The BEST Chili is one of the easiest, tastiest budget friendly meals to make! My Mom’s secret recipe has got you covered for a cozy and hearty bowl of chili.
The Best Chili Recipe
The Best Chili Recipe is one that is loaded with beef and beans and absolutely PACKED full of flavor… just like this one! Chili is hands down one of my family’s favorite meals (and I love it because it’s so easy to make)! In this recipe, I’ll share two secrets with you to ensure you end up with the most amazing chili you’ve ever had.
You can’t go wrong with this chili recipe. It’s so simple to make and only uses one pot! This delicious thick and hearty chili is full of depth and flavor. My family loves this recipe all year round. It’s perfect in the winter to warm up but also a summer time favorite during BBQ season.
It’s so versatile and has all your pantry staple ingredients which makes this an even easier dish to make, not to mention it’s a great budget friendly recipe! Get ready to WOW your family with this AMAZING chili recipe.
Mom’s Best Chili Recipe
Here’s the first secret I want to share with you. No matter what type of ground beef I use or how long I cook it, I find ground beef chili to be a little dry and tough. But I recently discovered a tenderizing technique that calls for treating the ground beef with a baking soda solution before cooking.
According to Cooks Illustrated, the idea is that baking soda raises the pH of the meat which helps to lock in moisture and accelerate browning. It allows the meat to remain tender even as it cooks. It’s also an excellent option for anyone who needs to avoid acidic food for health reasons as it neutralizes the acid, without affecting flavor. It works like a charm and I suggest you try it too!
This ground beef chili is melt-in-your-mouth tender, thick, and rich – and wonderful over rice or scooped up with tortilla chips. I keep it on the mild side but feel free to add more chipotle powder at the end, if you like, or don’t deseed your jalapenos.
When making chili on the stove, I simmer it uncovered which allows the chili to naturally thicken without having to add cornstarch or flour. While thickening chili by simmering is the best option, you may not always have time to let it reduce. If you don’t have time to simmer it to thicken, you can sprinkle in a little bit of cornmeal or make a cornstarch or flour slurry and add it in.
What is in Chili?
Tender Ground Beef Ingredients
- What is in Chili Powder? Paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, onion powder, oregano and cumin. You can also substitute or also add in some chipotle chili powder for more heat and smoky flavor.
- Flavor Enhancing Tip – mix chili powder into the raw ground beef before cooking to ensure every morsel is seasoned to perfection.
- Baking Soda – as noted above baking soda is the secret to tenderizing ground beef.
Chili Secret Ingredients
- Cinnamon – enhances chili in a tremendous way! Much like adding chili powder and other common spices, cinnamon is a super versatile spice that adds warmth without the heat.
- Chocolate – dark or semi-sweet can be used to balance out the flavors of the chili, especially if you’re using tomatoes. The richness of the chocolate helps cancel out the acidity of the tomatoes or peppers that you might be using. It also gives the chili a deeper color and fuller body. This creates a complex, rich flavor that you’re looking for in a bowl of chili.
- Vinegar – is stirred into the pot at the end of cooking. It brightens up the chili and gives it that full rounded taste.
How to Make the Best Chili
Full Printable Recipe at Bottom of Page
Prepare and Brown the Ground Beef
1 In a large bowl, combine the beef, salt, 1 tbsp chili powder, baking soda, and water. Using your hands or a spoon, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit on the counter for 15 minutes.
2 In a large pot on medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and jalapeno. Sauté for 4 – 6 minutes until softened. Add the beef and increase the heat to high. Use a spoon or spatula to break up the meat into 1/4″ pieces. Sauté until the beef has browned, about 10 – 12 minutes.
Note: The beef will release a lot of liquid during the cooking process. Do not drain the liquid. The fat will be skimmed off at the end, if needed and it adds flavor and improves the texture of the beef while cooking.
Simmer the Chili
1 Add in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, chili flakes, bay leaf, chipotle powder or smoked paprika and cinnamon (optional). Stirring frequently, sauté for 1 – 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant.
2 Add in the green pepper, tomatoes, beans, beef broth, tomato paste, brown sugar, and chocolate (optional). Stir until evenly incorporated. Bring to a boil.
3 Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered 45-60 minutes or until chili has reached desired thickness. Optional: Stir in vinegar and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
4 Once the chili has reached your desired thickness, skim off any fat as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5 Top with cheddar cheese, green onions, cilantro or other favorite toppings. Enjoy!
What Toppings go on Chili?
Go wild and add all the toppings you love to customize this chili recipe to your taste! Try sweet avocado, tangy sour cream or a crunchy corn chip (Fritos).
- Sour Cream– add a dollop over top. For a healthier option use greek yogurt!
- Frito Chips – pile them high and enjoy! You can even get creative and use flavored – BBQ or cheese Frito chips.
- Onions – chopped up and sprinkled on top. I love green onions, red onions or white! So many possibilities.
- Shredded Cheese – this will melt over top the chili. What’s better than that?!
- Jalapeños – a bit of spicy deliciousness. For extra spice use fresh raw jalapenos or for a milder spice level use pickled.
- Cilantro – adds a pop of color and great flavoring.
- Avocado – sliced into wedges or cubes adds a great color and creamy texture to this dish
- Tortilla Strips – a crunchy bite
- Lime Wedges– a fresh squeeze over top adds a nice pop or freshness to a hot bowl of chili.
Can I Freeze Chili?
- 100% yes!!! Chili freezes and reheats beautifully. I like to freeze it in single sized portions for lunches or in freezer bags for a quick and easy weeknight meal.
- Defrost in the fridge overnight and heat in a saucepan (or the microwave) to serve.
Can I make Chili Ahead?
- Absolutely! Follow the recipe as usual then cool the chili slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Chili tastes even better the next day! I love making a batch of chili for meal prep and enjoying it all week long. There is nothing better than coming home from a long day at work and just simply reheating a bowl of homemade chili.
FAQs for the Best Chili Recipe
Why do you add vinegar to chili?
Adding vinegar to your chili isn’t a crazy idea. Many recipes for chili call for adding vinegar. My personal preference is adding red wine vinegar at the end of a recipe so the vinegar really shines through leaving just a slight note of sweet and tangy flavor. This method is especially great when you need to perk up a chili that you might find bland.
The star of the show here is of course ground beef. My second secret that I’m sharing with you is that the fat in your beef matters! I’m a big fan of regular or medium ground beef because that little bit of fat adds SO much flavor. If you go too lean, you risk compromising flavor and texture. Don’t be tempted to use extra-lean beef or drain off the fat after browning. The fat bastes the meat during the cooking process with adds richness and flavor. I just skim it off at the end, if any.
Can I substitute a different ground meat for chili?
Yes, ground chicken or turkey both work for this recipe. I’ve even made this chili recipe with a plant-based ground to make it vegetarian.
Why do you add chocolate to chili?
Dark or semi-sweet chocolate is used to balance out the flavors in chili, especially if you’re using tomatoes. It can help cancel out the acidity of the tomatoes and peppers. The chocolate gives the chili a deeper color and fuller body. It creates a complex and rich flavor that you want in a bowl of chili.
Why do you put cinnamon in chili?
Cinnamon adds to the depth of flavor and works nicely into the overall flavor profile. It’s such a nice complement to the chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, chocolate and gives this chili such a unique flavor.
Does Chili have Beans?
There’s always a big debate on whether chili has beans or no beans. In my opinion, the best chili recipe is a base of ground beef, tomato, spices, and yes BEANS. I love that beans add fiber to this dish and I promise you won’t regret adding them.
I use canned red kidney beans but pinto beans or black beans work as well. A combination of beans is also great and adds some color. Be sure to rinse canned beans before adding to remove excess salt and starches.
Is Chili a Budget Friendly Meal?
YES! Chili is a great budget friendly, affordable and cheap meal to make. Ground beef is often already a lower priced cut of meat but when it is on sale I stock up and freeze some. Having ground beef in the freezer is so versatile as there are so many things to make with it. Even better… buy your ground beef in bulk and try out some of my most popular ground beef recipes!
- Meatball Subs on a Stick
- Doritos Crusted Taco Mac Casserole
- Glazed Meatloaf with the BEST Sticky Glaze
What to Serve with Chili?
- Crazy Breadsticks – I love having a fresh baked garlicy and cheesy breadstick to dunk into my chili. My easy Little Caesar’s Copycat recipe is a family fave!
- Corn Bread – another classic side for chili is cornbread. I like to spice up my cornbread by adding jalapenos and cheddar cheese! This recipe is so simple to make while your chili is simmering.
What can I do with Leftover Chili?
Got leftovers? Here are a few ideas on how to repurpose leftover chili
- Chili Cheese Dog Dip – I love this dip for game days, movie nights and birthday parties. It comes together in a flash and combines two classics, chili and cheese dogs! You can even use frozen chili that has been thawed overnight.
- My Chili Cheese Dog Dip (Recipe Linked Here) was one of my most POPULAR and VIRAL recipes of 2021!
- Chili Baked Potatoes – spice up your baked potato by adding leftover chili, cheese and sour cream on top!
- Chili Nachos – if you love nachos as much as me then you have to try chili cheese nachos! Simply spread a bag of tortilla chips on a baking sheet, top with leftover chili, shredded cheddar cheese, and any of your other favorite nacho toppings. Bake until it’s golden brown and bubbly and enjoy!
- Chili Mac and Cheese – after a long day of work I often reach for a quick dinner. This sometimes means just grabbing a box of mac and cheese… but spicing it up a bit! Prep your mac and cheese as usual and stir in as much chili as you like.
Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, may earn me a small commission.
The BEST Chili (Mom’s Secret Recipe)!
- 2 1/2 pounds ground beef, regular
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp oil, cooking oil of choice
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced, optional
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp chili flakes, or cayenne pepper, optional
- 2 tsp chipotle powder, or smoked paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon, optional
- 2 tbsp chocolate, dark or semi-sweet, chips or bar optional
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 14 ½ ounces crushed tomatoes, canned
- 19 ounces red kidney beans, canned, drained & rinsed
- 19 ounces pinto beans, canned, drained and rinsed (optional, sub with red kidney beans)
- 14 ½ ounces diced tomatoes, canned, with juice
- 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp brown sugar, sub honey, maple syrup, or sweetener of choice
- 1 tbsp vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic, or apple cider, optional
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large bowl, combine the beef, salt, 1 tbsp chili powder, baking soda, and water. Using your hands or a spoon, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit on the counter for 15 minutes.
- In a large pot on medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and jalapeno. Sauté for 4 – 6 minutes until softened. Add the beef and increase the heat to high. Use a spoon or spatula to break up the meat into 1/4" pieces. Sauté until the beef has browned, about 10 – 12 minutes. Note: The beef will release a lot of liquid during the cooking process. Do not drain the liquid. The fat will be skimmed off at the end, if needed and it adds flavor and improves the texture of the beef while cooking.
- Add in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, chili flakes, bay leaf, chipotle powder or smoked paprika and cinnamon (optional). Stirring frequently, sauté for 1 – 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant.
- Add in the green pepper, tomatoes, beans, beef broth, tomato paste, brown sugar, and chocolate (optional). Stir until evenly incorporated. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered 45-60 minutes or until chili has reached desired thickness.Optional: Stir in vinegar and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
- Once the chili has reached your desired thickness, skim off any fat as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Top with cheddar cheese, green onions, cilantro or other favorite toppings. Enjoy!