The Most Important Rules for Making a Delicious Batch of Chili, According to Our Food Editors
What's better than a warming, nourishing bowl of chili in the winter? Whether you're cozying up with some chili on a frosty evening or making a giant vat of it for Super Bowl Sunday, the principles remain: Great chili means great prep work. If you consider the flavors, ingredients, and techniques involved before you get to work, you're setting yourself up for success. Another tip? If you follow our tried-and-true tips, all courtesy of our food editors, the perfect batch of chili is in your immediate future.
Use at Least Two Types of Chiles
Deputy food editor Greg Lofts says this is his number one tip: Using at least two types is well worth it for the incredible depth of flavor it creates. "[Use] one sweet and one or more spicy to build a more complex chili flavor," he says, noting that this can be any combination of fresh chiles, dried, and canned. "For example, I might sauté a fresh bell pepper (mild) and a Poblano (moderate) and then add a pinch of cayenne or Mexican chili powder. If you like a little smoky flavor in chile, using something like minced chipotle in adobo or smoked paprika will lend flavor," he elaborates.
Need a Shortcut? Use Chili Powder
If she's not using toasted, soaked, and puréed dried chiles, editorial director of food Sarah Carey has a go-to ingredient that delivers on the flavor front. "Very frequently, for ease, I use chili powder. "Just add it to your sautéing veggies," she advises. "Cook a few minutes to toast the spices. I would add a cut-up spicy chili like a serrano here, but my son doesn't like spice, so I serve it as a garnish."
Sauté the Aromatics
You're not plopping in your garlic and onions towards the end of the process, right? For the best chili, be sure to sauté any aromatics you choose to include first, which our test kitchen team says "reduces the moisture and pulls out the flavors of the alliums," rather than simply sprinkling them in the pot midway through the cooking process.
Don't Skimp on Spices
In addition to chili powder, Sarah is a fan of adding cumin, coriander, and oregano ("Even if I'm using chili powder that has those ingredients") to the mix. As well as salt. Add these spices when you're sautéing your alliums.
Always Add Beans
Not only are protein-packed beans also a great source of fiber, but they are great flavor boosters, too. "Even when it's something like beef or chicken chili, I always add a bean," says Greg, who calls out black, pink, and cannellini beans as his favorites because they are particularly creamy.
Embrace Toppings Galore
And then some. "The fun of eating chili is customizing it with toppings! For me, it's all about the sour cream, chopped scallions or sweet onion, cilantro, shredded cheddar or Colby-Jack, and pickled jalapeños," says Greg. For some crunch, he suggests tortilla chips. "Put out a bunch of different toppings options and let guests garnish their own bowls to suit their tastes. Interactive food is always more fun!"
Add Some Beer or Wine
"I like a splash of beer (sometimes I use wine if I don't have beer, so almost always, because I rarely have beer)," says Sarah. "Add it to the onion mixture and cook until it evaporates; I do not like raw alcohol flavor in my stews, so I always do this step." Sarah recommends keeping this amount to about ½ cup.
When in Doubt, Add Enchilada Sauce
This one isn't exactly a "rule," but it pays off when you're in a pinch. "If I'm in a hurry, a can of enchilada sauce will add a lot of spice and flavor," says Riley Wofford, associate food editor. It takes only a few seconds to add it to the pot, but the step quickly makes any chili a winner.