It took many years and hundreds of pots of chili, but I finally found THE ONE. Seriously – this is the absolute best chili recipe out there, thanks to the secret ingredients + perfect spice profile. You have to try it!
Certain foods just remind me of my childhood. Chili is one of them. I love chili so much I’d marry it. (Also filed under “things that used to be cool to say in middle school.”)
Fantastically, my hubby and kids do too (spoiler alert: I ended up marrying a hot Italian pilot instead of chili. Alas.) Aliza, my two-year-old, ate three grown-up-sized portions when I made it last week. So did I. Gracious, I’m getting hungry just writing this post. Good thing I have some of this simmering on the stove as I type.
So. I’ve been searching for the perfect chili recipe for years now. YEARS, I tell you! I just wanted a basic recipe that doesn’t call for any strange ingredients I don’t already have in my cupboards. I wanted it to taste good. Like really gooooood. Ya know what I’m sayin’?
I wanted it to be the kind of recipe I could throw together in 20 minutes, or I could dress it up and experiment with it when I felt like having fun. And did I mention it has to taste amazing?
Side note: I first published this post back in 2012, and that little daughter of mine is now nearly 11. (Holy moly, that was fast!) She still counts my chili recipe as one of her top all-time favorite meals (as do we all), and we’ve made it hundreds of times in the years since!
I Finally Found It – The Perfect Chili Recipe
At long last – I’ve found it.
Or, rather, I sorta made it up.
There are a bajillion ways to make chili, and probably many of them are really good. This recipe hits the sweet spot for me, and I will make it over and over again for years to come. I’ll share it with y’all here in case you, too, are in the middle of a noble quest for the best bowl of chili.
How to Make the Best Chili
Chili is one of those dishes that is 0% pretentious. It’s not fussy about your cooking method. As long as you get those chili ingredients in there to simmer cozily for a bit so everything can cook and the flavors can meld, it’s going to taste amazing.
I most often make it on the stovetop with my two big stock pots (so I can freeze some for later, which is one of my all-time fave strategies for quick healthy meals.)
Can I Make it in a Slow Cooker?
You can make it in the slow cooker if you want – just brown the ground beef first, then add all ingredients and cook on high for 6-8 hours.
Can I Make it in the Instant Pot?
Of course you can! You can brown your meat, onions, and peppers together with the sauté function, then add all other ingredients and cook on manual mode for 10 minutes.
Or, you can even make this chili with dried beans without pre-soaking! That method is a huge lifesaver when you don’t have canned beans on hand but have a hankering for chili. Head over to that post for full directions.
What are the Best Secret Ingredients?
I think what makes everyone call something their Favorite Chili Recipe is the secret ingredient! Some may add mole sauce or cinnamon, and of course everyone will vary their spice level by choosing to use bell pepper, chili pepper, or even chipotle pepper. My preference is to use sweet bell peppers and get my medium spice level that ALL will enjoy by using chili powder and my own addition of coriander.
I find that one tablespoon of cocoa powder is great for the two pounds of ground beef I use because it adds just enough warmth (without spice) to have you wondering what it is that tastes so good paired with the brightness of the tomato.
Note: If you add much more you will definitely notice a chocolate flavour which is a bit off-putting, so this is definitely one of those ingredients to measure carefully rather than just sprinkling it in.
My other starring ingredient is honey. Tomatoes can be sweet on their own, but they are also acidic. Honey gives just enough sweetness to balance the acidity and spice.
When I first published this recipe in 2012 (after trying to perfect it for nearly a decade!), these weren’t popular chili ingredients. Today, more and more people are catching on to the “wow factor” that these secret ingredients provide!
What Are the Best Beans for Chili?
Everyone has their own preference of what kind of bean to add to their pot of chili. I like to stick with classic red kidney beans, as it just screams traditional comfort food chili to me. I have also been known to use navy beans, black beans, or even chickpeas if I’m short on kidney beans. They all taste delicious to me, and because this recipe uses 2-3 cups (about two cans, drained) of cooked beans, you can easily sneak in two varieties at once to see what your family thinks of the flavour profile.
I haven’t stuck lentils into my classic chili, but I do make really frugal Cheesy Chili Lentils when I want to use them. It all comes down to what you have in the freezer (if you make your beans from dried and freeze portions!) or the cans in your pantry. Chili is one of the best “use what you have” meals.
And of course – some people insist that “proper chili” doesn’t include beans at all, but I can’t possibly agree! 😉 I will say that I like my Creamy Green Chili Beef which has some of the great chili flavor profile without the beans.
What is the Best Meat for Chili?
I stick to ground beef for my chili recipe. It is one of the most economical meats, and the one that most people can agree on as being best for chili. If you are purchasing a part of a cow then you will often have quite a bit of ground beef as well. Over the years I’ve had many commenters that use ground turkey or chicken. These are great options because they are lean if that is something you need to use, and because they have less flavour than beef on its own, they “soak up” the strong flavors of chili quite well.
I’ve also heard of hunters using up ground venison just about anywhere they would use ground beef, and sausage is always an option, too. Just watch that any sausage you use isn’t already seasoned so that it competes with your chili flavour. Really just about any ground meat will do.
What is the Best Type of Tomato for Chili?
Many people stick to canned tomatoes in their chili ingredients. They are very easy to have on your pantry shelf for when the craving hits. Many people will also freeze garden tomatoes when they are either tired of canning or have run out of time when the season ends and loads their kitchen counter with fresh tomatoes. It all depends on what your whole family enjoys.
I’ve recently started using about a 2:1 ratio of diced tomatoes to tomato sauce (or strained tomatoes), and my kids like this better because some of them are picky about the texture of diced tomatoes. They’re fully obsessed with my chili recipe, so they’ll eat it regardless, but they do prefer it the new way.
Favourite Chili Toppings
I know there is a lot of discussion over what goes under chili (are you a chili mac person, do you like it over baked potatoes, homemade cornbread, maybe over rice?) but really the key to a personalized bowl of chili comes down to the toppings. I like to set out bowls of whatever we have so everyone can add what they like to their individual bowls.
- shredded cheese
- fresh cilantro
- sour cream
- crumbled tortilla chips or corn chips
- tortilla strips
Finally, while a hot bowl of chili is great on its own on a cold winter evening, you can add Chickpea Flatbreads on the side for a little extra fun. They are great for sopping up every last drop of chili from the bowl!
I also often pair chili with a light side salad – this Apple Kale Walnut Salad is a perfect option – because while I may have eaten three bowls of chili in one sitting in the past, I likely shouldn’t do that every time! Plus, there’s nothing better than leftover chili. As it sits, the flavours simply get better.
The Best Chili Recipe Ever
- 3 tbsp butter or cooking oil of choice
- 1 cup diced sweet peppers red, yellow, and/or orange
- 2 medium onions diced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1.5-2 lbs ground beef
- 2-3 cans diced tomatoes 28oz each
- 2-3 cups cooked kidney beans (or 2-3 cans 15.5oz each)
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- a few shakes of black pepper
- 1 tbsp unrefined sea salt
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 2 tsp coriander
- 4 tbsp chili powder or more to taste
- Heat up your pot to medium-low and add butter. When it’s melted, add diced onions and peppers. Cook until soft and translucent, stirring every few minutes so they don't burn. Add garlic and stir.
- Add ground beef and cook it until it’s browned and cozy with the onions, peppers, and garlic.
- Add all other ingredients and simmer on low until dinner. (At least 30 minutes for best flavor.) Be sure to stir every 10 minutes or so so that it doesn't burn on the bottom – especially if your stove's "low" equals a bubbling simmer.