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

4.8 from 12 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. What a great recipe, thanks so much! I made this again recently, for the first time using the homemade spices instead of a store bought packet, a little more “kick” than what they give you in the store but not in a bad way at all! Cheapest meat this week was ground pork so I used that and a chocolate stout for the liquid, very tasty. I love my black beans too so I used one can of kidney beans and two cans of black beans, plenty of protein and very tasty!

  2. dinara says:

    Just made this in slow cooker with dry beans, so so good! Thank you. I’ve made 5 or 6 your recipes now and each one of them is a winner. Appreciate you!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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)

  12. Elizabeth says:

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

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. Ingrid says:

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

  17. 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. :)

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

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

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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).

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