10 Tips for Making the Perfect Chili

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Tony Maples Photography


From choosing the best meats to experimenting with unexpected flavors, these 10 tips will help you create the best pot of chili you’ve ever tasted.

There are few foods more comforting and delicious than a big bowl of homemade chili. The classic dish effortlessly combines a multitude of flavors and textures that has been a staple on kitchen tables for generations.

Chili is the official state food of Texas, and they have very strict guidelines on what defines the dish. Their old school “chile con carne” has no beans but features an intense mix of spices and a robust red sauce. Although the Texas staple is a classic, there are no rules on how to create your own tasty take on the meal.

With so many options and ingredients available, the process of cooking your own version of chili can seem overwhelming. How much is too much spice? How long should you let it cook? These 10 tips will help you create your own amazing chili that will have your friends and family asking for more.

10. Don’t rush

Before you begin, make sure you are allowing enough time for the chili to cook properly. Giving it extra time allows flavors to mold together and lets you adjust levels of spice and thickness of the sauce. Many purists say that chili is actually at its best the day after it’s cooked, because it allows extra time for ingredients and spices to meld and settle.

9. Pick the best meat

When it comes to meats, everyone has a different favorite. You can go Texas style with large cubes of brisket, keep it simple with ground beef, or take the low-fat route with turkey. No matter what you choose, make it a high-quality cut, and cook the meat thoroughly before you add it to the mixture.

8. Spice it up

If you are in a hurry or on a strict budget, opting for dried, pre-packaged spices isn’t a terrible option. However, buying spices and grinding them yourself gives you the maximum amount of flavor possible. Always add a small amount of spice and build to your personal taste preference. It’s much easier to add spice than to try and take it away.

7. Don’t forget the veggies

If you want to skip the meat or just want a little extra flavor in your chili, try adding some sautéed onions, peppers or garlic to the mix. The veggies will add a noticeable crunch and pop of color to your chili. If you are doing a vegetarian chili, be sure to add fresh herbs like cilantro to enhance the essence of the produce.

6. Only add flavorful liquids

Instead of adding water to your broth, try adding red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce or even beer to the mix. Each of these brings out different notes and levels of sweetness that can enhance the mixture you’ve already created. A dash of freshly squeezed lime juice is also a great addition for extra acidity and tartness.

5. Don’t overcook your beans

If you choose to add beans to the mix, don’t add them in immediately. If you heat them too long, the outside shells will begin to burst and disintegrate. This causes a mushier texture and an unnecessary loss of flavor. This especially goes for canned, pre-cooked beans, which only need a short amount of heat exposure to be enjoyed.

4. Skip the cans

Although it shortens the cooking time, the fewer ingredients you use that come from the can, the better your chili will be. Preservatives and chemicals lessen the flavors from ingredients like tomatoes and beans, so try and opt for the freshest options possible. If you like a chunky sauce, simply dice up a few tomatoes instead of adding canned tomato paste. It will taste fresher and will absorb any added seasonings much better than the prepackaged version.

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Chili is a great dish because you have the freedom to add almost anything to it. If you taste your chili and feel like something is missing, trust your gut. Be adventurous and try adding unexpected ingredients. Some of the best chefs even use crazy ingredients like coffee, peanut butter or chocolate to enhance their creations.

2. Toppings are essential

Once you’ve filled up your bowl, don’t be afraid to add some saltine crackers, sour cream, green onions or cheese. If you like a lot of spice, try adding Sriracha, jalapeños or Tabasco on top. For a more muted taste, add greek yogurt, white rice or blue cheese to soften the effect of added seasonings.

1. Enjoy!

After all your hard work, make sure you really take the time to enjoy what you’ve created. With every batch of chili that you make, you’ll learn which flavors work together and what to change next time. Think about what stands out from your first to last bite, and get feedback from others. Most importantly, savor each bite and give yourself a pat on the back!