Firehouse Foodies

Firehouse Foodies: Firehouse Chili from the Oaklyn VFD

Firehouse Foodies

When we shared the first Firehouse Foodies recipe on our blog back in August, we thought it would be a fun way of showcasing some of the culinary skills that can be found in just about any American fire company and the details that go into mealtimes in the firehouse. To our complete delight, many of you loved the new recipe just as much as you enjoyed learning a little bit about the firefighter behind it. As a result we have decided to bring Firehouse Foodies back and turn it into a regular feature.

Our second Firehouse Foodie recipe comes to us from Engineer Gregg Burger of the Oaklyn Volunteer Fire Department in New Jersey. Gregg has been an active member of the Oaklyn VFD for 14 years and when he is not volunteering at the firehouse he is a medical nurse who enjoys spare time riding his Harley-Davidson 2002 Firefighter Ultra Classic, a special edition designed in honor of the 343 Firefighters who were lost on 9-11.

We can see from the information that Gregg has generously provided for us that he puts plenty of value in great food as well as in sitting down for a wholesome meal with his fellow firemen. This is evident not only because of the terrific recipe that he has allowed us to share here, but by his statements like, “It wouldn’t be unusual for me to make the 800 mile round trip to Buffalo to have Original Buffalo Wings for lunch in a day” and also, “Firehouse Chili would be my signature dish but there are several dishes that I enjoy making for my brothers in fire, which include Smoked Pulled Pork sandwiches on a fresh bakery roll.

Well both of those sound absolutely delicious to us, and we were lucky enough to score the recipe for his Firehouse Chili which we are sharing with you, right here.

Firehouse Chili

Created by: Gregg Burger

3 lbs. of lean ground beef (for vegetarian chili, substitute with 2 pkgs. of Soy Crumbles)
2 cans of kidney beans (one dark red and one light red)
1 med red onion
1 med yellow onion
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
2 large cans of peeled whole Italian tomatoes
2 small cans of tomato paste
1 ½ tablespoons of Chili Powder
1/3 cup of brown sugar (light or dark)
1 ½ teaspoons of salt (optional)
1 ½ teaspoons of black pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)
½ tablespoon smoked paprika (optional)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

The good thing about this recipe is that nothing needs to be accurately measured because it’s all according to your taste.

  • Start by opening the cans of beans and pouring the contents into a large cast iron pot, soup pot, or crock pot. Drain the liquid from the cans of tomatoes into the pot, then coarsely slice the whole tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and place them into the pot. Turn on medium heat and cover the pot with a lid.
  • Thoroughly cook the lean ground beef in a cast iron skillet or frying pan while adding salt and pepper, then drain the meat and add it to the pot. While the oil is hot in the skillet add the chili powder and optional paprika and red pepper flakes to release the flavor into the oil. If you are using vegetarian soy crumbles, skip the meat step, heat the olive oil in the skillet and then add spices.
  • Stir for a minute and add the coarsely chopped onions, stirring occasionally until they become translucent. Transfer the contents of the skillet to the pot. Bring the contents of the pot to a low boil and add the coarsely chopped peppers, brown sugar, and the 2 cans of tomato paste. If cooking vegetarian, add the soy crumbles at this point.
  • Let the pot simmer on low heat for about ½ hour so the peppers cook and become softer while retaining their colorful appearance. Uncover and continue to simmer, tasting and adding any additional spices to suit your palate. If it’s too soupy, let it boil down, and if it’s too thick, add some water and cover.
    Serves 15-20 people depending on the size of bowls and number of refills.

Now that we’ve shared this tasty recipe for Firehouse Chili, we’d like to share some details about our featured Chef Gregg Burger, as well as how meals are managed at Oaklyn VFD. We asked Gregg some of our traditional Firehouse Foodies questions and here is what he had to say:

How important are meals at your fire company and how often do you have them?
The Oaklyn Fire Department has been an all-volunteer organization serving our community since 1902 and as far back as anyone can remember, we have been cooking for ourselves. Every Monday night we have either a business meeting or a training drill that takes place shortly after dinnertime for most people. When we’re done, some members haven’t had dinner yet or have worked up an appetite training, so we’re all hungry. Having a light meal serves to not only extinguish that hunger but also gives us a chance to socialize and review the training drill further.

How are cooking duties assigned to the other members in the firehouse?
Each week we have 2 members assigned in a 2-week rotation to handle food and beverages. During the first week one member will cook while the other member serves the food and beverages. Everyone is included in the list so each member only has to cook once or twice a year.

What is your own ‘Signature Dish’ that you enjoy making for everyone?
Firehouse Chili would be my signature dish but there are several that I enjoy making my brothers in fire which includes Smoked Pulled Pork sandwiches on a fresh bakery roll. We do have one member who is vegetarian, so I have adapted the chili recipe to ensure it fits in with his dietary requirements. When I make the Pulled Pork sandwiches in my smoker, I smoke some cauliflower to make a smoked cauliflower soup for him as well.

How many versions before you felt like you “got it right”?
I’ve been making the same chili recipe for many years and it’s always in big quantities, so adapting it for the firehouse didn’t take much tweaking. When I changed from a meat-based recipe to vegetarian, it was an easy change that most people didn’t notice right away. I traded soy crumbles for the lean hamburger in my recipe and since the texture is consistent with hamburger, there was not much difference. Soy takes on the flavor of the chili, so it was halfway through dinner before anyone heard about the change. I told them about it and some still couldn’t believe it wasn’t hamburger.

Are you a fan of any specific foods in general? What are some of your favorites? Do you have a favorite from another fellow firefighter?
I’m a fan of any food that is cooked by another member that I know has worked hard on to serve to us. It’s easy for us to have sandwiches since we can’t carry our utensils wherever we go and a local favorite is a pork roll, egg and cheese on a hard roll. That’s not to say that we don’t get creative at times. We’ve had homemade ravioli, long hot’s on Italian sausage sandwiches or Texas Tommie’s.

How important was it to create a dish that everyone would enjoy, while keeping the cost low?
When it’s your turn to cook, the general rule is to plan on a couple dozen servings while keeping the cost affordable for everyone. If I can serve pulled pork sandwiches for $2 each or chili for $1 a bowl, then I’ve accomplished my goal. Since we’re an all-volunteer department, we don’t have a food budget for the “crew”, so it’s a matter of cooking for your friends and covering the cost of the food. I’m sure I could charge $6 – $8 for a sandwich but there is no intent of making a profit.

What feedback have you received from your fellow firefighters on this recipe?
Feedback has been positive because I try to make it palatable for everyone. There are different taste ranges, so finding a middle of the road version is the key. I could make a fire-eating chili recipe that some may enjoy, but I have to keep in mind those who might not like chili that spicy. Making a flavorful chili with several subtle layers to taste can allow for everyone to enjoy each bite.

If you were on a deserted island with nothing but raw veggies, meat and water, what would be the ONE condiment/spice/ingredient you MUST HAVE with you?  
Since all the items mentioned are ingredients for a great chili, the only thing missing is the chili powder!

There you have it – a delicious recipe for Firehouse Chili and some keen insight on the firefighter and the department from which it came. Be sure to try this recipe out for yourselves, share it with your friends and families and check back for our next edition of Firehouse Foodies!


If you would like to contribute your signature fire house recipe and appear in Firehouse Foodies, contact our Editor at with your recipe, a brief bio, and an image that you would like to have posted with your recipe!


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