Chili Basics – How to Make and Customize Basic Chili

Now that it’s officially fall, I think we could all use a good primer on how to make a basic pot of 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!

Originally posted 12-23-2013, updated 9-23-18.

Basic Chili

A dressed bowl of basic chili with plenty of toppings.

I like to add fresh jalapeños, cheese, green onion, and crushed tortilla chips to my chili!

Basic Chili in a bowl being eaten
4.83 from 52 votes
Print

Basic Chili

This no-frills basic chili recipe is ready for your personal touch. Learn how to make classic chili and what you can add to make it your own! 

Keyword easy, gluten free
Total Cost $9.28 recipe / $1.55 serving
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 6 1 cup each

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil $0.32
  • 1 yellow onion $0.49
  • 2 cloves garlic $0.32
  • 1 lb ground beef $4.79
  • 15 oz can kidney beans $1.09
  • 15 oz can black beans $0.89
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes $0.50
  • 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
  • 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 ground pepper $0.03

Instructions

  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 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (the flavor gets better the longer it simmers). 

  3. Give the chili one final taste, adjust the salt or seasonings if needed, then serve hot with your favorite toppings.

Recipe Notes

**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.

Close up of Basic Chili in a Ladle

Customize Your Basic Chili:

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
  • 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 turkey or chicken
  • Shredded chicken breast works well in chili and I’ve even used chopped up chicken thighs

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

Spices:

  • 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

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

Toppings:

  • Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Green onions
  • Cilantro
  • Crushed Tortilla Chips

What is your favorite chili secret ingredient, add-in, or topping? Share in the comments below!

Close up of a pot of Basic Chili

Step by Step Photos

Onion and Garlic for Basic Chili

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.

Tomatoes and Beans for Basic Chili

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.

Add Beans and Tomatoes to Basic Chili

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.

Simmered Basic Chili

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!

Basic Chili with Toppings

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.

Basic Chili in a bowl being eaten