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Easy Venison Chili and Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

Chili and cinnamon rolls? Believe it or not, this unlikely pair is a staple in school cafeterias around the Midwest. And in this recipe, the classic combo gets a wild game twist with ground venison as the protein.

Easy Venison Chili and Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

This venison chili and cinnamon rolls combo tastes best when the chili is served hot and the rolls are warm and gooey.

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The culinary world is rife with seemingly oxymoronic pairings—two dishes that, at first glance, appear to not belong together, but once taste-tested, it’s obvious they were destined for one another. Chili and cinnamon rolls are no exception. My wife filled me in on this one, as it’s somewhat of a lower-Midwest school cafeteria tradition. Initially, she thought it had originated in Kansas, where we live, but upon further research, we could not verify this. What was for certain: the combination came about from school cafeteria workers seeking to use abundant ingredients to cheaply feed a mass of kids.

Yes, I know authentic chili does not contain tomatoes or beans. But school cafeteria chili usually does, allowing the school dietitian to stretch ingredients as far as possible. It also utilizes ground meat, as that’s what schools use because it’s the most inexpensive way to add protein to a meal meant for hungry, growing children.

The cinnamon roll recipe is from my wife. The frosting was an impromptu blend of almond extract (instead of vanilla extract) and orange zest. We didn’t have vanilla extract at home, so, like school cafeteria ladies of old, she used what we did have to make something tasty. Can you buy cinnamon rolls from the store to bake? Sure. Should you dip your cinnamon roll in your chili? It’d be a sin if you didn’t.

When making this, when I first dipped that homemade cinnamon roll into my venison chili and took a bite. Even amid the circus of my kids screaming and the dog barking in the next room, I found a split-second of nirvana—pure bliss despite my household’s cacophony of chaos (not unlike a school cafeteria). I promise you will find similar happiness with this dish.

Easy Venison Chili Recipe

Venison Chili
A hearty, cafeteria-like chili made with ground venison, tomatoes, and beans.

Tip: If making homemade cinnamon rolls to serve with this venison chili recipe, start the rolls early.

Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 25-30 minutes
Cook time: Minimum 1 hour


  • 1 pound ground venison
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 poblano peppers (optional)
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
  • 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can Campbell's Tomato Soup
  • 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 McCormick chili spice packet
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, divided use
  • Vegetable or sunflower cooking oil
  • Sour cream, shredded cheese, and minced scallions for garnish (optional)



  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Rub peppers with cooking oil and on a rack in the oven.
  3. Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly.
  4. Add thin layer of cooking oil to skillet and drop in diced onion. Dust with kosher salt and black pepper. Once onions are brown and slightly soft, add 1 pound ground venison. Dust again with kosher salt and black pepper.
  5. Check roasting peppers after 10 minutes and rotate to sear other side. Check again at 8 minutes. Remove once all peppers have sear marks and outer skin is loose. Place peppers in a large bowl and cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Place covered bowl in the refrigerator to sweat peppers for half hour.
  6. Once venison is browned, add spice packet and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. In a large pot, add beans, plus Campbell’s Tomato Soup and chicken stock. Place pot on burner on low heat.
  8. Once venison is fully cooked, add it and onions to large pot with beans. Stir thoroughly.
  9. Remove peppers from bowl after half hour in fridge, or once outer skin is loose. Peel off skin and remove seeds. Dice peppers and add to large pot.
  10. Stir ingredients in pot thoroughly and let simmer for a minimum half hour before serving.

Homemade Cinnamon Roll Recipe

Make these cinnamon rolls to dip in your venison chili!

Homemade cinnamon rolls with a cream cheese frosting.

A note on timing for making cinnamon rolls (if using this homemade recipe): Because you want your cinnamon rolls to be as gooey and as warm as possible to pair with your chili, start prepping cinnamon rolls once your chili is set to a low simmer (or earlier). It’ll take a little over a couple of hours to finish these rolls, which will coincide with the time necessary to properly simmer your chili.

Yield: 12 cinnamon rolls
Prep time: Approximately 2 hours
Cook time: 20-25 minutes


  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons quick rise or active yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 yolk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted (prefer salted, but unsalted works)
  • 3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt


  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar (light brown also works)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened at room temp
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted (prefer salted, but unsalted works)
  • Zest from one orange


  1. Warm milk to approximately 110°F. Microwave for 40-45 seconds if pulling straight from fridge. Transfer warm milk to the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle yeast on top. Add in sugar, egg, egg yolk and room-temp butter. Mix until well combined. Next, stir in flour and salt with a wooden spoon until a dough begins to form.
  2. Place dough hook on stand mixer and knead dough on medium speed or by hand for 8 minutes. If you don’t want to use an electric mixer, you can use your hands to knead the dough for 8-10 minutes on a well-floured surface. Dough should form into a nice ball and be slightly sticky. If it's TOO sticky (meaning it's sticking to the bottom of the bowl, add in 2 tablespoons more bread flour.)
  3. Transfer dough ball to a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel. Allow dough to rise for 1 hour to 1 ½ hours, or until doubled in size. This may be more or less time depending the humidity and temperature in your home.
  4. After dough has doubled in size, transfer dough to a well-floured surface and roll out into a 14x9 inch rectangle. Spread softened butter over dough, leaving a ¼ inch margin at the far side of the dough.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar and cinnamon. Use your hands to sprinkle mixture over the buttered dough, then rub the brown sugar mixture into the butter.
  6. Tightly roll dough up, starting from the 9-inch side and place seam side down making sure to seal the edges of the dough as best you can. You will probably need to cut off about an inch off the ends of the dough as the ends won’t be as full of cinnamon sugar as we’d want it to be.
  7. Cut into 1-inch sections with a serrated knife or floss. You should get 9 large pieces.
  8. Place cinnamon rolls in a greased 9x9 inch baking pan or round 9-inch cake pan. (Recommend: line the pan with parchment paper in case any of the filling ends up leaking out.) Cover with plastic wrap and a warm towel and let rise again for 30-45 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove plastic wrap and towel and bake cinnamon rolls for 20-25 minutes or until just slightly golden brown on the edges. You want to underbake them a little so they stay soft in the middle. Allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before frosting.

    Let the cinnamon rolls cool before spreading them with cream cheese frosting.
  10. To make the frosting:  In a medium mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and fluffy via hand or electric mixer. Spread over cinnamon rolls.
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