How To Make Perfect Chili


“Perfect Chili” … that’s a pretty bold claim. But it’s one I have absolute confidence in.

I started making chili when I worked at a restaurant in college. The recipe started with 20 pounds of ground beef and 4 gallons of tomatoes. And a really big pot. Every couple of weeks when I made it I’d refine the recipe a little more. Until finally, I thought it was perfect.

Then I tried to make it at home. My “perfect” recipe called for several pounds of chili powder. How many cups was that? I had no idea. So I had to start all over building a new recipe. But I couldn’t serve my family chili very often, so it took me years.

And finally, I had a breakthrough.

The perfect chili … is different every time. Chili for nachos is different from chili for hot dogs. Chili for me is different from chili for us. “Perfect” chili is whatever you think it is.

Of course, I do have some recommendations. :-)


080913-165323_Lg2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds ground turkey
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
½ large yellow onion
3 large green peppers
1 cup chipotle chile powder
¼ cup cumin powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
salt & black pepper


Chili is actually a great way to clear out the fridge. If you’ve got some veggies that are a little too soft for a salad, throw them in. I won’t go buy mushrooms just to make chili, but if I’ve got some leftovers I’ll use them. I’ve also tossed in carrots and even potatoes.

This day what I had left over was ground turkey. Normally I use all ground beef, but why not? Making things the same way every time is boring.

Since half of my ground beef was packed flat, it thawed really quickly. The other pound of ground beef, and all the turkey, was still in a roundish lump. So they were still cold in the center. Not a problem. It’s better to start with just some of the meat anyway.

Brown one pound of ground beef over high heat and crumble it up.

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If you use a spoon to break up the ground beef, it will be really difficult (and tedious) to get it evenly crumbled. I really like the tool I used for the chili sauce and mashed roasted potatoes recipes. (It’s the Pampered Chef Mix ‘N Chop.)

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Ground beef will have enough fat in it that you don’t need to add any oil to the pan. Don’t worry about some of it getting burned on, the tomatoes will pick up all the brown bits later. Add a couple teaspoons of salt.

Dice half the onion and add it to the ground beef.

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Dice the peppers, add to the ground beef and onion, and stir.

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Sometimes I dice the veggies really big and have a chunky, rustic style chili. That’s great for eating by the bowl, but doesn’t work as well on nachos. Since I was doing a big batch, and planned on having leftovers, I went with a smaller dice this time. When making chili for hot dogs, I go extremely small. Dice up whatever other veg you’re adding and toss it in.

With all my veg added, I tossed the remaining ground meat in. Yes, they were still frozen in the middle.


Put the lid on and, every minute or two, open it up and scrape off whatever meat has thawed. (It took mine about ten minutes to thaw all the way through.) Then crumble up the meat again.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes and turn the heat down low.


I’ve done this using fresh tomatoes when I had them available. But most people grow beefsteaks or some other sandwich-friendly variety in their gardens. Romas have better flavor, and that’s what usually goes into canned tomatoes.

Now add the chile powder and cumin.

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“Chile” is not a typo. The spicy dish made with ground meat and peppers is called “chili”. The peppers that go in it are “chile” peppers. If you use a pre-mixed blend of chile peppers, garlic, salt and cumin, that is chili powder. If you have the powder of a single kind of pepper that’s chile powder.

If there’s a pre-mixed chili powder you like, go ahead and use it. It’s your chili, make what you like. But if you want to control the flavor better, make it more or less hot … more or less sweet … smoky or tart or crisp … you can try out different kinds of chile powder.

I used chipotle powder and cumin this time. I’ve also done this with ancho powder, which was much milder. Stir your spices in, give it about five minutes to simmer, and taste.


This is where you make it your perfect chili. Add more garlic. (Which I did. I completely forgot to add it at the beginning. Oh well.) Add salt, Tabasco, diced jalapeños, crushed red pepper, coarse ground black pepper. Whatever you think it needs.

If you’re working with a couple of pounds of meat, like I’ve got here, add spices at least a teaspoon at a time. You won’t notice less than that.

If you used fresh tomatoes or if you added lots of other veggies, you could have a thin, soupy chili at this point. I don’t like my chili thin and soupy. You can stir in a quarter cup of flour or (better) masa and simmer another five minutes to thicken it up. But if you have time, it’s better to simmer it and let it reduce.

Once you’ve got the right consistency, scoop some out into a sourdough bread bowl.


Add some diced onion and shredded cheese. Usually I go for sharp cheddar, but this time I had mozzarella. I think I like it better. Garnish with a fresh jalapeño pepper.


And that’s it.

If I’ve still got any of this left by Friday, I’ll probably be putting it on nachos. It seems I’ve never posted that, so I’ll take some pictures and put it up. Sign up using the form to the right to make sure you don’t miss it.




  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • ½ large yellow onion
  • 3 large green peppers
  • 1 cup chipotle chile powder
  • ¼ cup cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • salt & black pepper


Brown 1 LB ground beef over high heat and stir to crumble.

Dice onion and peppers. Add ½ the onions and all pepper to ground beef and stir. If you're adding other veggies, dice and add.

Add remaining ground meat, brown and stir to crumble. Stir in crushed tomatoes and garlic. Turn heat to low.

Stir in chile powder and cumin. Let simmer five minutes and taste.

Adjust spices by adding salt, Tabasco, diced jalapenos, crushed red pepper, coarse ground black pepper, etc.

Simmer to reduce. If you don't have time to simmer to desired consistency, stir in a quarter cup of masa or flour and simmer another five minutes to thicken.

Serve with diced onion and shredded cheese. Garnish with a fresh jalapeno pepper.


  1. I can’t make red chili to save my life. I make a passable white bean chicken chili… but me and red just don’t roll.

    On an unrelated note, got an immersion blender and made your mayonnaise. YOU ROCK! Thanks for the video, it really helped.

  2. Did the mayo work for you on the first try? It took me a half-dozen attempts before I got the hang of it. If you got it right off the bat I’ll be jealous.

    As for the red chili, how do you normally like it? With/without beans? Hot or mild? Brown like stew, or red like mine? Thin and soupy, mostly meat, thick gravy … ?

    If you know what your perfect chili is, I can probably tell you how to tweak the recipe above.

    • This is going to sound really weird, but my mom found an awesome addition to any type of chili. Next time your making it, throw in a little relish. It really gives it a nice flavor if you like yours a bit sweet. A good pale ale is also good to put in it. Not the whole thing, just an ounce or two. Good recipe my man.

      • You’re right, that does sound weird. Beer is good though. If I had any on hand it would have gone in. Although I find beer helps more if you’re in a hurry. It helps the flavors come together faster. If you’ve got time to let it simmer, I can’t really taste the difference.

  3. Linda Goossen says:

    You know, you can’t miss with a big pot of chili! However, when there are only 2 of us, I find it hard to make, because we eat it, and eat it! My neighbor usually invites us over to eat when she makes it. (She is my twin sister!) LOL!

    Okay, I’ve looked at all the links in you site, but you didn’t tell us what the tool was, or where to buy one. What’s up with that!

    I love your picture tutorials!

    • To Linda Goossen: chili freezes GREAT! Freeze it in a baggie even. I like to take frozen chili camping to cut down on the groceries needed to make it.

  4. It’s something my wife got from Pampered Chef. I’ll ask her tonight if she remembers what it’s called.

  5. YAY! A tomato recipe! And also one that I can sneak some ground lamb into, which I will have vast amounts of soon.

    But I always add beans to my chili. Fiber, ya know. Yup, we’re old.

    Also . . . Romas have better flavor? Better than what? They don’t taste all that special to me, they’re just good for cooking with because they don’t have as much water in ’em as a sandwich tomato. But I think my other tomatoes taste better. I like acidic tomatoes, though.

  6. It looks delicious! I actually made chili this morning so Grumpy had dinner ready when he got home tonight! My DIL makes awesome chili and I am hoping she will do a guest blogpost for me about her chili because it is my favorite!

    BTW, I let you the Yummy Blog award. Wear it proudly and feel free to pass it on if you wish! :)

  7. Kristin, what variety of tomatoes did you plant? Heirlooms like Brandywine have better flavor, but aren’t as “pretty” on the shelf. And like you said, the ones that are good on sandwiches aren’t as meaty as Romas. I hate seeding beefsteaks and washing all the seeds and pulp down the drain, but reducing it to the right consistency takes forever.

    Honeyb, come back and leave a link when/if she does the chili. I always like to see what other people do.

  8. This year, we planted Romas, Stupice (yummy), Moonglow (an orange heirloom, but boring in flavor), and a hybrid called Raad Red that we got free from the seed company. And a couple of random plants the MiL bought at the nursery. The Stupice is the only one I really like. Next year, I think we’re going to try a purple variety that’s supposed to be good and acidic, and something called Jetboy that A.’s aunt had this year and I really liked.

    Too much information? You should know better than to get me going on tomatoes . . .

  9. Heck no, I want to hear tomato varieties. I want something meaty with a rich, acidic flavor. It should be the perfect tomato to eat with just a little salt.

  10. Looks good. I love chili, especially when there aren’t any beans. I’m not really a bean fan. Heh, I thought me and my buddy were the only people who put potatoes in my chili.

  11. The way my father-in-law makes it, there’s a fine line between chili and beef stew. Potatoes, celery, carrots … you name it.

  12. Heh, that’s great. My sister in law won’t call my chili chili because it is too much like stew for her. Course she still eats it… :)

  13. Anyone interested in that tool I used to break up the meat, take a look up top for an update.

  14. Oh yum! I think I would add beans to that – I like beans in my chili. I like how you created this as sort of a formula on how to make perfect-for-you chili, instead of just a straight-up recipe. It looks really good.

  15. Stephanie, have you seen the movie The Incredibles? There’s a scene where Edna Mode is plannning Mr. Incredible’s new costume. He wants a cape. Remember her response? Imagine that voice when you read this: NO BEANS!

  16. I can see why this could be called perfect chilli 😀 But for me the perfect chilli has pumpkin and chocolate. Great recipe!

  17. Chocolate I’ve heard of. Didn’t like it, but I’ve had it. But pumpkin? Never would have thought of that.

  18. Of course I got it right off the bat… I had your video to watch!!!

    As far as chili, how about “TASTES DECENT”.

    That recipe looks like something I’d eat, although I bet it’s a bit sweet for my taste and needs beans. My past failures have pretty much kept me from trying anything for the last 10 or so years.

  19. Sweet? I don’t know what kind of chili powder you’ve used, but there’s nothing sweet about this one. The girls thought it was a bit too spicy. (I’ve got to break them in slower, I guess.) And beans are just WRONG. No one is going to sway me on this.

    And consider this. You know that chili has to have beans. But you don’t like the chili you make. Maybe you should make chili like someone else does.

    Don’t take this as pressuring you. I’ve (mostly) given up on making fish, but I’m not a huge seafood fan anyway, so it’s no great loss. But it really sounds like you wish you could do chili. Sometimes you’ve just got to start from a clean slate.

  20. “And consider this. You know that chili has to have beans. But you don’t like the chili you make. Maybe you should make chili like someone else does.”

    I’m not always known to be the smartest crayon in the toolshed. That would make sense to try something different.

    And it just LOOKED sweet. 😉 Don’t ask. (Again, one brick short of a crayon box.)

    I’ll give it a shot.

  21. Crayons in the toolshed and bricks in the crayon box? I’d love to see your idea of arts and crafts.

    Thought you’d like this story: My friend Bill hosts a July 4th party every year. Lots of people sleep over, and he makes omelets in the morning. One year someone asked to watch, since they were always so good.

    As he started to slide the omelet out of the pan, the spectator said, “Wait, it’s not done yet.” Bill said, “I thought you wanted to see how I make them?”

    Oh, and cut that recipe above in half. You don’t need six pounds of experimental chili.

  22. I laughed… that is sooo true.

    And is this one of the proverbial “tested” recipes that I could can? I’m still a bit freaky about falling down dead by eating something that wasn’t on the approved canning recipe list. :)

  23. It’s got a lot of tomato, so I would can it. But if I had a pressure canner, I’d probably use that just in case.

    Anyone else canned chili before, got any tips?

  24. Andi of Longmeadow Farm says:

    Your chili looks great! So yummy, just reminds me of a fall evening, and enjoying sitting around the woodstove with a group of friends. Will have to try this. I also like the “no bean” chili version.

  25. recipes2share says:

    Mine just has to have beans – not chilli without it (2 ‘ll’s in chilli this side of teh Atlantic!). I love the bread bowl, what a great way of serving.

  26. Chili in a bread bowl is genius! I would love to eat that bread at the bottom that has been soaking in delicious chili!

  27. Andi, a Dutch oven and a wood stove sounds like the perfect way to make this.

    R2S … NO BEANS! And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. [ahem]

    Hillary, you’re absolutely right about the bottom. That’s even better when it’s chicken or turkey noodle soup. It soaks in better.

  28. Looks like some good chili. I think I’ll be making some this week…
    My mom’s recipe has a little cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa in it–I guess it’s the greek influence in cincinnati chili…

  29. I’ve had Cincinnati stile at Skyline chili. It’s okay on hot dogs, but I’d never eat a bowl of it.

  30. Ryan Detzel says:

    Awesome Drew! We even have the same stove.

  31. What are you talking about? Your stove was a campfire? (For anyone wondering what Ryan and I are talking about, he did a very similar chili recipe, but with beans. So check that link out if you’re a bean eater.)

  32. Anonymous says:

    thank you for the recipe it was so simple it is cooking now!
    i grabbed garlic powder and garlic salt by mistake i had the cumin in my buggy but had my 3yr old and she grabbed them so have to do with out the cummin…but it taste great!

    this is my first time ever making chili ahhhhhhh

  33. Thanks for posting the comment and getting me to thing of this again. It’s about time for some more chili to go on hot dogs from the grill.

  34. Hey…this was a great recipe! Especially the part about just adding what I want. I usually stress about using exact ingredients, but I was able to let go on this one. I think it the care free way you explained it. I lined up every ingredient on the counter and added whatever sounded good. It came out great…although I should have worn gloves before cutting up fresh chile. Thanks!

  35. Cydba, I think this might be my new favorite comment. When someone realizes that recipes are just guidelines, or starting points, that's when they start getting comfortable in the kitchen.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Hi Drew,
    Im glad I stumbled on your site. I was looking for some chili ideas and here I am :) I am a big fan of the kindey beans though…
    I make mine a little different each time too and this time I want some sweet with my spice and I added some cinnamon sugar (little at a time) and it was fantastic! I look forward to returning for some more of your great recipe ideas :)

  37. I'm not really a big fan of Cincinnati style, which has the cinnamon. I've had chili before with a Hershey bar added, and wasn't too thrilled with that, either. Doesn't mean I'm opposed to the idea of sweet chili, I just haven't tried one yet that I liked.

  38. As looking for some more ideas for chilli, it soemthing that come pretty easily, but i recently watched the food network chili cook off and thougth maybe mine could use a little change up. I put bayleaf in mine and it tends to have as much beans as meat and sometimes I will brown bacon first.
    On a different note I have been making a lot of beef and antelope stew and it has been coming out good but not great. It is pretty frustrating, I am thinking I may need to substitute beer for wine in the recipe.

  39. title=”Fatigue?”
    Hi Drew,
    I just found your blog few days ago. The slow cooker pot roast is cooking right now.
    I was really curious about your Chili. But I just don’t see the recipe. Am I really tired or is there a problem? But otherwise, I love your cooking from scratch : no mushroom cream can, no onion soup package. Just real ingredients …Trust me, this is really very hard to find either in cookbooks or the internet. Your site, the recipes and the people around with their comments just make me feel less lonely
    Thanks for sharing.

  40. Amal,

    Yeah, fatigue covers it. I had a script that converted all the Blogger formatting when I moved. Apparently there was something unique in this one that killed everything after the jump.

    Thanks for pointing it out. The rest of it is there now.

  41. Drew,

    Thank you for the great Recipe for Chili!! I made it for my husband and it was a great sucess. I added some habaneros and that did just the trick. You have a wonderful sight! Thanks for helping make a great dinner for my husband.

    Kristy :o)

  42. Hello, Drew,

    I just discovered your great site a week or so ago and have been enjoying going through the archives. I’ve also ordered the HTCLYG 2nd edition as well as the Starting from Scratch ebook. I look forward to receiving the cookbook. From your website so far I’ve made the glazed carrots and now this chili, which I made today. Unfortunately, something went awry with this one. I originally halved the recipe, so I used a half cup chipotle chile powder. The resulting chili was so spicy it was nearly inedible. So, I made another half-batch of the chili, only without the spices, and added that to the original (so I ended up with the full four pounds of meat, but with half the spices). Surprisingly, even that was too hot. (I did eat it with equal parts sour cream, but couldn’t finish the bowl, my throat was burning so bad.) I’m hoping it may mellow out some overnight in the refrigerator…

    I’ve read the comments on this recipe and no one else has reported this problem (quite the contrary: folks have loved it)…So, I’m wondering if I the chipotle powder I used was not what you intended in your recipe. I used the ground chipotle powder by Spice Island…I imagine the heat may vary between different brands or even batches of this stuff.

    Thanks for any light you can shed on this.


    P.S. Both my husband and I like spicy foods, so this isn’t a case of being wimps when it comes to chili. I’ve found most chili recipes I’ve made to be too mild.

  43. Laura, I’m stumped. I checked the Spice Islands site to see if their chipotle was actually a spice blend, but it seems to be just the one chile.

    Wait, I just noticed. In my recipe I had two pounds of ground beef and two pounds of ground turkey. So there was four pounds of meat to start with. If it was still too spicy after that … I don’t know. Do you typically think barbecue sauce is spicy? :-)

  44. Thanks, Drew, for checking. Unfortunately, I did use four pounds of meat, with half the spice level (1/2 cup chipotle instead of the full cup). Somehow it is insanely hot. Maybe I got a batch of ferocious mutant chiles in my spice bottle. :-) I assure you, I don’t think barbecue sauce is spicy.

    I’m still going to eat it – just with loads sour cream. Mmmmm….

  45. oh my lord this is a good chili

  46. i think that if you put in a little bit of sugar it will also give you a little bit of sweetness to it.

  47. I like to add V8 Juice to my recipe

  48. Looks and sounds oh so yummy and you’ve given me some ideas. Potatoes? Wow, cool! Now I’m in a chili making mood. Tonight? Chili (using ground turkey) on rice with cornbread. I can’t wait. :-)

  49. Ted Gunderson says:

    Nice one. This reminds me of Jeffs recipe from Mannys Chili Shack in Sandy Beach, Wisconsin. The guy was world chili cooking champion for 10 years. He even won the super cook off series in Japan. Now that is a chili contest. It is said he could name all the ingredients of a chili just by smelling it. Amazing senses and fantastic feel for chili execution and delivery. Anyone know Mike Ternecki from Arlington? That guy made great chili back in 84.

    • dennis bolulo says:

      I like this recipe alot although I add a few of my own secret ingredients to it. Some great customizations too. Thanks guys.

      @Ted – Those guys are legends. I saw Mike Ternecki and Manny go head to head in a chili cook off in Tuscaloosa in the 80’s. Manny won, but Mike didn’t like it and keyed his truck. Manny found out and confronted him, they ended up having a good punch up and throwing pots of chilli at each other at the Days Inn parking lot. Those guys were like chili rock stars back then.

  50. Beanlover says:

    Meh, needs more beans.

  51. I have a 7 1/2 inch burner on my hot plate. Your pan looks pretty big. Is there a pan you recommend that has enough vertical height to accomodate this chili and still fits?

    • Al, this is a big batch. Cut everything in half, then maybe half again. Start with one pound of ground meat and one medium can (14 or 15 ounces) of tomatoes, and scale everything else back to match.

      If you get too much spice into it, just cook up another pound of meat and another can of tomatoes and mix it in.

      • Thanks for your help. I cooked your chili for the 2nd time today. At age 30 and only 8 months on my own, I never learned much cooking at home.

        This chili has been my first step into serious cooking.

  52. “”Chile” is not a typo. ”

    It IS a typo – the correct spelling in proper english is just “Chilli”. Also, this is far from the perfect chilli recipe. The only flavours there are chilli, tomato, garlic and cumin. That’s about the bare minimum flavouring you could get away with putting in this recipe. However, there are many more flavours that could have been included. Corriander seed, soy sauce or oregano for example are common amongst many recipes for this. Heck, some of the better chilli dishes i’ve had even include cocoa or cooking chocolate (despite initial skepticism, this ingredient works fantastically).

    A more fitting title for this recipe would be “hey, im fairly new to cooking but I think this tastes pretty good”. By claiming it perfect you just show your arrogance (and yes, I’m aware of the hypocrisy in saying this given that my post is extremely arrogant).

    • Did you read the post, or just skim the ingredients and jump into your arrogant critique?

      The perfect chili … is different every time. Chili for nachos is different from chili for hot dogs. Chili for me is different from chili for us. “Perfect” chili is whatever you think it is.

      If you think that counts as me being arrogant, there’s not much I can do to change your mind.

      As for the spelling, there’s this explanation at that sums things up nicely. But that isn’t “authoritative” is it? How about this one from No? Then there’s this post and this followup, that says that’s how they do things in New Mexico — at least according to the Albuquerque style guide. And according to this post they also do it that way at the L.A. Times.

      If you want to disagree with my convention, you’re disagreeing with all the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in L.A. and New Mexico. I’m comfortable that I’m on the right side of that one. But even if I’m not, there’s clearly a ton of support for my position. So if you’re going to go all grammar-Nazi on me, you might want to pick a better fight.

      Oh, and capitalize “English” while you’re at it.

      • Brittany says:

        Chile is the correct spelling for the pepper in Spanish, but the Americanized spelling is chili. It is the most common spelling on packaging for the powder and the pepper in the United States. In the southwestern United States, where there is a higher Hispanic population, it is acceptable to use the Spanish spelling for the powder and pepper. However, if you were to advertize that you were selling chile peppers in Tennessee (where I am located), it would be assumed that you literally mean peppers from the country Chile. Merriam-Webster defines chili first as “a hot pepper of any group of cultivars…noted for their pungency – called also chili pepper.” I’m not trying to disagree with you, nor am I saying that the person who commented above is correct, but I just wanted to point out that there are three ACCEPTED ways to spell chile/chili/chilli**. It just depends on your location and the language you speak. If we were in France, people would be fervently telling you that it is spelled “chili” because that is the translation of “chile” from Spanish to French. The same goes for “chili” in English. That is why it is found under “chili” in most English language dictionaries and why it is in Microsoft’s Spelling & Grammar Check dictionary with an i at the end.
        I also love your recipe. There wasn’t a good spot to stick that in, so I put it here at the end.
        **(Side note, the British spelling has two ls, “chilli.” link:

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