5 Secret Ingredients That’ll Take Your Chili to the Next Level

Most of them are probably in your kitchen right now.

September 12, 2021
Instant Pot Chili

Instant Pot Chili

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

There are a lot of ways to make chili, each one as delicious as the next. And, while purists might disagree and say that the true recipe is made with just a handful of very specific ingredients, my taste buds would argue that the best batches often have one thing in common: a surprising twist. Whether it’s a flavor-boosting liquid, an unexpected seasoning or a genius add-in that gives the chili a nice, thick texture, there are so many simple ways to enhance your go-to recipe.

Better yet, a great secret ingredient doesn’t have to be difficult to source or cost a fortune. In fact, when it comes to chili I can think of five common grocery items (most of which are probably in your kitchen right now) that will effortlessly upgrade this classic comfort food.

Cocoa Powder

Chocolate might not be the first thing you think of when you’re making a batch of chili but it pairs perfectly with peppers. Adding just a teaspoon or two of unsweetened cocoa powder like we do in our Instant Pot Chili (pictured above) will make your go-to recipe rich and flavorful.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Beer

Why use water or stock as your liquid when you could add beer? Depending on which type you choose you’ll layer notes of toast, malt or even spice into your chili. For our Quick Spicy Chili we use a lager because it’s smooth, clean flavor doesn’t distract from the smokiness of the chipotle peppers.

Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich
Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

03_Chili_Light_023.tif

Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin ,Food Stylist: Rebecca JurkevichProp Stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Con Poulos Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Con Poulos Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Coffee

A cup of strong, brewed coffee will work wonders for your pot of chili, imparting a deep, roasted flavor that will make the chili taste like it simmered away all day long. For maximum flavor, reduce the coffee along with a blend of tomato paste, aromatic veggies and spices like we do in our Spicy Vegetarian Chili.

Vegan Lentil Chili

Vegan Lentil Chili

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

Cinnamon

The beauty of ground cinnamon is that it brings a warmth to your chili, without being spicy. It works well with other flavors commonly found in chili (like tomato, cumin and chile powder) so you only need a little bit to achieve the desired balance. In our Vegan Lentil Chili we use one half of a teaspoon for the entire batch.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Masa Harina

If you’re not adding masa harina to your chili, you’re missing out! Its purpose is two-fold: it lends a subtle corn sweetness and it helps thicken the chili. If you’re looking for a recipe to show you how to incorporate it, try Ree’s Simple Perfect Chili — it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Related Content:

Next Up

5 Mochi Recipes That'll Make You Fall in Love with Chewy Desserts

Sweet rice flour is the secret behind these treats.

5 Quick Pickle Recipes For All Your Fresh Summer Produce

These pickled veggies can last, but once you taste ’em, they probably won’t last for long!

The Best 3-Ingredient Recipes We Found on TikTok

These super simple, recipe developer-vetted recipes come together as easy as one, two, three.

8 Foods You Should Be Keeping in Your Freezer

Your freezer is for more than preserving foods — it can enhance them, too!

Cat Lovers, It's Time to Whip Up These Cute Cat-Shaped Desserts

What else would you possibly be doing on National Cat Day?

13 Different Ways the World Eats Pasta

Here’s how countries around the globe adapted this Italian staple.

The Dessert That Never Stopped Bringing Everyone Together

As a child, I fell in love with the unfailing gravitational pull of a store-bought fruit tart. Here’s how I recreated it.

What Would a Haitian Dessert Look Like Without Colonial Influence?

A classically trained pastry chef reimagines Haitian cuisine, free of European influence.

My Mom’s Simple Swap Makes Tteokbokki Foolproof

Say goodbye to mediocre leftovers and overcooked rice cakes.