I Paid: $6.69 for a 25-ounce jar (prices may vary by region)
You gotta hand it to Chef Rick Bayless: He's turned both his own name and that of his Frontera Grill restaurant into nationally recognized brands, and he hasn't been shy about getting out there and leveraging that brand to move books, product, and intellectual property. Thus: a Frontera-themed line of chili starters, big jars of spices, tomatoes, onions, beans, and other chili assisters that can transform a pound of dull ground beef into a Mexican-inspired main dish or hearty soup.
The starter is a snap to use: Brown your meat in a pan, add the starter and a cup of water, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
The result is a hearty chili that defies the boredom of traditional Midwestern chilis while bringing its own baggage to the table. The following complaint may be a first for this particular column: This Black Bean Chili Starter had too much authentic flavor; most specifically, too much deep, smoky chipotle spice. While this is the sort of problem most packaged, mass-distributed food would be fortunate to suffer from, it's a real issue—the chili wears down your palate pretty quickly, and you soon find yourself wishing that you could kick down that smoke and depth with cheap but serviceable tomato sauce and sour cream.
As a way to convert a pound of ground beef into 10 or so decent meals for a reasonable price per serving, this stuff is nearly unparalleled, and deserves respect. Chipotle-lovers will probably (reasonably) love this stuff, and make it a new winter go-to. For everyone else, beware—Bayless isn't messing around.