Soups and stews may get all the attention when the temperatures start to dip, but the best chili recipes are just as deserving of a spot on your wintertime cooking roster. After all, this dish is practically the epitome of cold weather cooking—and not just because its name sounds “chilly.”
Typically made in just one pot (whether on the stove in a large pot or in a slow-cooker) and brimming with meaty, bean-y goodness, it’s designed to give you the greatest amount of energy from the least amount of effort. It’s pretty much the perfect antidote to short, icy, energy-sapping days.
Chili is easy to make, not too high on prep time, and infinitely adaptable. That’s because the main ingredients used, like beans and meat, come in so many different varieties. As long as you follow a fairly basic formula, you’re free to mix and match at your discretion.
For example, any type of bean (from white to pinto and even lentils) are totally fair game in a pot of chili. And the rest of the classic chili ingredients are just as varied. Does your recipe call for ground turkey but all you have on hand is ground beef? Make the swap! Similarly, if you’re out of dried chili powder but do have a can of chipotles in adobo on hand, you can make the switch without worry. Even when it comes to what to serve your chili with—whether that be a bowl of steamed rice or crispy French fries—the possibilities are endless. No matter how much you experiment, it’s hard to go wrong with this foolproof dish. Plus, chili reheats extremely well and generally makes a whole bunch of servings, meaning you can make it once and get several easy and delicious weeknight dinners or weekday lunches out of it.
Before you start riffing, it’s important to know a few basics to ensure you always get a dish that actually tastes like chili and not just a glorified stew. Use the tips below to find out how to make chili with success, no matter what ingredients you plan on using.
What ingredients do you need to make chili?
Gill Boyd, culinary arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, tells SELF that classic chili recipes typically consist of four core ingredients—beans, meat, veggies (like tomatoes, corn, or bell peppers), and chili peppers or chili powder, the ingredient which gives the dish both its iconic name and fiery red hue—but the way in which you combine them is totally up to your preference.
Boyd says that one of the easiest and most recognizable versions of chili contains a mix of red kidney beans, beef (whether regular or lean ground beef, or even chunks), and tomatoes (think: crushed or diced tomatoes, though you can also add in tomato paste or tomato sauce too) but that you shouldn’t feel confined to this one option. There are vegetarian versions that forgo meat entirely without sacrificing flavor by using multiple types of beans. On the flipside, some options, like classic Texas-style chili, actually skip the beans in favor of using more meat. Still others use other kinds of chili seasonings, such as ground cumin, ground black pepper, oregano, or cilantro—or even some brown sugar for a hint of sweet.
What’s the secret ingredient to a great chili recipe?
Boyd says that the secret to a great homemade chili is what you use to season the base. In particular, chili peppers in some form or another are non-negotiable—without them, your chili will actually just be a stew. The easiest options and what most home cooks use are chili powder and cayenne pepper or some mix of the two, but any chili variety (even canned, whole dried, or fresh ones) can give you the flavor you’re looking for.
How long does chili take to cook?
Exactly how long your chili needs to stew depends largely on what kinds of ingredients and cooking methods you’re using. For example, you can expect a longer cook time if you’re starting with dried beans instead of canned, or large cuts of meat rather than pre-ground alternatives, says Boyd. Similarly, stovetop and Crockpot chili will take a lot longer to prepare than Instant Pot versions. If you’re sautéing any ingredients first, like your garlic or onions, that will take some extra time too.
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