The 4-Ingredient Retro Dinner That Reminds Me of My Childhood

Chili and cornbread are the perfect pairing, and this retro recipe combines the two into one glorious dish. It takes just four ingredients to make a complete dinner, perfect for weeknights.

The 4-Ingredient Retro Dinner That Reminds Me of My Childhood
upside down chili pie
Simply Recipes / Mihaela Kozaric Sebrek

It feels like nostalgia every time I have a bowl of chili and cornbread. I can’t quite pinpoint when I even learned to put the two together. Was it at the school cafeteria? Did my childhood friend’s mom serve it that way? Regardless, sweet corn and a tangy, smoky bowl of chili always go together, like strawberries and chocolate. 

When I was thumbing through a vintage book recently, I noticed a picture of fluffy cornbread layered over a heaping spread of chili. I exclaimed to myself “That makes so much sense!” This retro upside-down chili pie takes the classic pairing and turns it into a fun dish.

Any diehard chili fan will love this casserole. Instead of heating up chili and baking cornbread separately, cook them all at once for a complete dinner. It just takes a few ingredients and a few minutes to whip up.

Choosing Your Chili

The most suitable chili for this recipe is one that has a variety of ingredients. For me means meat, beans, and veggies like corn. My favorite brands for this recipe are Stagg and Hormel. They’ve got a range of different styles of chili to choose from and can be found at most grocery stores. 

If you’re going for homemade, beef chili or vegetarian chili are tasty choices for this dish. It’s a fun way to use up extra chili if you made a big batch the night before. It’s okay if the chili is not exactly 30 ounces or 4 cups—that’s the beauty of a casserole! A touch of extra filling won’t completely change this dish.

slice of upside down chili pie on a plate
Simply Recipes / Mihaela Kozaric Sebrek

How To Make My Upside-Down Chili Pie

For 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 2 cans (approximately 30 ounces total) chili or 4 cups homemade chili
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 (8.5-ounce) box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Have a baking sheet and an 8-inch pan ready. 

Warm up the chili and water on the stovetop over medium heat until it is lightly simmering. Alternatively, add to a large, microwave-safe dish and microwave in 30-second increments. This allows for an even, shorter baking time. Simmering it with a bit of water will loosen up the canned or leftover chili. If your chili is especially thick, add up to another 1/2 cup of water.

Turn off the heat and transfer the chili to your casserole dish. You should have about an inch of headspace left in the pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the corn muffin mix, egg, milk, salt, and onion powder (if using). Using a whisk or fork, stir everything together until well incorporated. I use a big wooden spoon to drop about 1/4 cup portions all over the chili. Very gently, using the back of the spoon, push the batter towards the edge of the casserole pan, spreading the cornbread batter until most of the chili is covered. 

Place the casserole on top of the baking sheet in case the chili bubbles over it’ll save you an oven clean-up. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes. The cornbread batter should have risen and be a deep yellow color. Let the casserole cool for about 10 minutes before serving so the chili can set. 

2 Quick and Easy Upgrades

  • Add 1/2 cup of finely grated cheddar cheese and a strained 4-ounce can of canned chopped jalapeños to your cornbread batter. This will give your cornbread a fun color and bite of spice.
  • Substitute a can of tomato sauce in place of the water for more flavor.
overhead shot of upside down chili pie on a plate with a side salad at a table setting with a casserole dish with more, a bowl with more salad, and a plate with another serving of chili pie
Simply Recipes / Mihaela Kozaric Sebrek