Garden City’s Role in the Genesis of Frito Pie, the Turkey of the Super Bowl

Photo by Paul Duff

Photo by Paul Duff

The exact origins of Frito Pie, which isn’t a pie at all, are as varied as the variations of this hearty Super Bowl casserole. I have read that this savory chili-like concoction was inspired by a dish made by Daisy Dean Doolin, the mother of Elmer Doolin who was the founder of Frito-Lay, a plausible explanation indeed. Ohioans, Texans and New Mexicans all lay claim to being the first to see that a marriage of chili, processed cheese and corn chips would last. Growing up in Garden City in the 1970s, I believed Frito Pie was a creation, albeit serendipitous, of a group of Garden City friends. A little journalistic investigation proved my culinary hunch correct.

Paul Duff, a high school friend, knows the real Frito Pie story. “This is the original Frito Pie recipe and all the ones on the cooking shows and on the internet are made up and I have no idea how they even knew the term Frito Pie to begin with, in that all their recipes are not pies either,” he says. “The original recipe was a result of some Garden City guys who were living in New Mexico in 1971 or 1972. They only had a few ingredients left in the kitchen cabinet of their adobe home. They put them all into a pot, heated up and it was good.”

It was so good that, upon returning to Garden City, the friends would host annual Frito Pie parties, washed down with plenty of Michelob. We Frito Pie eaters even had T-shirts made up to commemorate these tasty events. The Frito Pie standard bearer, Paul Duff, has been wowing his friends with this classic Garden City dish ever since, “because it’s fun, easy, delish, a hearty meal for winter and naturally goes with football and beer.” Paul was not only proud to share his recipe (more like a method), but to set the record straight as to the provenance of Frito Pie — New Mexico, by way of some guys from Garden City.

Photo by Paul Duff

Photo by Paul Duff

Frito Pie
serves plenty

2 pounds ground beef
1 red onion
2 cans refried beans
2 cans enchilada sauce (mild or hot, it’s up to you)
2 cans pinto beans
1 16 oz. bottle of chunky salsa
1 pound Velveeta cheese
1 large bag of Fritos Corn Chips
sour cream and/or guacamole, as a garnish

In a frying pan, saute the onion until softened and add the ground beef until cooked and brown. While the ground beef is browning, put the refried beans, enchilada sauce, pinto beans and salsa in a large pot and heat through. Add the cooked ground beef to the pot and heat until bubbly. Slice the Velveeta cheese into ¼-inch slices and place 5 or 6 slices on the top of the mixture, pressing them down into the casserole. Repeat this until all the cheese is added. Simmer, on low heat, until the cheese has fully melted. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and guacamole. Sprinkle liberally with Fritos (scoop-size is best), to use them as spoons. No utensils required. Serve with plenty of ice cold beer and napkins.

Classic Frito Pie t-shirt (circa 1978?) pilfered by Betsy's brother some years ago.

Classic Frito Pie T-shirt (circa 1978?) pilfered by Betsy’s brother some years ago.