Chili is a seemingly simple dish, but everyone makes it a different way. Some people keep their award-winning chili recipe as a closely guarded secret, while others will happily give you the recipe but won’t touch a bowl that has beans in it. You’ll find chili loaded up with all kinds of untraditional ingredients, too: butternut squash, sweet potatoes, olives or mushrooms.
We prefer a classic chili — one that’s made with ground beef and has plenty of rich tomato flavor — although sometimes we like it with beans, and sometimes we prefer it without. We’ll teach you how to make chili both ways, including a few variations.
How to Make Homemade Chili
This recipe for homemade chili makes a massive 16 servings (about 4 quarts). You could half the recipe, but we love having leftovers — they taste better than the first day! Use it to make chili cheese dogs, loaded nachos, chili stuffed baked potatoes or chili mac casserole.
If you still have chili in your fridge after a few days, pop it in the freezer, where it will stay good for up to six months.
- 3 pounds ground beef
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 medium green pepper, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 can (29 ounces) tomato puree
- 1 jar (16 ounces) salsa
- 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) beef broth
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons steak sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- For chili with beans: 2 cans (16 ounces each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- For chili without beans: 6 dried guajillo chilies, seeded, soaked for 15 minutes in hot water
- Optional garnish: chopped onion, shredded cheese, cilantro, diced avocado or sour cream
Step 1: Cook the meat
Grab a large stockpot or Dutch oven. This recipe makes about a gallon of chili, so make sure your pot is plenty big! Heat the pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef, onion, green pepper and celery. Use a large spoon to break up the chunks of beef as it cooks. When the meat is browned all the way through and the vegetables are tender, drain off the excess grease.
Step 2: Simmer away
Add the tomatoes, salsa, diced tomatoes, beef broth and seasonings. Add the beans if you’re making chili with beans. If not, drain the soaked chilies and puree them in a blender or food processor before adding them to the pot.
Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until the chili is nice and thick and the flavors have come together.
Step 3: Garnish and serve
Ladle the chili into bowls. Garnish each serving with chopped onions, cheese, cilantro, diced avocado and sour cream, if you like. The chili is delicious on its own, but a piece of buttery cornbread really completes the meal.
Looking for a spin on the classic recipe? Check out this collection of the best chili recipes of all time.
What Is the Best Secret Ingredient for Chili
There are all kinds of ways you can upgrade your favorite chili, from adding a splash of bourbon to swirling in some chocolate. My favorite way to take chili to the next level is to add a little Worcestershire sauce at the end. This flavor-enhancing ingredient is like an umami powerhouse, adding a burst of savory flavor that makes the chili feel complete as you eat it.
The possibilities for variation are endless here, but give these secret ingredients a try the next time you make chili.
- Try using coffee or beer instead of water to add depth of flavor.
- Add lime or orange zest at the end to add a burst of fresh flavor.
- Simmer the chili with a cinnamon stick to give it an extra level of spice.
- Add pureed chipotle peppers to make it super spicy.
- Swap out the beef for elk or venison to give it a wild-game spin.
How to Make Chili Thicker
The easiest way to thicken a chili with beans is to go at it with a potato masher. The beans will release starch as they’re crushed and thicken up the liquid. Don’t worry; there will still be plenty of intact beans left in the chili. For a no-bean chili, try adding two to three tablespoons of masa harina flour and simmering it in the chili for an extra five minutes. This gluten-free flour is usually used to make corn tortillas, but it thickens beautifully in a stew.
What to Make with Chili
Sweet or savory cornbread is the classic accompaniment to chili, but feel free to think outside the box. When we’re feeling lazy and don’t want to spend more time cooking dinner, a handful of tortilla chips, saltine crackers or a warmed flour tortilla works just as well as cornbread.
If you’re looking for vegetable side dishes to up the plant-based content of your dinner table, serve up a side salad, creamy coleslaw or one of these tasty non-lettuce salads. When we want to make the meal more filling, we usually opt for starchy vegetables like baked potatoes or corn on the cob.
How to Make Chili Ahead of Time
Chili stores exceptionally well, so don’t be afraid to make this dish ahead of time and reheat it when you’re ready to eat. You can easily meal prep this chili for the week by storing it in individual containers in the refrigerator. We think it tastes best when reheated on the stovetop over medium heat, but you could also use a microwave or a slow cooker.
For frozen chili, the first step is thawing the chili. The safest way to thaw frozen food is in the refrigerator overnight, but you could use a microwave to speed up the process if you’re in a pinch. Then, reheat the thawed chili on the stovetop or in the microwave.