18 Things That Will Make Your Chili SO Much Better

Chili is a cold-weather staple because it's hearty, warming and incredibly versatile. From unexpected spices to a splash of liquor, here are the secret ingredients home cooks are using to take their chili to the next level.

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Sprinkle in Cumin

My dad and father-in-law are the gurus in our chili-loving clan. But after my honeymoon to New Mexico, where I was inspired by the fresh and fragrant chile peppers at the Santa Fe farmers market, I felt it was time to introduce them to my spicy, meaty version with a touch of masa harina, dubbed the best chili recipe. —Sarah Farmer, Taste of Home Culinary Director
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Open a Bottle of Beer

A cup of chili is always a pleasant way to warm up on a cold day. This one has a combination of budget-friendly chuck steak and brats in a spicy broth. I like to serve it with a dollop of sour cream. —Betsy King, Duluth, Minnesota
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Sweeten It with Honey

This turkey chili easily turns into a vegetarian dish by leaving out the meat or replacing it with soy crumbles. A topping of goat cheese makes this full-flavored chili stand out from others. —Patricia Burk, North Canton, Ohio
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Layer Flavor with Marsala Wine

This is a healthy and filling meal that even the kids love! The satisfying chili is great for football games or potluck dinners. —Katti Scott, Manteo, North Carolina
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Squeeze a Lime

A lip-smacking touch of lime flavors Connie Thomas’s low-fat but filling family favorite. “I love relying on my slow cooker,” confides the Jensen, Utah cook. “Just fill it in the morning and come home to a wonderful, warm meal—no matter how busy the day!”
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Add Diced Apples

Nothing says fall like chili and apples. I use smoked paprika to give this slightly sweet chili a smoky kick. —Joyce Moynihan, Lakeville, Minnesota
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Thicken Things with Cornmeal

This full-flavored, medium-hot, Texas-style chili tastes even better the second day. —Michelle Smith, Running Springs, California
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Give It a Shot of Bourbon

Looking to warm up this season? Add a splash of bourbon to your dish. Seriously! Food blogger Christine Carlson shared her tip for making a flavor-boosted chili that’ll send the winter doldrums packing. In addition, Carlson loads in soy chorizo, mushroom, kale and garam marsala. Check out more of her creations here.

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Stir in Some Chocolate

Lentils were one of the crops on my dad's farm when we were growing up, and they're the best-kept secret in this delicious chili recipe. This dish is great for a large family meal and also freezes well. Everyone who asks for this recipe is amazed at how simple it is. —Cindy Agee, Lewiston, Idaho
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Splash in Some Vinegar

Every time we have a gathering or company, folks request this. My husband convinced me to enter it in a local chili contest, and I won third place! It's quick and easy. If I don't have fresh garlic, I use minced garlic from a jar. —Carrie Birdsall, Dallas, Georgia
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Add Peanut Butter

While spending time in the Southwest, I discovered Mexican peanut chicken and thought it would be fun to make it into a chili. Chipotle peppers give it a nice spice that's extra warming on a cold day. —Crystal Schlueter, Northglenn, CO
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Give It a Pop of Turmeric

Chili Time is any time you want to make a hungry crowd happy. This creamy chili is a must at my soup party every year. —Theresa Baehr, Williamsburg, Michigan
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Go Crazy with Quinoa

This heart-healthy turkey quinoa chili is not only tasty, it's a vitamin and protein powerhouse! —Sharon Giljum, San Diego, California
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Reach for a Can of Pumpkin

My family is crazy about this slow cooker chili because it uses ingredients you don't usually find in chili. Believe it or not, I discovered that pumpkin is what makes the dish so special. Cook up a big batch and freeze some for later; it tastes even better reheated. —Deborah Vliet, Holland, Michigan
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Drizzle in Barbecue Sauce

Served with a hot loaf of bread and a side salad, this slow-cooker chili makes a hearty meal. The recipe was inspired by two friends when we were talking about food at a potluck barbecue. —Phyllis Shyan, Elgin, Illinois
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Try Whole Hominy

Hunker down for the night and get cozy with this filling chili. Loaded with beef chuck roast and convenient staples, such as diced tomatoes, green chiles and seasonings, it’s a satisfying supper that would be yummy served with a side of warm tortillas or tortilla chips for dipping. —Steve Westphal, Wind Lake, Wisconsin
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Crush Up Fennel Seed

This hearty and spicy stew is wonderful with fresh rolls and your favorite green salad. —Karen Gorman, Gunnison, Colorado
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Pour in a Cup of Joe

I love this slow-cooker turkey chili recipe. Surprise ingredients like coffee and wine give it a rich, deep flavor that we balance by topping it off with avocado and green onion. Make a big batch and freeze any leftovers! —Terri Crandall, Gardnerville, Nevada

Make sure to try some of these techniques out at your next chili cook-off!

Nicole Doster
With nearly a decade of experience creating content for various lifestyle publishers and eCommerce brands, Nicole combines her love of at-home cooking with her expertise in product reviews and digital content creation to lead the award-winning shopping editorial team across Taste of Home, Family Handyman and Reader's Digest. As TMB's content director, affiliate, she oversees strategy, operations and planning for all product testing and shopping content, to bring readers recommendations and inspiration you can trust. Before joining the affiliate team, Nicole edited hundreds of recipe and food lifestyle articles for Taste of Home working closely with our Test Kitchen team and network of contributors. With a passion for baking, comfort food and hosting get-togethers you'll often see Nicole testing new products that make life easier. As a former barista in Chicago and Baltimore, she's slung hundreds of cappuccinos and doppio espressos in her lifetime and she will talk your ear off about the best gadgets to make cafe-quality coffee at home. When she's not hunched over her laptop, she's either fixating on her latest DIY home renovation or on a walk with her rescue pup, Huey.
Mark Hagen
The former owner of his own catering business, Mark’s been part of the Taste of Home team for the past 20 years. His work has also appeared in Quick Cooking, Light & Tasty and Country Woman magazines as well as in various Pillsbury and Betty Crocker cookbooks. When he’s not spending time in the kitchen with his Westie, Rocco, he’s working in his yard, doing stand-up comedy or devouring a platter of nachos. (Most likely the latter.)