Chili Basics

$10.06 recipe / $1.68 serving

Has this not been the busiest December of all time? I know I’m looking forward to slowing down later this week and on into the new year!

I’ve been so busy that it’s been hard to even get into the kitchen for a minute, but when someone emailed me asking for a basic, no-frills chili recipe I thought, “There’s always time for chili!” I’ve made several chili recipes for the blog in the past, but this particular reader requested a version with no seasoning packets and no V8 juice (my favorite secret ingredient). I can definitely do that.

So, here is the the most basic of basic chili recipes that anyone can conquer. If you want to start experimenting with more flavors, I’ve listed a bunch of substitutions and add-ins at the end of the post. Chili is an instant winner no matter how you do it, so have fun and make it your own!

Basic Chili

Basic Chili

4.7 from 10 reviews
Basic Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Total Cost: $10.06
Cost Per Serving: $1.68
Serves: 6 (1 cup each)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil $0.32
  • 1 yellow onion $0.49
  • 2 cloves garlic $0.32
  • 1 lb. ground beef $4.79
  • 1 (15 oz.) can kidney beans $1.09
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans $0.89
  • 1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes $0.50
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste $0.55
  • 1 cup water $0.00
Chili Seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder** $0.30
  • 1 tsp ground cumin $0.10
  • ¼ tsp cayenne powder $0.02
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder $0.02
  • ½ tsp onion powder $0.03
  • ½ Tbsp brown sugar $0.02
  • 1 tsp salt $0.05
  • Freshly ground pepper (about ½ tsp) $0.03
  1. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add both to a large pot with the olive oil and cook over medium heat until they are soft and transparent. Add the ground beef and continue to sauté until the beef is fully browned.
  2. Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 cup water, and all of the ingredients for the chili seasoning. Stir until well combined. Place a lid on the pot and allow it to simmer over a low flame for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally (the flavor gets better the longer it simmers).
**The chili powder used is a mild blend of dried chilies and other spices. It is not spicy or hot. Click here for an example.


Basic Chili


Step by Step Photos

Onions and Garlic

Start by dicing one onion and mincing two cloves of garlic. Cook the onions and garlic with 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until they are soft and transparent.

Ground Beef

Add one pound of ground beef and continue to cook until it is fully browned.

Beans and Tomatoes

Drain the beans and add them to the pot along with the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and one cup of water.

Ready for seasoning

Stir that all together until the tomato paste is well incorporated, then add the spices. If you don’t have all the ingredients to make your own chili seasoning, you can add a store bought packet of chili seasoning at this point.


Let the pot simmer for at least 15 minutes over low heat with a lid on top to allow the flavors to blend. If you have time, let it simmer longer. Now it’s done!

Basic Chili

How easy was that? Totally gobble-licious. This freezes REALLY well, too, so make a big pot!

Now how about those variations?


  • Use half pound ground beef and add an extra can of beans (pinto beans are great) to cut costs
  • Use no beef and add two cans of extra beans for a vegetarian version
  • Mexican chorizo makes a spicy alternative to beef (squeeze the ground meat out of the casing and brown just like the beef)
  • Shredded chicken breast works well and I’ve even used chopped up chicken thighs


  • Instead of water, use tomato or vegetable juice (like V8 juice)
  • Using dark beer instead of water adds a super earthy flavor
  • Beef broth instead of water gives the chili extra flavor oomph, but you might want to reduce the salt in the chili seasoning


  • Adding a couple chipotle chiles will give the chili a very spicy and smokey flavor
  • A little smoked paprika (1 tsp) will add smokiness without extra heat
  • Cocoa powder (1/2-1 Tbsp) makes the chili extra rich
  • Cinnamon (1 tsp) plays nicely with the chili peppers


  • Make an extra veggie-licious chili by adding finely diced zucchini and bell pepper
  • Poblano peppers add a really great southwest flavor (sauté with onions and garlic)
  • Jalapeños sautéed with the onions and garlic make for an extra spicy chili
  • Add a cup of frozen corn kernels for flavor, color, and texture
  • Diced sweet potato or butternut squash adds a unique sweet contrast and beautiful color


  • Cheddar or monterrey jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Green onions
  • Cilantro
  • Corn Chips

What is your favorite chili secret ingredient, add-in, or topping?

(Share in the comments below)


  1. shannon says:

    This was delicious and so easy.
    I put it all in a crock pot, set it on low for 8 hours and didn’t have to do a thing!

    I just used a can of mixed beans because I had it. And I added green pepper.

  2. Kevin says:

    I know it sounds strange but take a ladle of chili and put it into a bag of fritos. It’s delish! Will be trying with this recipe.

  3. Lauren says:

    We loooooove this recipe!!! I make 2-3 batches at a time sometimes and we live off it for a week haha (my husband and me.. my 3yr old wont try it)

    I add smoked paprika its sooo good.. ive started using less garlic and onions just bc i have issues with them sometimes but i dont cut them out completely

  4. Rebecca says:

    Never made chili before. Followed the recipe, was craving green peppers. Had it over pasta. Pics of chili-mac on Facebook. I’m doing this again, thank you so much!

  5. A. C. says:

    Made this with the beer, smoked paprika, and cocoa powder variations. Incredible. Next time, a whole scotch bonnet. Added to The List. Thanks!

  6. Carrie C says:

    Thank you Beth for this chili recipe, I add a poblano pepper and beer instead of water per your variations, as well as Worcestershire. It’s a hit! Everyone who tries it, loves it. I share your site with everyone I know.

  7. Annie says:

    I have made this before, and it’s so good, but tonight I added some smoked papricka (like a pinch) and a black lager. And oh. my. goodness. So good, smokey, sweet and perfect. I may eat the whole pot tonight.

  8. Robyn says:

    I have used the spices and done many riffs on the rest of the ingredients. Tonight is the spices, onions, garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste and then the frozen veggie mix of carrots, peas, corn and green beans and red lentils. Absolutely delicious! Thanks Beth! This site has provided many delicious meals for my family.

  9. Lacey says:

    Hey Beth! Just curious: how would you go about making the chili in a slow cooker (what temperature/how long)? It looks awesome, but my slow cooker and I are MUCH better friends than my stovetop.

    • If you brown the beef first, you could probably do four hours on low. All you really need to do is heat it through at that point. :) (I have never put raw ground beef in the slow cooker because it isn’t recommended for food safety reasons)

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I love adding quinoa if I want a vegetarian chilli, as well as bell peppers, carrots and broccoli.

  11. I use bison stew meat and cut it into little 1/4-inch chunks, because I’m not a fan of ground meat. It’s delicious! I also add as many types of peppers as I can find when they’re in season, including cayenne!

  12. I made the basic chili and it’s definitely a good base. It was very lacking in flavor, but that makes it perfect for adding your own embellishments. This is a recipe to not make exactly as written the first time – go wild even if you’ve never made it before!

  13. Nick K says:

    If you want a less watery soup simply not draining the beans can give you a thicker chili. The natural starches in the beans liquid thickens the chili. I love a little cinnamon in my chili if i am going Cincinnati style. The chipotle or chili morita is always a good add in as well.

  14. Ingrid says:

    Secret ingredient I learned from my boyfriend is adding flavoring like liquid smoke or Worcestershire sauce. :)

  15. Bridget says:

    I really like my chilli with fresh carrot bits which get stewed with the onions in the beginning and I add fresh ginger as well as corriander.
    Other spices are only cumin, salt, pepper, sweet paprika powder and as well as fresh garlic, fresh chillis and a dried oder fresh bay leaf.
    I hope you like the idea of I make my chilli.
    Yours is gread as well. :)

  16. Marie says:

    I usually add small bits of carrots, celery, zucchini, and bell peppers. I also throw in a few handfuls of frozen lima beans, green beans, and corn. If I have any chopped spinach or other leftover greens such as kale, I toss that in. I also add a few splashes of vinegar.

  17. Jenna says:

    I’m a vegetarian so I don’t put any meat in my chili. I add quinoa for protein and I think it’s delicious and has a great texture. I also like to add carrots, peppers, and corn. Then we top it with plain yogurt and cheddar cheese.
    Oh, and I also use a combination of whatever beans I have on hand (garbanzo beans, black eyed peas, kidney, navy, great northern white beans) and its always delicious!

  18. Annie says:

    Huge thanks for this! I moved to South Korea about a year ago and hadn’t had chili since then. I have a super tiny kitchen so it’s really difficult to cook anything but this was super easy and delicious. I even managed to find all the ingredients for a reasonable price (beef substituted for pork though, beef is crazy expensive here). I added corn to my pot and bulked up a one cup serving with half a sweet potato and froze the rest for a few more meals. Thanks again!

  19. This chili was absolutely AMAZING!! I loved how it was easy enough to make, while I had my baby on my hip.

  20. Another way to make this a vegetarian dish is to add some bulgur instead of the ground beef. It is very tasty!

  21. Amanda says:

    I usually do a vegetarian chili with black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, onions, peppers (bell and habanero), and all the typical seasoning. And finally add a splash (or more) of apple cider vinegar. I’ve added potatoes (just regular Idaho) when I needed to use them up. It was delicious.

  22. Bekster says:

    I literally just finished a batch for a friend who broke his leg last night. It’s sweet potatoes, kale, and black beans, with a hint of cinnamon in the spice mixture. I’m going to bring it to him and his wife, with some goat cheese to crumble over the top instead of sour cream. It’s amazing!

  23. rell says:

    I love making chili for company in the winter because it is so easy to customize. Football watching boys, just add Italian sausages (hot and mild) or veggie loving girl friends (more beans and veggies plus chile adobe).

  24. a friend of mine objected that using canned beans is a waste of money because fresh beans aren’t that much extra work. any thoughts?

    • I think making beans from dry every time I make a recipe is kind of a hassle, but whenever I get the chance I make a batch in my slow cooker, divide them up into “can” sized portions and pop them in the freezer. That way they’re just as handy as canned beans and about half the cost (they thaw super fast under running water). Sometimes I run out of frozen beans and don’t have time to make more, so I just go for the can. I do what I can when I can and don’t worry about it too much. :)

  25. Jennifer says:

    I tried this recipe last night. Something I really love about your website is everything is so open to customization. If you don’t have something, you can switch it with something else. I used this base last night and added corn, red beans, peppers, and some beef bouillon-broth. It turned out amazing. Next time I make it, I’ll probably use a half pound of beef and an extra can of beans or some extra veggies. I also followed your suggestion and added a couple shakes of paprika. It was probably some of the best chili I’ve ever had and it made more than enough to justify spending a little extra for hamburger meat.

    Thanks very much for this website. I’m pretty sure I’ll be a regular from now on.

  26. I do chili with bite-size pork loin chunks sometimes. I buy the whole loins (at around $2/lb.) and butcher and freeze the portions myself, so the pork-bits end up a lot cheaper than ground beef. I usually cook it in the crock pot for several hours as well, so the meat is nice and tender and the flavors have had plenty of time to seep in.

  27. AmandaT says:

    You can replace some of that tomato paste with pumpkin puree. It’s not cheaper, but if you have an extra can or half a can from holiday baking, it’s a decent way to use it up. It tones down the acid a little and adds a few extra nutrients.

    Loving the other suggestions. I have to try the avocado instead of sour cream! Yum!

  28. Amanda Mananda says:

    A professor of mine gave me his signature recipe for beer chili a little while back, and I’m actually planning to make it in a few days. He adds small quantities of Tabasco sauce, liquid smoke, honey (as the primary sweetener), and barbeque sauce to his chili. This time around, I’m going to substitute ground turkey for the meat in order to make it a bit leaner, which has worked FABULOUSLY in your Sloppy Joes Plus recipe. And I’m totally going to add a poblano pepper; I hadn’t even thought of that until I saw you mention it.

    One of my all-time favorite toppings for chili is a spoonful of freshly grated white onion. Aw, man, I’m salivating just thinking about it. I usually just hold back a small chunk of onion to grate when I’m dicing the rest. I’m also a sucker for sticking Fritos on my chili. It’s not the more gourmet-looking addition, but I like the shape more than flat chips. -:)

    Happy holidays, Beth! -:D

  29. Bessie Malek says:

    Did you forget onions and garlic in the ingredient list?

  30. Also: topping it with an avocado is amazing to get creaminess without sour cream.

  31. I do a vegan version and break up a can of refried beans in there to get some extra thickness and body. I also love throwing in barbecue sauce and salsa. Hello!

  32. Note on the vegetarian versions: needs to be combined with rice or other grain so you get complete protein. Rice and chili is great, but it doesn’t have to be the same meal.

  33. Slow down, damnit. You keep doing cool recipes for exactly the kind of food I eat much faster than I can try them!

  34. karen says:

    We put diced avocado (a must!), sour cream, crushed tortilla chips or corn chips, cheddar cheese and onions on top our chili. I always add chipotle chili powder with the chili powder. I’ve never added brown sugar, but will try that next time.

  35. Becky says:

    OJ and lime juice

  36. Annette says:

    I use a can or bottle of beer, a diced red pepper, if using ground beef: rinse the browned beef, and I always use one can of low sodium white beans in the bean mix with the liquid to eliminate the tomato paste (I rinse the rest or they are made at home from dried beforehand). You have to simmer longer, but the spices (I use my own, no packets) seem to be more evident. A great way to use up what ever is in the fridge. I’ve added zucchini, mushrooms, carrots (shred them), etc. You just need to dice the veggie to mix in and soak up all the chili gppdness. Have fun!

  37. Mike says:

    I add some good dark beer, chorizo sausage (spanish style, it’s the only kind I can get where I live :( but it works if you dice it fine) use all black beans, throw in some green pepper and add some corn, and let mine simmer for at least several hours.

    Really there’s just something about the dark beer and chorizo combination that makes it soooo good.

  38. My youngest son makes chili from a recipe he found in a sonic the hedgehog comic. The secret ingredient? Barbecue sauce! I tend to put ketchup in mine, because I like it sweet.

  39. Celery says:

    I often food process mushrooms and cook them with ground beef in recipes like this. Since the little containers of mushrooms are ~$2 and I like to split half and half the amount of mushrooms and beef it doesn’t really save money, but it sure tastes good and ups the nutritional content.

  40. Meagan says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t list mushrooms!
    Mushrooms, red and green peppers, onions and garlic are essential in chili!

    • janmaus says:

      I have never once seen mushrooms in chili–I’ve eaten it all around the US–although it sounds like a pretty good idea. I have had it with corn and even diced zucchini. I like lots of peppers in mine, 1 diced bell pepper and 1 poblano in a recipe this size, but that is a personal preference and will up the cost. I never use the slow cooker for mid western style chili made with ground beef because the whole thing only takes about half an hour to cook anyway. I do use it for Texas chili made with cubed beef–no tomatoes, no beans in that version, dried chilies soaked and pureed for seasoning, + beer and a few additional touches–because that stuff needs to simmer for hours. But the easy stuff, a fave with my family, is quick and delicious–this basic recipe looks great, and do try Beth’s very economical chili seasoning. If you are using all of those high salt canned products, you can easily eliminate the salt. Current nutritional guidelines recommend no more than 1500 mg of salt per adult person, and less for those of us over 50. The 4 cans of beans and tomato products used in this recipe will add up to about 4000 mg, depending on brands, or about 650 mg per serving. I additional tsp is another 2500 miligrams upping the ante per serving to a bit over 1000 mg.

  41. Christine says:

    Crockpot! Same deal, only throw it in the crockpot, cook on low for 8-10 hours, and serve.

    Pumpkin puree (~1 cup) with a pinch of cinnamon and cloves to regular vegetarian chili is amazing!

  42. Were you using lean ground beef? Chili with 80/20 beef probably wouldn’t turn out well, but I’ve never actually tried it.

    People should try ground turkey as well! My store sells 93/7 ground turkey for $3.99/lb and 90/10 ground beef for $4.99/lb. I tried it one day to save a buck and actually wound up preferring the flavor of the turkey.

    Canned pinto beans at my store are more expensive than black/kidney, but the dried beans all cost the same. Plus dried beans are less expensive overall (about half the price in my experience)

  43. Jeri Ann says:

    I live off of sweet potato chili all winter long. It’s healthy and, at 88 cents a pound, it’s a bargain.

  44. Amanda says:

    I love corn in my chili! I also use Rotel tomatoes instead of regular diced tomatoes.

  45. Leighanne J says:


  46. Leighanne J says:


  47. Lynea says:

    Cream cheese is also DELICIOUS on chili!!

  48. Connie says:

    I have yet to make chili, but this looks great! I like a little green onion and shredded cheese with my chili, and maybe corn chips to scoop it.

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