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 13 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. Colleen says:

    Thank you for this! I was looking for a very basic chili recipe that I could adapt to my husband’s and my tastes, and this was it! My intent was to double the recipe (I love leftovers for the freezer) so I used 2 lbs ground beef and while I kept it at one onion, I added a bell pepper and two minced habaneros. Instead of diced tomatoes (I can’t stand tomato chunks) I used a 28 oz can of tomato sauce and 1/2 cup beef broth. Doubled the spice mixture and added 1 tsp smoked paprika. After letting it simmer close to an hour I added a can of pinto beans and a can of kidney beans. Topped it with shredded Mexican cheese blend and wow was it good! Yes, I gave it a good amount of tweaks, but without this recipe as a base I wouldn’t even have known where to start.

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