A super easy and quick chili recipe for busy weeknights! You can put it together in 45 minutes, or make it in the slow cooker. This homemade chili is packed with flavor and a secret ingredient that I wasn’t prepared to like. But I’m a convert now! Minimal chopping required. Mostly it’s just opening cans and dumping spices. My family loves this! Originally published October 17, 2020.
The other day Eric turned on the new trailer for Dune, volume full blast, and was totally disappointed. (If you don’t know what Dune is, you are safely in the “not a huge nerd” category. Congratulations. I used to live there, until I married Eric. Now I’m nerd by association. Kind of like a contact high, but for life. There are worse ways to live I suppose.)
Anyway, a few minutes later I heard his indignant outrage when he realized that Edison, who just learned how to crawl, had figured out how to turn off the subwoofer. He was so offended. “If you watch a new Dune trailer without the full sound effects, have you even watched it??”
File this under things I do not understand. Sound quality is very low on my list of life priorities. When I want to listen to music, I use my phone and its tiny speaker. This drives Eric mad. Is this a guy thing??
Speaking of movies, we had some friends over last night for a movie in our backyard. It was so fun! We were trying out our new projector (here’s the one we got). I think we will get a lot of use out of it! It’s such an easy way to have an outside party. We watched the Secret Window, that one creepy movie with Johnny Depp, and now I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep this week. I am just not a scary movie person!! I get so freaked out!
A Quick Chili Recipe to Have Handy
Tis the season for a chili cook off! Even if your normal harvest festival is not happening this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t make yourself a cozy bowl of chili to enjoy.
The Secret Ingredient that makes a Basic Chili Recipe Better
This recipe is from my sister Laura. I wanted an easy chili recipe that could be made on a weeknight, and she’s been making this one for years. This is a basic chili recipe with one exception. I looked at Laura’s ingredient list and saw that it called for an entire CUP of brown sugar! Generally I like my sweet food to be sweet and my savory food to be savory. I’m the girl who likes to have an entire separate plate for my bacon and eggs, just to make sure I don’t get syrup from my pancakes on them.
So I made two pots of chili: one with the brown sugar and one without. I was convinced I would like the one without sugar. I put a serving of each in two bowls and gave them to Eric. (He didn’t know anything about it). He liked the brown sugar one better. And even more shockingly, so did I!
So apparently the secret to great chili is brown sugar. This really was a huge surprise to me. If you are skeptical (I was!) just add a couple tablespoons of sugar to start. The chili is super delicious and has very classic flavors if you skip the brown sugar. It’s a pretty basic recipe. But I’m telling you: try it with the brown sugar at least once. It adds a richness and fullness to the chili that I wasn’t expecting. It pulls all the ingredients together in the most delicious way.
Let’s make it!
Ingredients for Chili
Lots of healthy ingredients here, guys. The responsible adult in you is cheering! You’re doing it!
- Ground beef
- Large onion
- 1 jar roasted red peppers
- 1 can diced tomatoes. Fire-roasted diced tomatoes are my favorite.
- 2 cans kidney beans
- 1 large can diced green chiles. I love the fire roasted ones; they are not spicy, just add great flavor.
- Kosher salt
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Cayenne pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- Black pepper
- Brown sugar
- Beef broth
- Tomato paste
- Sour cream, to garnish. Basically just not optional.
- Cheddar cheese. Another optional garnish, but again, who are these people opting for no cheese? What is wrong with you?
How to make this Quick, Easy Chili Recipe
Guys, it’s so easy.
- Brown ground beef and onion, drain and add garlic.
- Add all the rest of the ingredients.
- Simmer for about 30 minute. TA-DA!
- Top with sour cream and shredded cheese. HEAVEN.
Now for some pictures. First start off with some ground beef. Can we just get a round of applause for ground beef? You can treat it like garbage and it still tastes amazing. Look, here I am adding a hunk that is completely frozen to my pot. Thawing? What’s that? Ground beef doesn’t need such coddling!
Add in some chopped onion. Cook until the onions are soft and the beef isn’t pink anymore. Then drain off the grease.
I always tilt the pot to the side and ladle the grease into a foil lined bowl. Then I put it in the fridge until it’s hardened and toss it in the garbage. This time I was using a pot holder to tilt the pot to one side, and didn’t notice that I was holding the pot holder directly over the gas flame. It almost lit on fire!! Gah! Make sure to turn off the heat if you do it this way, sheesh Karen!
Add in some garlic after you drain it, and saute for about a minute until fragrant. You can use jarred garlic if you want.
What makes this a crazy easy chili recipe?
I love that the only thing you have to chop for this recipe is the onion and maybe the roasted red bell pepper (and garlic, if you don’t use the kind in the jar). The Mezzeta brand even has deli sliced roasted red peppers, if you want to just drain and dump!
Then add in ALL the rest of the ingredients! It could not be easier.
After the garlic is sauteed, you can transfer the meat mixture to a slow cooker along with the rest of the ingredients and cook there for a few hours. It’s so easy.
Another way to add flavor to your chili with zero effort is to use fire roasted everything. Fire roasted tomatoes, fire roasted green chilies, fire roasted peppers! Fire roasted just means that the contents of the can have been roasted, meaning they have a more smokey, charred flavor. It does not mean it is spicy. If you can’t find fire roasted, the regular kind will work great too.
You can see my half cup of sugar there in the pot that I started out with. I ended up adding the full cup of brown sugar after tasting it and simmering a while. Try it!
Best Toppings for Chili
Now let’s talk toppings. Can you eat chili without toppings? Yes. But WHY WOULD YOU?? For real though. Here are the standard add-ins that are not optional:
- Sour cream. I went to a chili cookoff at church a few months ago and there was NO sour cream provided with the other condiments. I was terribly offended. My friend Melissa actually left the party and went all the way back to her house to get her own tub of sour cream before finishing her chili. Respect.
- Shredded Cheddar Cheese. If you don’t add cheese to your chili, ask yourself, who am I? Do I love myself? Then give yourself a hug and add in the cheese.
Chili toppings that are acceptably “optional”:
- Sliced jalapeno
- Chopped green onions
- Chopped white onions
- Chopped red onions. You really can’t go wrong here. Just like Kevin from The Office said, “The trick is to undercook the onions.” Please tell me someone remembers this scene 😂 I like adding raw onions of any kind on top of chili, just make sure you chop them up small.
Optional chili toppings if you are going for Tex-Mex flavor:
- Lime wedges
- Tortilla chips
- Pico de gallo or salsa
What can you NOT put in chili?
Ah, yes, the Texans are here to shame us. I guarantee you this question is Googled by newcomers to Texas who were invited to a chili cookoff and are TERRIFIED that their chili will be instantly disqualified by the inclusion of certain ingredients. Here they are:
- Any other chunky items that are not beef or chili remnants.
The name “chili” comes from the original Tejano dish called “chili con carne” which literally just means chili peppers with meat. Any other discernible ingredients are considered an abomination in the land of Texas. BUT. Despite what they might think, Texas does not rule the world. Every other American in the nation definitely adds tomatoes and beans to their chili. So never fear! Add in all the non beefy ingredients you like! Just don’t bring it to a Texas chili cookoff because you WILL be booted. It happened to my sister when she first moved to Dallas. She brought White Chicken Chili. Oh THE SHAAAMMMEEEE.
Chili Recipe FAQs
Let’s dig into some details! There’s no such thing as a dumb question, amirite?
What gives chili the best flavor?
The best? I mean, the BEST? Surely you mock. What’s Tex-Mex fusion without an explosion of opinions? Your idea of what gives chili the best flavor is always correct for you, own it.
But if you want MY recipe for the BEST, here it is, aptly titled: The Best Chili Recipe I’ve Ever Made. It uses tender shredded beef and masa harina and definitely has a Tex Mex spin. I stand by the title, and when I really want to impress, that is the recipe I make. Today’s recipe is absolutely delicious, and is my best recipe for the easiest and fastest chili.
Can I use canned beans for chili?
Yes! Canned beans make prep so much faster. Don’t knock it! They taste amazing and I bet some of your favorite restaurant chili uses canned beans and you don’t even know. I do love a slow cooked bean though, and if you’re looking for some awesome bean recipes, try out these Tejano Pinto Beans, or these Santa Maria Pinquito Beans, or Red Beans and Rice!
How do I thicken chili?
Watery chili got you down? Here’s how to fix it. Today’s recipe gives you a great thickness, but if you like even more heft, you can:
- Simmer the chili longer, lid off, stirring occasionally. This is your best option but takes time. If you have 30, 60, or 90 extra minutes, the answer is yes. Use all the minutes you have, simmer longer, and dive into the deliciousness later.
- Add an extra can of beans, but mash them first. Drain the liquid, mash with a fork, then add to your chili. Voila!
- Add a thickener like cornstarch, flour, or, even better, Masa Harina, which is a type of corn flour. To add this after the chili is already cooking, add a tablespoon of your preferred thickener to a bowl with 2 tablespoons cold water. Stir until lumps are gone. Pour into chili while stirring. Add more as desired!
What liquid do you put in chili?
Beef broth is where it’s at! Sure you could add water, but where is the fun in that? Or should I say, where is the flavor in that? High quality beef broth is your best option for packing a flavorful punch in your chili. I love to use Better Than Bouillon Beef Base, which is a condiment you can keep in your fridge and combine with water for last minute broth anytime. I use it all the time and it adds such amazing flavor to soups and chilis!
How to store, freeze and reheat chili
Just when I think the best part of chili is how versatile it is, I remember how easy it is to store! Throw leftovers in the fridge. Ziplocks, tupperware, the original pot used to heat it; yes, yes, yes. It all works.
Seal chili well, freeze, and you’ll have a delicious meal ready for you for up to 3 months. You can even divide the chili into single-serving portions if you want.
To reheat chili, the microwave works best, or you can heat in a pot on the stove on low. If your chili is frozen, thaw it in the fridge overnight (or on the counter for a couple hours) and heat in the microwave or on the stove. It’s okay if it’s still a little frozen when you heat it. Add a bit of water to prevent scorching.
What to serve with chili
Cornbread, of course! Here is my favorite cornbread recipe: Sweet and Moist Honey Cornbread. It’s a top recipe on my blog! If you are not in the mood for cornbread, here are some other ideas:
- Macaroni and Cheese, or try this Easy Mac and Cheese recipe.
- Simple cheese quesadillas, or try these Enchilada Quesadillas.
- Turn it into Nachos. Try chili on these Ultimate Chili Nachos!
- Dunk these Cheddar Bay Biscuits into your chili. Perfection!!
- Serve it over or alongside rice to stretch it out more.
- It would be delicious with some grilled cheese sandwiches!
- A simple green salad is all you need to go with chili sometimes.
- Serve chili on top of a big ol baked potato with all the fixins. Sweet potato would be good too.
More chili and soup recipes you are going to love!
- The Best Chili Recipe I’ve Ever Made << I still stand by this! Today’s recipe is the best EASY chili recipe :) If you have some extra time, try out this more extensive version!
- Chili Mac and Cheese Recipe << I make this every year on Halloween. It’s quick, easy, and the kids love it.
- Ultimate Chili Nachos with Queso and Guacamole << use today’s chili recipe to make ultimate nachos! Heaven.
- Cream Cheese Chicken Chili (Crock pot) << it’s so creamy and easy to make. Just open a bunch of cans.
- Chipotle Chili with Steak << I love that smokey chipotle flavor!
- Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup << this is the first thing my mother-in-law ever made for me, and I’ve been in love ever since. With her and the soup.
- Traditional Tejano Pinto Beans << this is a huge family favorite. Love Tejano flavors!
- Santa Maria Pinquito Beans << I love to serve these alongside Tri Tip, but really they could be a meal on their own!
- Keto Chili Mac from All Day I Dream About Food
- Crockpot Beef Stew from Family Fresh Meals
- Beef Taco Quinoa Soup Recipe from Cookin Canuck
Easy Chili Recipe (45 Minutes!)
For the chili
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, smashed and minced
- 1 (12-oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
- 1 (15-oz) can (fire roasted) diced tomatoes, not drained
- 2 (15-oz) cans kidney beans, drained
- 1 (7-oz) can diced green chiles (fire roasted), not drained
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 to 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups beef broth*
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste, optional
- sour cream
- shredded cheddar cheese
- chopped green onions
- chopped white onions
- cilantro, for Tex-Mex flavor
- lime wedges, for Tex-Mex flavor
- tortilla chips, for Tex-Mex flavor
- In a large soup pot, add 1 pound ground beef and 1 chopped onion. Heat over medium high heat for 7-10 minutes, crumbling and breaking up the ground beef. Turn off the heat when the ground beef is all browned and the onion is translucent.
- Drain the grease from the pot. I usually just tilt the pan to the side and spoon the grease into a foil-lined bowl. (Then I refrigerate the grease until hardened and toss in the trash.)
- Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic to the pot and heat over medium high heat for about 1 minute until it is fragrant.
- Drain the jar of roasted red peppers and chop if necessary. Add the chopped red pepper, fire roasted diced tomatoes, two cans kidney beans, and fire roasted diced green chiles. (None of these ingredients have to be fire roasted, by the way! I just love the flavor it adds!)
- Add in all the spices: 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir it all together.
- Add 1/2 to 1 cup brown sugar. I did not think I would like this much sugar, but I was totally wrong. Try it.
- Add 2 cups beef broth, or more or less if you want a soupier or chunkier chili.
- Add in 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, if you like a thicker texture. I like to use this tomato paste that comes in a tube, so that I don’t have extra waste from opening a can. You can usually find the tubes at the grocery store.
- Once all the ingredients are added, bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, with some slow bubbles coming up from the center. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, or longer if you have time, it’s only going to get better. Stir every few minutes so it’s doesn’t stick on the bottom.
- Turn off the heat. At this point I like to cheat and add a big ol dollop of sour cream to the whole pot, and stir it in. Who can say no to a little creamy goodness? But you can also just serve the sour cream at the table (or do both. Live a little.) I usually add in a handful of shredded cheddar too. Totally optional.
- Top with sour cream, cheese, chopped green onions, chopped white onion. Serve with Sweet Cornbread!
- If you would like to take it in a Tex-Mex direction, top with all of the above plus cilantro, lime wedges, and crushed tortilla chips. HEAVEN. I don’t serve this with cornbread if I do Mexican toppings usually, but you do you.
Slow Cooker Instructions
- Follow instructions through step 3 (sautéing the garlic). Add the ground beef mixture and all other ingredients (not garnishes) to a slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours.