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.
I like to add fresh jalapeños, cheese, green onion, and crushed tortilla chips to my chili!
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
Customize Your Basic Chili:
- 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
- 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
- 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 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
- 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!
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.