make it again. :-)

  13. Kim S says

    Final Product looks amazing. I would have liked to have seen some green peppers mixed in there, maybe in place of the celery. I will try this recipe (with your suggestions and a few of mine) when the weather gets cooler and let you know how it turns out.
    ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº ºoº

    PS…would love to see some “adult beverage” recipes….how about a Disney spin on a Martini or a Mojito!!! :)

  14. says

    This sounds simple and delicious. I like simple flavors. I think I will use canned beans since I have a ton of them. I like that you use lean ground beef but think I will omit the oil all together, or just use a touch of olive oil, to lighten it up. Great basic recipe!

  15. Becca Porter says

    I have never considered sorting beans to be time consuming. I also rarely soak beans overnight. This is what works for me:

    Place the dried beans in a colander. Rinse with water while whisking around with your hands to look for any rocks or particulates. Place in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil one minute. Remove from the heat and let sit one hour. Then drain and rinse, and continue with your recipe as if they were soaked overnight.

    That recipe needs at least 1/4 cup of chili powder. However, it has so many other issues I would probably just stick with a more modern recipe. Cooks Illustrated has a great ‘quick’ chili.

  16. says

    A TEASPOON of chili powder to 4 POUNDS of beans and meat? No, no, no, no, no.

    I have a feeling that the bit about Walt’s favorite meal is, I’m sorry, a crock. While visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum, on display was a list of Walt’s favorite meals to be prepared by his housekeeper. I can’t remember everything (no photos), but I do remember big flavors/foods like chicken fried steak, veal cutlets, biscuits and gravy, etc. I’m sorry – I just can’t imagine this flavorless chili cutting it.

  17. says

    Awesome comments! Thank you!

    Mark – I would love you to try it and let me know what you think of the “new” version

    Glenn – You made me feel so much better knowing you thought the same thing. I kept going “really?”

    Southern Web Girl – I never knew that but I’m hearing this more and more. I guess it matters on what you are used to and unfortunately expectations always play a role.

    Kim S – I agree on the peppers. That would have brought a nice dimension to it. If you make it, even with my suggestions, don’t expect a deep red chili from this. More of a beef and veggies mix I guess you can say.
    I love the idea of Disney drinks…
    AJ, I think I might recreate some unique Disney Adult Beverages with some recipes. Good?

    Andrea – It might be exactly what your looking for. I would love to know our thoughts if you make it. I would have liked to turn the beans into a Yankee Bean soup cause I had so many.

    Becca – I believe your faster method is what is referred to as a quick soak and I bet it works just as well. I likely won’t be making this again and I will check out the chili recipe you mentioned. Thank You.

    Nate – I hope your right so I don’t have to feel guilty :)
    Why would Disney publish it in their book then? You’d think they want to remain truthful.

    Love the feedback – Thank you everyone!

  18. says

    i would NEVER have known that pinto beans needed to be sorted. you really do learn something new everyday! thanks chef. :)

    glad you were able to somehow redeem the flavor! a little velveeta goes a long way! that would’ve been so disappointing to throw away 4+ pounds of chili.

    and my vote for your next recipe is DEFINITELY dessert. oh definitely!

  19. Dana says

    I need way more layers of flavor in my food than that. What I mean is I add chili powder salt and pepper to every part of the chili as I cook it. I also think that that is A LOT of beans. And I like my chili to be heavy on the beans. Also I like more veggies in my chili. This seems like a good meat and bean recipe but not chili.

  20. Jack says

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for some time but was disappointed to read how the chili turned out. I’m also a Texan and I’m not sure this should really be called chili. No self respecting Texas style chili has beans in it. I know that people do use beans in chili but this sounds more like what my mom calls “Cowboy Beans”. The only missing ingredients (proper seasoning aside) would be jalapeño pepper, bell pepper, bacon, 2 beers (1 for me and 1 for the beans) and a touch of BBQ sauce. She also used stewed tomatoes rather than chopped. Add a thick slice of hot corn bread slathered with butter and you’ve got yourself a hearty fall/winter meal. The next time I think about trying Walt’s Chili I’ll go with mom’s Cowboy Beans instead.

  21. Darleen says

    I just bought the newest Disney cookbook, Chef Mickey Treasures from the vault and it contains this exact recipe titled Chili and Beans, listed as Walt’s personal recipe. At the end in a “cook’s note” is says: “For a spicier chili, and 1/8 teaspoon each of coriander, turmeric, chili seeds, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, and ground ginger. You can also add dried hot pepper to taste.”

  22. Lisa says

    ooops! I thought any recipe from Disney would be exceptional. Not this one. It would have helped if it had been called cowboy beans, as mentioned above, instead of chili. Then maybe it would not have been such a big disappointment. Oh well, live and learn!

  23. TV Watcher says

    I’ve had this on the Walt Disney Studio’s lot in Burbank and can confirm it is the same recipe they serve there. I found I had to add a lot of cheese and hot sauce to make it anything like what I would consider chili. Very bland.

  24. Pandora says

    Cooking as we speak even while taste testing throughout i could not taste the spices (might be because theyre old but owell) not making a large amount just enough for 3 meat eaters and 1 none meat eater, its the first recipe from the list im trying and for a none meat eater I sure hope I dont make anyone ill because I’ve never cooked meat like this before.

  25. Pandora says

    Cooking as we speak even while taste testing throughout i could not taste the spices (might be because theyre old but owell) not making a large amount just enough for 3 meat eaters and 1 none meat eater, its the first recipe from the list im trying and for a none meat eater I sure hope I dont make anyone ill because I’ve never cooked meat like this before.


    needs emmence ammounts of tomato juice
    the dryness has made me a bit ill :/

  26. Penny says

    So disappointed. I knew that one teaspoon of chili powder would not be enough and I don’t really like spicy foods but really now. And you’re right, lots of salt. The cheese is a good idea and maybe if we cook it again, we’ll try that. I won’t be anxious to do that however. Someone messed this recipe up a long time ago. I just can’t believe that Walt Disney was that bland in his taste in food!

  27. Suzanne Kelly says

    While I appreciate the review and comments,I have this recipe in a handwritten version that Walt,supposedly scribbled on paper,it forgot the salt but also called for pink beans which are not pintos.From all the books and documentaries we have on Disney,he preferred canned chili out of a can,cold,and traveled with it in his suitcases.Just my two cents,but I did make this for my daughter’s birthday,because she shares his and loves him and asked for it,but it is very bland and we really seasoned more,mine did not have thyme either.

  28. Joe Zigila says

    If you are curious, I found the recipe at the website, and they have obviously made an addition to the recipe posted here. Here’s what they added:

    For Extra Zest
    Add a punch of the following spices:
    1 little yellow Mexican chili pepper
    Coriander seeds
    Chili seeds
    Cumin seeds
    Fennel seeds
    Dry ginger

    I’ve got a feeling that might have helped earlier with the flavor. And they added “depending on taste” next to the amount of chili powder as well. Just my two bits.

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