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.

easy chili recipe in a bowl with a spoon and garnishes

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.)

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quick chili recipe in a pot mixed with cheese and sour cream

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??”

close up shot of quick, easy chili recipe

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!

basic chili recipe in a white bowl garnished with sour cream, cheese, onions

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.

quick easy chili recipe with cheddar cheese in a pot

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
  • Garlic
  • 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
  • Cumin
  • 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?
basic chili recipe with cheddar cheese, shot from overhead

How to make this Quick, Easy Chili Recipe

Guys, it’s so easy.

  1. Brown ground beef and onion, drain and add garlic.
  2. Add all the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Simmer for about 30 minute. TA-DA!
  4. 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!

ground beef in a pot, chopped onions; ingredients for chili
Frozen ground beef does a body good
sauteeing ground beef and onions in a soup pot, draining grease
Please ignore my much-abused pot.

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!

chopping roasted red pepper on a cutting board
Other than the onions, the roasted red peppers are the only thing you have to chop!

Then add in ALL the rest of the ingredients! It could not be easier.

bowl of spices for chili, tomato paste in a tube
This is the kind of tomato paste I buy, so I don’t have to throw out the rest of a 6 oz can!

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.

ingredients for chili arranged in a pot

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:

  • Cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • Tortilla chips
  • Guacamole
  • Pico de gallo or salsa
Basic chili recipe with garnishes like cheese and onion

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:

  • Tomatoes
  • Beans
  • 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!
meaty chili recipe on a spoon

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:

easy chili recipe in a black bowl with cheese and sour cream

More chili and soup recipes you are going to love!

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Easy Chili Recipe (45 Minutes!)

4.48 from 38 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 6
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!


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

Garnish ideas

  • 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.


*I used 2 cups of water and 2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon Beef Base.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 544kcal | Carbohydrates: 68g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 53mg | Sodium: 2143mg | Potassium: 1244mg | Fiber: 14g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 768IU | Vitamin C: 50mg | Calcium: 167mg | Iron: 9mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Calories: 544
Keyword: Chili, easy dinner
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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  1. 5 stars
    Hi , I made this recipe at our church’s chili cook-off and I won a prize for it! It was in the medium chili section and then today I took it to our quilters potluck and everyone loved it and wanted the recipe. I was wondering if I had your permission to put in our quilting newsletter, if not I could just share it individually
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Alice! That is amazing, so happy you won a prize! It would be great if you could direct people to the blog for the recipe, as it is copyrighted. Thank you so much for asking!! And thanks for reviewing :)

    1. Hi EM! Sorry to hear that you didn’t care for the amount of brown sugar in the chili. As the recipe recommends, you can definitely just start with a tablespoon or so and add more to taste if you like. I hope that your future batches of chili are sweetened to your liking!

  2. 2 stars
    Tried using Brown sugar, used less than 1/2 cup. Terrible mistake :( Now trying to make it less sweet. Definitely avoid that step, very sad.

    1. Hi BK! So sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the sweeter version. This recipe has very classic chili flavor without the brown sugar; the brown sugar adds a much richer flavor profile and was loved by testers. Definitely feel free to skip the brown sugar altogether next time or just try with a tablespoon or two!

  3. 5 stars
    Karen I absolutely love this chili recipe!!! The reason I even tried it because you had me at Brown Sugar and I was curious. I am a retired truck driver of 25 years and am starting to regain my cooking abilities. Can I just tell you? You are my go to for great recipes I made your cornbread, peach cobbler (yes with fresh peaches) almost every cookie recipe I could find last Christmas I could go on an on. You rock!! You introduced me to Better Than Bouillon and I will never go back. I love reading about your family, friends, etc. Thank you!

  4. 3 stars
    Only added half a cup of brown sugar and it was still way too sweet. Definitely feel like it’d be a good recipe without the sugar!

  5. 5 stars
    Just tried this recipe and it is great. I made it exactly to the recipe, except for two things: I happened to have two cans of pinquito beans instead of kidney beans. I would never have heard of pinquitos if not for Karen. They are marvelous! The other change I made was I only used 1/2 cup brown sugar. Here is what I got: a very good, mild, kid and husband friendly chili. This is not your wildly spicy chili that makes your eyes water. This is simply delightful, very mildly sweet, and so easy! I can see myself making this again!

  6. 5 stars
    Liked yous ingredients plus add what I like in a chili as well. I did add pork sausage as well plus jalapenos. Love those so in my chili they go. This was the first time of ever using brown sugar. WOW the extra sweetness was soooo great with the kick of hotness I added. Will be doing that some more. Cheese at the end also was great. Love the flavors over all.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it Red! Love the idea of adding in a bit more heat. Thanks so much for reviewing!

  7. 5 stars
    Hands down, best chili recipe I’ve ever made! Sweet and spicy! (I added a little extra cayenne.) Highly recommend giving this a try. I’ll definately be making it again!

  8. 5 stars
    OMG!!!! This is amazing…..like you, I was initially weirded out by the brown sugar…but I like everything you do, so I went with it!! Delicious!!!

    Whole family loved it! Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad you tried the sugar Courtney! I was sure I wasn’t going to like it, but so glad I ended up trying it. Thanks so much for reviewing!!

  9. 5 stars
    This is definitely the best Chili recipe….Made it tonight and my husband, Richard absolutely loves it…I have many of your recipes on Pinterest and have made many of them….I love your posts and I know when I see The Food Charlatan….it will be delicious! Thank you Karen!

    1. That is such a huge compliment Adrienne, thank you so much! I’m blushing :) I’m so happy you both loved the chili, it’s one of my favorites! Thanks so much for commenting!

  10. Thank you for having a used pot! I have started to realize that all the cooking shows – even diners driveins and dives have pots that look brand spanking new!!! My favorite pot is actually a clay pot I purchased in Oaxaca Mexico. Three plane rides and it on my lap nearly the whole way home. It came home safe and sound and I love it! It never looks stained. :)

    1. I heard a food blogger say recently that she has an entire separate set of pans for cooking and photographing, isn’t that so funny? I’m just not that cool haha. Your clay pot sounds amazing, totally worth it to haul on the plane!

  11. I laughed so hard at your “much abused pot.” Mine looks exactly the same! I prefer to think of it as baked-in flavor enhancer.

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