By Sandi Moynihan

If you’re searching for an easy chili recipe to enjoy during football – or just a great meal to share with friends and family – look no further than USO tour veteran Johnny Cash’s Old Iron Pot Chili recipe from the 1992 USO Celebrity cookbook.

Chopped onions for Johnny Cash’s “Old Iron Pot” chili. | Photo credit Sandi Moynihan

Cash joined the joined the Air Force in 1950. During his short military career, he worked as a radio intercept officer in Landsberg, West Germany, decoding Soviet messages. In his free time, Cash – who grew up singing on his family’s cotton farm – bought a guitar and honed his songwriting skills. Whiel overseas, Cash also played in a band, the Landsberg Barbarians, with a few of his Air Force buddies.

“We were terrible,” Cash said in a story. “We’d take our instruments to these honky-tonks and play until they threw us out or a fight started. I wrote ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ in Germany in 1953.”

Cash left the Air Force in 1954 and began his music career. But he found his way back to the military world in 1962, going on a three-week USO tour to entertain service members in Japan and South Korea.

Chopped meat for Johnny Cash’s “Old Iron Pot” chili. | Photo credit Sandi Moynihan

In 1969, Cash went on his second USO tour, this time to Vietnam with his wife and fellow country music star, June Carter Cash.

“I went to support our guys, because I loved them so much,” Cash said according to the “Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reader.”

“I know they didn’t want to be there, which is why I went over myself … Right away we all got caught up in the whole thing. Pretty soon June, Carl Perkins, and I were doing seven and eight shows a day, sometimes for only ten people in a hospital ward.”

During that tour, which he said deeply moved him, Cash recorded several songs at Annex 14 NCO Club, Long Binh, Vietnam, that are featured on his posthumous album, “Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol. 3.” Johnny Cash also said his 1969 USO tour to Vietnam inspired the 1971 song, “Singing In Vietnam Talkin’ Blues.”

While all of the recipes we’ve tried from the USO Celebrity Cookbook have been fairly straightforward, Johnny Cash’s chili recipe is the simplest so far. Pre-mixed chili seasoning packets, canned ingredients and common spices like cumin make this one-pot wonder a great option for a lazy football Sunday dinner.

We whipped up this entire meal up in under an hour and spent just under $20 on all of the ingredients. Sirloin steak was the most expensive item we purchased for this hearty winter meal, but that didn’t make or break the chili’s flavor. If you’re on a tight budget, feel free to swap sirloin for a less-expensive meat like ground beef or chicken.

Even though this recipe can be served as soon as it’s done cooking, we recommend making this chili a day ahead so the flavors can combine.

Happy cooking!

Johnny Cash's "Old Iron Pot" Chili

Johnny Cash’s "Old Iron Pot” Chili

Adapted from the USO of Pioneer Valley Celebrity Cookbook.

Serves 4


Opening cans for Johnny Cash’s “Old Iron Pot” chili. | Photo credit Sandi Moynihan

  • 1 + 2/3 pound sirloin steak
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 package chili seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon chili con carne seasoning
  • Chili powder (to taste)
  • Cumin (to taste)
  • 1 white onion (chopped)
  • 1 14 ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1/3 can tomato paste
  • 1 4 ounce can chopped chili peppers
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

    Simmering Johnny Cash’s “Old Iron Pot” chili. | Photo credit Sandi Moynihan

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon chopped sage

  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme

  • 1 15.5 ounce can kidney beans

  • ¾ tablespoon sugar

  • Salt and pepper to taste


Heat oil in a large pot. Chop steak into squares and add to pan. Pour in packet of chili seasoning, chili con carne seasoning, chili powder and cumin. Cook for 5 minutes. Add onion, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, chili peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, sage, thyme, kidney beans, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes. Add additional spices to taste and water if the chili gets too thick. Remove from heat and serve with cheese on top.