12 Tips for Making Best-Ever Chili

Some people keep their award-winning chili tips close to their chest, but we're spilling the beans and telling you all our secrets!

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steak seasoning blends
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Make your own chili spice

The very best way to take any type of chili to the next level is to make your own blend of spices. The best spice for chili is chili seasoning, which usually contains ground chilies, garlic powder, ground cumin and Mexican oregano. Have some fun with making your own signature blend. Use our recipe for homemade chili seasoning to get started.

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Top view of white bowl full of small carrot cubes over wooden table
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Add a touch of sweetness

Chili is rich, deep and often spicy, so adding a sweet ingredient is a great way to create balanced flavor. We’ve found that adding diced carrots is the easiest way to add natural sweetness, but you can also use vegetables like sweet potatoes or winter squash. If veggie-filled chili isn’t your thing, look to sweet ingredients like ketchup or brown sugar.

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Chili for a Crowd
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Cook it long enough

How long you cook chili absolutely makes a difference. Chili recipes need time for flavors to meld and come together, and collagen-rich meat (like chuck roast or ground beef) needs 90 minutes to two hours to fully break down and become tender. If you don’t have time for a long simmer, try using a slow cooker or making it the day before.

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Raw green Organic Jalapeno Peppers Ready to Cook
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Spice it up a little

Some people like their chili super spicy, but even mild spice will make your chili taste much better. Keep things subtle by soaking dried guajillo chilies in hot water for 30 minutes, pureeing the peppers and adding it to your chili. Or go a little spicier by using sliced fresh jalapenos or serrano peppers. Finally, you can add ground cayenne pepper or canned chipotles in adobo to create a really spicy kick.

Our Culinary Director’s best chili recipe calls for Ancho chilies. These chilies are dried poblano peppers, and they have a mild, sweet flavor.

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Unrecognizable woman making lunch in the kitchen and stirring soup.
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Always bloom your spices

It’s not always about what spices you use, but rather how you use them. Adding salt and chili spices at the end won’t infuse the dish with true depth of flavor. Instead, bring out the flavor of the spices by adding them when you brown the meat or soften the onions. This “blooming” process releases the spice’s essential oils.

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Best Ever Chili
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Add a secret ingredient or two

What’s the best secret ingredient to make your chili taste better? Some people swear that a shot of bourbon adds the perfect level of heat, while others use coffee, cinnamon or chocolate to add an extra depth of flavor. Sometimes, all you need is an acidic ingredient (like lime juice or vinegar) at the end to bring the flavors together.

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firehouse chili
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Get it to the right level of thickness

The best chili is thick and comforting, but don’t despair if your chili turns out a little on the thin side. We know a few easy ways to thicken chili, like mashing up some of the beans or adding a pinch of masa harina corn flour.

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Three types of beans being rinsed in a colander.
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Don’t forget to drain the beans

When you open a can of beans, it’s surrounded by a thick, goopy liquid. While the liquid does contain starch from the beans, using it will thin out your chili more than we like. Instead, drain and rinse the beans before adding them to the pot.

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Black beans in a wooden bowl, black beans in a wooden spoon on a wood background
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Better yet, skip the canned beans

Just like homemade chili is better than canned chili, freshly cooked beans will make your chili taste better. Canned beans can become unappealing and mushy after hours of simmering, but dried beans retain the perfect texture. You can also infuse extra flavor into the beans by brining them in saltwater overnight—use about 3 tablespoons salt and 4 quarts water for 1 pound beans.

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CHIBA, JAPAN - AUGUST 9: A customer looks at a U.S. beef product at a branch of U.S. owned supermarket Costco on August 9, 2006 in Chiba, Japan. The Japanese government lifted the ban on the import of U.S. beef on July 27, and the first shipment of cargo, which faced seperate inspections from both the Japanese Health Ministry and Agriculture Ministry, arrived on August 7. The ban had been in place since January 20, when inspectors found banned material in a shipment of veal from a U.S. supplier, just two months after lifting a previous two year import ban. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
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Choose your meat wisely

What meat is best for chili? Well, you certainly have choices! When we use ground beef, we like asking the butcher to grind it fresh from chuck roast, creating a super meaty flavor. Don’t be afraid to use chunks of meat, either. Chuck roast and brisket are our favorites for beef chili, but we also like using elk, venison or chicken thighs. Want to skip the meat? Try our best vegan chili recipe.

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Cooking Chili Con Carne in Dutch Oven over Logfire Outside
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Always brown the meat

It’s tempting to throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker and walk away, but your chili will turn out so much better if you take the time to brown it first. It creates a deeper, richer flavor, and it creates an excellent opportunity to toast your spices, too.

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Young Family Eating Chili Con Carne
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Serve your chili with plenty of garnish options

The best bowl of chili is even better when you top it with fresh flavors. Sour cream and shredded cheese are classic, but we also love using pungent green onions, spicy pickled jalapenos, herbaceous cilantro, acidic lime, creamy avocado or crunchy tortilla chips. Have some fun with it!

Up Next: Keep the winter blahs away with our best chili recipes.

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay has been writing for digital publications for seven years and has 10 years of experience working as a professional chef. She became a full-time food writer at Taste of Home in 2023, although she’s been a regular contributor since 2017. Throughout her career, Lindsay has been a freelance writer and recipe developer for multiple publications, including Wide Open Media, Tasting Table, Mashed and SkinnyMs. Lindsay is an accomplished product tester and spent six years as a freelance product tester at Reviewed (part of the USA Today network). She has tested everything from cooking gadgets to knives, cookware sets, meat thermometers, pizza ovens and more than 60 grills (including charcoal, gas, kamado, smoker and pellet grills). Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, especially when she can highlight local, seasonal ingredients. As a writer, Lindsay loves sharing her skills and experience with home cooks. She aspires to motivate others to gain confidence in the kitchen. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her cooking with fresh produce from the farmers market or planning a trip to discover the best new restaurants.