6 Secret Ingredients to Help You Make the Best Chili (2024)

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Ready to level up your chili game? We're letting you in our secret flavor tricks to transform your next batch.

BySara Haas, RDN

Published on September 2, 2022

Chili season is upon us. That means it's time to dust off your favorite chili recipe and grab your cherished chili pot. But before you get too deep into prep, consider adding one of our six secret ingredients; each capable of transforming any bowl of ho-hum chili into something magnificent. Our secret ingredients are items you likely already have in your kitchen.

Here Are Our Six Secret Ingredients for the Best Chili

1. Canned Puréed Pumpkin

You already use this to make pumpkin-infused quick breads and waffles, but did you know you can add it to chili too? Pumpkin is a great addition to chili because it adds body, providing a natural creaminess and richness to your chili. This helps smooth things out a bit in that sea of meat and beans. It's flavorful too. It has a sweet earthiness to it that, when cooked, gets even tastier. When should you add it? Stir some puréed pumpkin into your chili just after sautéing your aromatics (onions, garlic, etc...) and before adding any liquid. This will deepen and sweeten its flavor, making it a great balance for all the chile peppers and heat. If you don't have a recipe in mind for this just yet, try this pumpkin chili as a start.

2. Cocoa Powder

Brownies made with cocoa powder are pretty awesome, and so is chili. Cocoa powder has earthy undertones that play well with the spices found in chili. You don't need a lot of it either. If you're making a big pot, 1 to 2 tablespoons will be all you need. Add it with your liquid ingredients and simmer for as long as you can to maximize flavor. Take the lead from this Paleo Chili recipe.

3. Coffee

Save a little bit of that morning cup of Joe for your stew. The bitter flavor is complementary to the meat and spices of your chili. Skip any flavored coffees as those won't have the same effect. Instead, choose a good quality coffee or cold brew with undertones of chocolate and spice, and add about 1/4 cup to your big batch of chili when you add your other liquid ingredients.

4. Maple Syrup

Brown sugar is a common sweetener added to chili. It's a relatively neutral-flavored sugar with a touch of molasses that pairs well with the other ingredients. But try replacing it with maple syrup next time for a fun twist. Maple syrup has a similar "vibe" to brown sugar with an almost caramelized flavor. And similar to many of the secret ingredients listed here, it's got that earthy thing going on that makes it a perfect addition to your bowl. Add this towards the end of cooking, starting with 1 tablespoon and adding more to taste as needed.

5. Pepperoncinis (Plus Liquid)

Ancho chiles, New Mexico chiles, and jalapeños are all great in chili, but we like the hot and sweet pickled pepperoncini peppers you find in a jar in the condiment section of the grocery store too. These little banana pepper-like pickled peppers are the perfect addition here. Add them early to flavor your chili while it cooks and use them as a topping too. And don't forget that pickling liquid! Add some at the end, just before serving for a blast of tangy, sourness!

6. Root Beer

Besides being delicious in a root beer float, root beer also makes a great addition to your chili. Replace a bit of the tomato juices or other liquids in your version with root beer and let it simmer. Or swap it for the regular beer in this Beef, Bean, and Beer Chili recipe for a new spin on a classic. The longer it sits, the more concentrated the flavor you'll get. If you're up for it, consider cooking your root beer ahead of time into a sort of root beer concentrate, like you would with balsamic vinegar. This root beer "syrup" will add a great balance of sweetness and bitterness you'll love.

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6 Secret Ingredients to Help You Make the Best Chili (2024)


What is the best secret ingredient to add to chili? ›

Here Are Our Six Secret Ingredients for the Best Chili
  1. Canned Puréed Pumpkin. You already use this to make pumpkin-infused quick breads and waffles, but did you know you can add it to chili too? ...
  2. Cocoa Powder. ...
  3. Coffee. ...
  4. Maple Syrup. ...
  5. Pepperoncinis (Plus Liquid) ...
  6. Root Beer.
Sep 2, 2022

What adds the most flavor to chili? ›

Spices: While cumin, chile powder, and cayenne pepper tend to be common additions to many chili recipes, there's a broad world of flavor out there to experiment with. Try a little fenugreek, turmeric, garam masala, or sumac to layer in more complex flavors.

What ingredient makes chili taste like chili? ›

Most Common Chili Spices. Cumin, Chile Powders, and Paprika are the most common spices in chili followed by garlic, onion, coriander, Mexican oregano, and bay leaves. These ingredients can be combined to create a savory and well-balanced pot of top notch comfort food.

How do you make chili even better? ›

If you want more of a smoky flavor, add cumin, Spanish paprika, ancho chili powder, or a combination. If you are looking for more heat, add cayenne, crushed red pepper, or Hungarian paprika. If it's too spicy add a little brown sugar and some sweet paprika.

What makes can chili taste better? ›

Professional chefs shared their favorite ways to turn a can of chili into a tastier option. Cocoa, beer, and cinnamon are ingredients that'll boost the flavor of your dish. Fresh toppings are an easy way to add new flavor and texture to the premade meal.

What is the best liquid for chili? ›

Chili cooks low and slow, so you need enough liquid to tenderize the meat and keep everything from drying out. That liquid should also add flavor to the chili, so use chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or beer.

How to add depth of flavor to chili? ›

Elevate your chili recipe by adding an extra layer of flavor. Cocoa powder, bacon, cinnamon, ground coffee and tomato paste will all add a rich sweet & salty flavors that are sure to surprise and delight.

Why do you put vinegar in chili? ›

With only about 1 tablespoon per pot added toward the end of the cooking process, the vinegar will make the flavors more vibrant without overwhelming the dish with its biting tang. Through just a splash, everything becomes a little brighter, and the chili's flavors are more balanced.

What not to put in chili? ›

Beans and non-vegetable fillers such as rice and pasta are not allowed." If that sounds a bit uptight, the ICS's Homestyle Chili competition defines chili as: "any kind of meat, or combination of meats, and/or vegetables cooked with beans, chili peppers, various spices, and other ingredients.

How to improve chilli taste? ›

How to Give Chili a Flavor Boost
  1. Add something acidic. ...
  2. Try to identify what about your chili is boring. ...
  3. Add tomato paste. ...
  4. Drop in some chocolate. ...
  5. Embrace pickling liquid. ...
  6. Stir in some molasses.

What is my chili missing? ›

Sometimes after a long simmer, your chili will taste wonderful be maybe missing one little thing you can't figure out. Try a tad bit of vinegar or a squeeze of lime! The acidity in vinegar & limes bring a good roundness to the pot and binds all the flavors together.

How do you make chili taste more meaty? ›

In a pot of chili, just a few strips of bacon add a smoky, meaty depth. And it's not just the bacon itself that adds flavor, it's the bacon fat, too. Before you start your recipe, cook 3 to 4 strips of thick-cut bacon until they're as crispy as you like.

What is the best ingredient to thicken chili? ›

The good news is there are lots of easy ways to thicken up your chili with ingredients you likely already have in your pantry— flour, cornmeal, pureed beans, cornstarch, or even crushed tortilla chips will help do the job, along with some good old extra simmering time.

Why do you put baking soda in chili? ›

Ground Beef: Provides the hearty meaty base for the chili. Opt for 85% lean; the fat enriches the meat, enhancing the dish's overall flavor and texture. And don't stress about the fat—post-cooking, it's easy to skim off any excess. Baking Soda: Helps tenderize the beef by locking in moisture, making it more succulent.

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