Best Chili Recipe

A large bowl of chili with a wooden spoon sticking out of it next to a cutting board with chopped limes and vegetables

Best Chili Recipe

  1. Brown your ground beef in a large Dutch oven.
  2. Sauté onions, peppers and garlic and set aside with ground beef.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp of oil and cook spices, tomato paste and brown sugar. 
  4. Add beer to deglaze the pan
  5. Add broth, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, cocoa powder, onions, peppers, and garlic. Simmer for 15 min.
  6. Add ground beef and chili beans, and mix all ingredients well.
  7. Simmer uncovered for 1 hr.
  8. Serve into bowls, add sour cream and other desired toppings, and enjoy!

Bowls of chili with cheese on top next to a bowl of cheese and with peppers on the table

Whether you’re making a big pot for a party of friends or craving a hearty meal on a cold winter night, homemade chili is always a great choice if you have the right recipe. The complex flavors of a really good beef chili make it the quintessential comfort food. As with everything though, there are some mediocre classic chili recipes and there are some knock-your-socks-off amazing chili recipes. And please don’t bother making a mediocre chili recipe.

If you’ve ever been to a chili cook-off, you may have noticed that some people just love to make their homemade chili as spicy as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love some kick to my beef chili. But too much heat just masks all the other delicious flavors. 

I’ve made so many chili recipes over the years, that I could surely qualify as an amateur chili expert...if there was such a thing. There are so many great chile recipes out there, but I always seemed to add or tweak every recipe I tried, so I finally came up with my own version of a homemade chili recipe that I think is perfectly flavorful, complex and spicy-but-not-too-spicy. 

This is also an easy beef chili recipe to adapt for the Instant Pot...see Pro Tips below. 

What You’ll Learn:

  1. Best Chili Recipe
  2. The History of Chili
  3. Chili Recipe Variations
  4. How Do You Store Chili?
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Best Chili Recipe

Prep Time:

Cook Time:

Total Time:

Yield:

30 min.

1.5 hrs.

Approx. 2 hrs.

12 servings


Ingredients:

  • 3  lbs ground beef 
  • 2  large onions, finely chopped
  • 5  garlic cloves, minced
  • 5  jalapeno peppers (3 minced for chili; 2 sliced for topping)
  • 1  red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2  28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 3  tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef broth (or chicken broth)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1  tbsp cumin
  • 1  tsp coriander
  • 1  tsp smoked paprika
  • 2  tsp garlic powder
  • 1  tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper 
  • 1 tbsp chili powder (My go-to is always Spicewalla’s)
  • 2  tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1  12 oz. bottle of dark beer (brown ale or a dark lager)
  • 2  tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 3-4 cans of beans (pinto, kidney and black beans)
  • 1  tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

Tools You’ll Need:

Instructions:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium. Season ground beef with salt and pepper and brown it (in batches if necessary). Set aside on a plate.
  2. Add 1 tbsp of oil, add onions, bell pepper and jalapeno peppers, and sauté until soft. Add minced garlic and sauté 1 more minute. Set aside on a separate plate. 
  3. Add 1 tsbp. oil. When oil is hot, add cumin, oregano, garlic powder, coriander, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. Cook for 1 minute. Scrape the spices off the pan when they start to stick. Add tomato paste and brown sugar. Stir and cook for another minute.
  4. Pour in beer to deglaze the pan.
  5. Add beef broth, crushed tomatoes, chili powder and cocoa powder. Add back in onions, garlic and peppers. Stir and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add back in ground beef; add in black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans.
  7. Stir to mix all ingredients well. Simmer uncovered for 1 hr, stirring occasionally. 
  8. Depending on desired heat level, you may want to add another tsp or two of chili powder or cayenne pepper. 
  9. Serve into bowls and add sour cream and your other desired toppings!

Chili Toppings

  • sour cream
  • shredded cheese
  • chopped cilantro
  • sliced jalapeno peppers
  • sliced avocado
  • tortilla or corn chips
  • green onions
  • lime wedges

Pro Tips:

  • One lb. of dried beans is the equivalent of about 4 cans of beans, so you can also use equal amounts (⅓ lb each) of dried pinto, black and kidney beans. Soak overnight and cook in Instant Pot for 30 min. on high pressure before adding to chili. 
  • To make Instant Pot chili, remove your cooked beans and set aside. After rinsing out your pot, add your oil and sauté onion, pepper, garlic and ground beef in batches. When all is cooked, follow recipe instructions above and then cook on “Slow Cook” for 1 hr, stirring occasionally. 
  • I like to use darker beer because it gives a deeper flavor, but if you don’t have one on hand, or if you don’t like the flavor of dark beer, any lager will work as well. 
  • You can use this exact same recipe and sub ground venison, ground turkey or ground lamb. 
  • If you’re a real purist and want to go the extra mile with your chili, make your own chili powder from dried Ancho and Pasilla chile peppers and cumin seeds toasted and ground in a spice grinder. These give a deep smoky and sweet flavor. Add a pinch of Mexican oregano and garlic powder and you have homemade chili powder!
  • Don’t forget to serve your chili with a side of cornbread!

2. The History of Chili

Two white bowls filled with chili and cheese next to a white napkin and a spoon on a wooden table

While there is some disagreement about exactly where chili originated, it is generally believed that chili has Mexican roots but is now mostly an American dish. Stews made with seasoned chili pepper have been traced back to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitilan which is modern-day Mexico City. Writings and recipes with ‘chile con carne’, or chili with meat, date back to the 1850s during the Mexican-American War. A mixture of dried beef and chili peppers, suet and salt was made into bricks that could then be taken to army encampments and reheated in pots. 

Chili eventually became a commonly prepared meal in northern Mexico and southern Texas, particularly San Antonio where “chili queens” popularized the stew in their inexpensive “chili joints”. The San Antonio Chili Stand at the World’s Fair in Chicago introduced chili to more Americans, and “chili parlors” began to pop up all over the west and midwest during the 20s as commercialized chili powder became more widely available. During the Great Depression, it is believed that chili parlors may have kept many hungry, destitute people from starvation. 

Different chili styles began to develop in different parts of the country as well. For example, Cincinnati chili is a unique style of chili that developed from the culinary traditions of the Greek immigrant community in the Cincinnati area. 

Chili’s popularity increased even more during the years of the Lyndon Johnson administration because, as a native Texan, he was a well-known venison chili lover. He named his recipe the Pedernales River chili, and Ladybird Johnson printed the recipe on cards and mailed them out. Then in 1977, chili was declared the “state food of Texas” after commercial chili manufacturers lobbied the state legislature. 

3. Chili Variations

Bowl of vegetarian chili with beans and vegetables next to two dark wooden spoons

    Though a beef chili recipe is the most common, there are so many chili variations that are worth a try. Here are some of my favorites!

    4. How Do You Store Chili?

    5 plastic containers of sauce in a home freezer with more food in the background

      Chili is one of the best and easiest meals to freeze! In fact, isn’t that part of the reason we decide to make chili in the first place!? 

      When freezing leftover chili, allow it to cool completely. After it has cooled, fill your containers, leaving enough room for the chili to expand a little as it freezes. I’ve found that freezing them in 16 oz. hard BPA-free plastic containers or thick reusable food-grade silicone bags work best. You can freeze chili for up to 3 months.

      When you’re ready to reheat your chili, it’s best to remove it from the freezer and put in the refrigerator to thaw about 24 hours before you’re planning to eat it. For best results, reheat your chili in a stock pot over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally for approx. 10 minutes or until chili is sufficiently heated all the way through. Add a little chicken broth if it needs more liquid.

      5. Frequently Asked Questions

      Two black bowls of chili sauce with red chilli peppers on the table next to them

      What do I do if my chili is too liquidy after I add the beer?

      True, the beer and beef broth add a good bit of liquid to your chili. Some of it will cook down, but if you do need to thicken your chili after it’s been simmering for about an hour, add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch...more if needed. 

      How do I add more flavor to my beef chili?

      Always start by adding a little salt at a time. Stir and taste before adding more. Salt makes everything taste a little more like itself, but you can quickly ruin a dish by making it too salty. My recipe calls for only 1 tsp of salt, which isn’t much. So slowly add more salt to taste after the chili is done. 

      This chili recipe should have plenty of flavor with the spices and chili seasoning, but if you want just a little more interesting kick, add a little mango habanero hot sauce or even lime chipotle sauce. 

      Can I use other types of meat in place of ground beef in my chili?

      Yes! Though ground beef is the most common protein in a chili recipe, chuck beef, brisket and short ribs do really well. Lamb and pork shoulder can also be used. For anything other than ground beef though, cut the meat into 2-inch cubes. Ground turkey can also be used, as well as shredded chicken, but you’ll want to reduce your cooking time since poultry meat can easily dry out. And, of course, venison or buffalo can also be substituted for ground beef. 

      Can tomato sauce be used in place of crushed tomatoes? 

      If you’re whipping up your chili without a pre-planned trip to the grocery, yes, tomato sauce can replace crushed tomatoes if that’s what you have in your pantry. But tomato sauce will not have as much texture. One solution would be to use equal parts tomato sauce and diced tomatoes if you have it. 

      Can you make chili in a crock pot or slow cooker? 

      Yes! You can absolutely make slow cooker chili, but brown your meat and sauté the onions, peppers, spices, etc. in a skillet first. Add liquid to deglaze and then pour into the slow cooker before adding the rest of the ingredients. Cook on medium in the slow cooker for 1.5 hrs. 

      What about the argument over beans vs. no beans in classic chili? 

      Some people argue that beans do NOT belong in a traditional beef chili recipe. Fine. But chili beans add such great flavor, texture and nutrition, how can you argue against them? Pinto bean, black bean, kidney bean or even navy bean chili is hard to beat! I prefer soaking and cooking dried beans, but canned beans work just as well. 

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      Written by Meredith Daniel Sims

      Devoted follower of the farm-to-table scene, Meredith is most well-known for her ability to whip up a gourmet meal in the tiniest of spaces, including her camper van.