Everything You Need to Know About How to Make Chili
Plus how to remedy the most annoying problems, like how to thicken a too-thin chili and how to adjust if it's too spicy.
By Heath Goldman for Food Network Kitchen
Heath is a culinary editor at Food Network.
There are a number of different regional varieties of chili and, based on the reviews on Food Network Kitchen chili recipes alone, it’s clear that people have strong opinions on its thickness, heat level and ingredients. Read on for an overview of each type, as well as tips and tricks on how to make chili and troubleshoot it — no matter which variety you’re making.
Types of Chili
Here we discuss a few of the main varieties.
Texas-style chili is thick and meaty. Beans are never used in it, and purists don’t include tomato either. Chili con carne is traditionally made with ground or cubed beef chuck, beef stock, dried chilis or chili powder, cumin, onion and garlic. Masa harina – corn tortilla flour – thickens the stew as it simmers. Often a classic “bowl of red” is served all on its own without any other toppings. Of course, part of the fun of chili-making is adding unique twists, so plenty of iterations on classic chili con carne exist.
Chili from Cincinnati, Ohio is a midwestern staple that’s completely different from chili con carne. This style is much thinner than chili con carne and includes ground beef, tomato paste, unsweetened cocoa powder and a handful of spices ranging from cinnamon to chili powder. It’s traditionally served over spaghetti or a hot dog and can be topped with shredded cheese, beans and chopped onion.
Although classic chili is not a technical term, we’re using this category to discuss the type of chili that typically includes ground meat and beans and might be topped with sour cream, sliced jalapenos, chips or any other number of goodies. White chili is a subset of this category, made with chicken or turkey and white beans. Vegetarian chili falls into this category too, as do other variations such as crockpot or Instant Pot chili.
The exact ingredients you’re using will vary, of course, based on the type of chili you’re making. But here’s a general formula.
Meat (beef chuck, pork, chicken or turkey)
Aromatics (yellow onion, garlic, bell pepper)
Herbs and spices
Chili powder or dried chilis
Water or stock
Tomato (tomato paste and/or canned tomatoes)
Beans (kidney beans, black beans or white beans)
Thickening agent (masa harina, tortilla chips, tortillas)
Toppings (sour cream, shredded cheese, scallions, jalapenos, tortilla chips)
How to Make Chili
How to Make Chili on the Stove
- Add vegetable oil to a Dutch oven or large pot and brown the meat over medium high heat. Transfer it to a plate.
- Add the aromatics and cook them over medium heat until softened.
- Stir in the spices, tomato paste, if using and season with salt. Stir the mixture until everything is fragrant and the tomato paste darkens.
- Add the water or stock, any tomatoes and the browned beef to the pot, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens.
- Stir in the beans and any other thickeners during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
It's not often that our test kitchen labels a recipe as "the best," so when they do, we tend to listen up. This recipe delivers great chili fast. It uses ground beef, kidney beans and the perfect blend of spices.
How to Make Chili In a Crockpot
- Add the meat to the slow cooker and toss it with the spices and salt. Stir in the beans and any other thickeners like crushed tortilla chips.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook until the meat is tender, about 8 hours.
- Season the chili with salt to taste.
How to Make Chili In an Instant Pot
- Turn your Instant Pot to the sauté setting. Add vegetable oil, the meat and seasonings and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned.
- Add the aromatics to the Instant Pot and sauté until softened. Stir in beans, tomatoes or any other ingredients.
- Follow the manufacturer's guide for locking the lid and preparing to cook. Set to pressure cook on high for 10 minutes.
- After the pressure-cook cycle is complete, follow the manufacturer's guide for quick release and wait until the quick-release cycle is complete.
How to Thicken Chili
Buh-bye, thin, watery chili. There are several ways you can thicken chili. For even more details, check out our story How to Thicken Soups, Sauces, Chili and Other Foods.
- Create a slurry. Whisk together 1 part cornstarch or flour and 1 part water, then mix this slurry into the chili and simmer until it thickens.
- Mix in a starchy ingredient. Mix in some mashed beans, refried beans, crushed tortilla chips or crumbled tortilla chips. Just be sure to taste or adjust the seasoning afterwards.
- Simmer the chili longer. Cook chili long enough, and liquid will evaporate, giving the stew a thicker consistency.
How to Thicken Chili In a Crockpot
Thickening chili in a slow cooker might seem trickier than simply thickening it in a pot on the stove, but that’s not the case. Simply add 1 tablespoon of cornmeal, masa harina or polenta and then set the slow cooker to cook for about 10 more minutes.
How to Fix Chili That’s Too Spicy
- Add potato. Add two whole peeled russet potatoes to the chili and continue simmering it until the potatoes are cooked through. The potatoes will release starch, so add water as necessary to maintain your desired consistency. Once the potatoes are cooked through, remove them and save them for another use (chili mashed potatoes anyone?).
- Add a big pinch of sugar. Sugar is a miracle ingredient that counteracts spiciness and saltiness. It won’t actually make the chili less spicy, but it’ll trick your tastebuds. And don’t worry, it won’t make the chili taste sweet. It might even make the tomatoes in your chili taste even more tomatoey: naturally ripened tomatoes have a fair amount of sugar.
- Add cooling toppings. Creamy toppings like sour cream, avocado or even Greek yogurt might not change how spicy your chili is, but they’ll assuage your tongue.
- Remove some of the spicy chili and add more beans and tomatoes. As a last resort, you can add some new, non-spicy ingredients to the mixture and continue cooking the chili until the flavors meld.
What Goes with Chili?
Because chili is practically a meal unto itself, sides are quite often designed to be dunked into it. Cornbread (pictured above) is the most classic choice for soaking up all of that chili flavor, but feel free to mix things up and make some garlic bread, focaccia, soft pretzels, cheese quesadillas or even grilled cheese sandwiches for dunking. Crunchy accoutrements like homemade tortilla chips or, let’s get crazy, onion rings are always welcome. Many recipes call serving chili over a grain like white rice, feel free to riff and turn that into another grain like farro. Baked potatoes are a fantastic, classic side. If you want to keep things on the lighter side, opt for an crunchy acidic salad like a simple green salad.
Over 600 reviewers come back again and again to make Ree’s crowd-pleasing recipe, which uses simple ground beef, a few spices, masa harina and two types of beans —plus all the classic toppings. Bookmark this recipe for a dose of classic-good comfort.
The secret to super flavorful, never-fatty beef chili? Starting with coarsely ground beef chuck – not just any old type of ground beef. The meat slowly braises in this recipe until it’s fall-apart-tender and melds with all the other flavors in the pot.
Ground chicken, white navy beans, toasted spices and three kinds of chile peppers, customizable to your heat level bring the flavor in this ultimate white chicken chili recipe. Towards the end of cooking, you’ll simmer torn corn tortillas in the pot until the chili becomes satisfyingly thick.
Sure, this recipe calls for a lean cut of meat, but don’t let that deceive you. You’ll develop layers of spicy, savory flavor by sauteing tomato paste, spices, aromatics and ground turkey in layers – then adding in a bunch of goodies (hi, black beans and crushed tortilla chips) simmering everything in a mixture of chicken broth and fire-roasted tomatoes.
Surprise, grated cauliflower florets provide the texture of ground beef in this smart vegetarian recipe. Instead of simply leaning on chili powder, this recipe relies on brewed coffee, chipotle chile pepper in adobo and unsweetened cocoa powder for complex smoky flavor.
Look no further for a fantastic crockpot chili recipe. Unlike many chili recipes have a long list of ingredients, this set-it-and-forget-it recipe calls for just nine ingredients stirred together and left to slow cook.
Look no further for a beanless chili recipe, which is thickened thanks in part to a can of pure pumpkin puree.