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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!