December 6, 2021

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Ways to Make Really Good Chili Any Way You Like It

By Kelli Foster From The Kitchn

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

There is no such thing as the best chili. It is a myth. Chili is such a deeply personal food, swimming with versatility and made for customization. Instead of searching for the one best chili, you’re better off learning how to make a pot the way you like it.

From the flavors and ingredients you favor to the diet you follow, you get to decide what your best chili looks like, and we’ll help you get there with these tips and recipes.

1. If Your Best Chili Is All About the Classic Flavor
There are a lot of different factors that can make a pot of chili stand out, and the warm, spiced fragrance of the sauce is definitely one of them. If your favorite kind of chili comes with the fragrant warmth of ground chiles, smoky undertones, and just a hint of garlic and fresh herbs, you’ll want to start by making your own chili spice mix. This is the number-one thing you can do to bring that flavor you love to any pot of chili.

Paleo Chili
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
2. If Your Best Chili Is Ultra-Meaty
Treat your next batch of meat chili to something special. If I could give my chili just one upgrade, it would be adding cubes of seared chuck roast to the simmering pot, the way we do with our Paleo chili. With a rich, caramelized outside and a texture so tender, the meat falls apart in your mouth — the cubes are like little treasures hidden beneath the surface of your bowl. This upgrade is a natural fit with beef chili, but it’s really an irresistible addition to any and all chili recipes.

3. If Your Best Chili Skips the Beans
Really good chili can be absolutely had without beans. Case in point? Our Paleo chili, which combines a double dose of beef and a mix of hearty root vegetables. It’s rich, hearty, and downright delicious, and there’s not a bean in sight. There’s also our bean-less keto chili, which picks up an ultra-meaty flavor and texture from bacon, ground meat, and mushrooms.

Weeknight White Chicken Chili
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
4. If Your Best Chili Is Loaded with Chicken
Unlike ground meat or cubes or beef, chicken does not need to be seared or browned before getting added to the pot of chili. In fact, it’s best not to do that. For the best chicken chili, whether it’s made with chicken breast or thighs, always cook the meat right in the pot of chili. As the chicken cooks, it soaks up the aroma of all the spices and other ingredients simmering in the pot, for an even tastier bowl.

Try it: Weeknight White Chicken Chili

Vegan Chili
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
5. If Your Best Chili Is Meatless, Without Skimping on the Meaty Texture
Fatty cuts of meat are far from the only way to bring big, bold flavors to a pot of chili. For a plant-based chili with a rich, hearty texture, plan to use several different beans and/or legumes for the base, or incorporate hearty root vegetables or winter squash. For example, our vegan chili starts with tender lentils and toothsome black and kidney beans as the base.

Baking staples, like unsweetened cocoa powder and molasses, are also a boon to meatless chili, as they help build an even deeper, heartier flavor with gentle chocolatey or bitter undertones.

6. If Your Best Chili Can Be Made After Work on a Weeknight
One of the things I really love about chili is that it’s a dish that can be made entirely on your schedule. There are versions that simmer for hours on the stovetop, but I want you to remember that is not the only way to make a really great pot of chili. It can simmer for just 20 minutes on the stovetop or come together quickly in an Instant Pot. Or pull out your slow cooker for a version that simmers all day and has dinner waiting when you get home.

My best trick for cooking up a pot of full-flavored chili in a short amount of time is starting with flavor-packed meats, like fresh Mexican chorizo and/or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, as in our chorizo chicken chili and chicken taco chili.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
7. If Your Best Chili Is More Green than Red
This is for all the folks who prefer chili verde over classic red chili. With the smoky bite of charred tomatillos, the warmth of cumin, and the citrusy brightness of lime, this rich, pork-based chili has diehard fans for a reason. We make ours in the slow cooker because it helps braise the pork low and slow for the most tender outcome.

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