Now that it’s officially fall, I think we could all use a good primer on how to make a basic pot of homemade chili. I have several chili recipes on this website, but this basic chili recipe is my absolute favorite. Like, so good that I can’t stop going back for spoonfuls. Not only is this classic chili recipe super flavorful and easy, but it can be used as a template which can be customized in a number of ways to make it your very own. Scroll down for ideas for customizing the proteins, spices, liquids, vegetables, and toppings!
I like to add fresh jalapeños, cheese, green onion, and crushed tortilla chips to my chili!
5 Ways to Customize Your Homemade Chili:
1. Use a Different Protein:
- Use half-pound ground beef and add an extra can of beans (pinto beans are great) to reduce costs
- Make your chili without beef (vegetarian) with two cans of extra beans instead of the beef (see Slow Cooker Vegetarian Lentil Chili)
- To make your chili without beans, use 2 lbs. ground beef instead of one
- Mexican chorizo makes a spicy alternative to beef and really increases the flavor of the chili
- Use other ground meat, such as ground turkey or chicken (see Weeknight Black Bean Chili)
- Shredded chicken breast works well in chili and I’ve even used chopped up chicken thighs (see Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili)
2. Add Flavorful Liquids:
- 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’ll need to reduce the salt in the chili seasoning
3. Customize the Spices:
- Adding a couple of chipotle peppers will give the chili a very spicy and smokey flavor
- Start the chili off with a little sofrito instead of just onion and garlic
- 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
4. Add Extra Vegetables:
- Make an extra veggie-licious chili by adding finely diced zucchini and bell pepper
- Poblano peppers add a really great southwest flavor (sauté with the 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, or add some pumpkin purée like in my Easy Pumpkin Chili
5. Use Fun Toppings:
- Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
- Sour cream
- Green onions
- Crushed Tortilla Chips
What is your favorite chili secret ingredient, add-in, or topping? Share in the comments below!
Can You Freeze Chili?
YES! Chili is one of my favorite foods for stocking my freezer. After cooking your chili, divide it into single portions and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, make sure it’s labeled with the contents and date, then transfer to the freezer. You can keep your chili in the freezer for about three months.
To reheat, simply let the chili thaw in the refrigerator over night then reheat in a pot over low heat, adding water if needed, until heated through, or microwave on high for 1-2 minutes.
How Long Should You Cook Chili?
Chili is one of those dishes that tastes better the longer it cooks (to a point). You’ll want to let this chili simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes, but it’s something that you can leave simmering gently for up to a couple of hours. If you do plan to let your chili simmer for a longer period of time, make sure to put a lid on it so it doesn’t dry out. Check it occasionally to see if it is becoming dry, and if so, add a little water.
The Best Homemade Chili Recipe
- 2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.32)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.49)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.32)
- 1 lb. ground beef ($4.79)
- 1 15oz. can kidney beans ($1.09)
- 1 15oz. can black beans ($0.89)
- 1 15oz. can diced tomatoes ($0.50)
- 1 6oz. can tomato paste ($0.55)
- 1 cup water ($0.00)
- 1 Tbsp chili powder** ($0.30)
- 1 tsp ground cumin ($0.10)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne powder ($0.02)
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder ($0.02)
- 1/2 tsp onion powder ($0.03)
- 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar ($0.02)
- 1 tsp salt ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp Freshly cracked black pepper ($0.03)
- 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.
- 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 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (the flavor gets better the longer it simmers).
- Give the chili one final taste, adjust the salt or seasonings if needed, then serve hot with your favorite toppings.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
Serve with a side of Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread!
How to Make Homemade Chili – Step by Step Photos
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.
Add one pound of ground beef and continue to cook until it is fully browned.
Drain a 15oz. can each of black beans and kidney beans and add them to the pot along with a 15oz. can diced tomatoes, a 6oz. can of tomato paste, and one cup of water.
Stir that all together until the tomato paste is well incorporated. Doesn’t look like much yet, but just wait…
Add the chili spices to the pot of chili. I used my recipe for Homemade Chili Seasoning, plus a little brown sugar. 1 Tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar. 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 30 minutes over low heat with a lid on top to allow the flavors to blend and for the natural sugars in the tomatoes to caramelize, which reduces the acidity. If you have time, let it simmer longer. Now your “basic” chili is done!
How easy was that? Now go crazy with the toppings. Look in your fridge for leftovers and see what fun things you can use to top your basic chili to make it not so basic anymore.
This was a great meal to try. I added half a can of corn for a little extra crunch and color. It was just the right amount of spicy!
I made this tonight and it came out fantastic! I didn’t have ground beef thawed, but I had some leftover steak, so I threw that in instead. It was a big hit with the family, thank you!
I use this base recipe for the seasoning profile, and make a double batch. So yes, seasoning with 4 tbsp chili power etc. I do like to cook out the tomato paste and the seasonings before adding the beans and liquids. Like someone else said, it builds a more complex flavour profile that I love. Additions range from sweet potatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, or using Mexican chorizo (fabulous) instead of ground beef. TYSM for this, it’s been my go to starting point for years. Even as is, it’s tasty, easy and good food.
This was delicious! I used gardein vegan meat crumbles, beer instead of water and an extra half a can of the rotel tomatoes slowly cooking for 3 hours. I will definitely make this again. Thanks for the recipe!
Made this again today. I used to experiment with different chile recipes but I like this one so much I seldom stray from it. Simple ingredients with just the right amount of heat that bring all the right flavors into a balance of deliciousness.
Comes together easily and it’s so delicious! I added hot sauce to up the heat a bit. I used half a pound of ground beef leftover from another recipe and added an extra can of beans to make up for it. This is a keeper!
Simple chili recipe with good flavor! I keep the spices the same as the recipe because I am not the adventurous type. I add either sweet potatoes or carrots for a little extra texture and substance. I just made it for a fourth time and added frozen corn. I like the balance of spices which is what I keep the same every time
Love this recipe and all of the provided modifications/additions! I make this vegetarian, and used just 3 cans of beans. I love the basic version of this recipe, but this time experimented using some suggestions from the post and comments, and used better than bouillon vegetable stock, fire roasted tomatoes, instant coffee crystals, cocoa powder, worstershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and smoked paprika. Went a bit overboard, haha, but it was complex and delicious! It was fun to go all out with the additions. I also was out of sour cream, so instead garnished mine with cottage cheese…(don’t knock it til you’ve tried it). I’m already planning to make more in a few days. Also a tip if you find yours to be too acidic, you can add in a bit of baking soda to neutralize it; I did that after I was a bit heavy handed with the apple cider vinegar and it really helped without changing the flavor.
I loved the chili, and I have made chili for the last 45 years! The only thing I changed is that I used half chipotle chile powder half regular chile powder, did not add the sugar, and used half the beans. I doubled the recipe and gave half to my housekeeper. She loved it too!
This is my go-to chili recipe! I love it. Started with the base recipe, but over time have adjusted a few things to my liking:
•Dice 1 bell pepper and sauté with onions and garlic
•Add in the tomato paste before you add the meat (instead of toward the end before you stir and simmer). Let it char/caramelize a little before adding the meat.
•Use one 15 oz can of Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (instead of regular diced tomatoes). It gives the final product another little kick of flavor.
Great basic chili recipe. We added poblano for some extra veggies. The brown sugar didn’t hit right with me, as a personally prefer more savory chili, but my husband liked it. Freezes well!
I love Budget Bytes recipes. This one would have been great except for the brown sugar. I don’t like the sweetness in the recipe.