The Ultimate Chili Recipe - Once Upon a Chef

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The Ultimate Chili Recipe - Once Upon a Chef

Prepping for game day or seeking warmth on a cool day? Give my chili recipe a whirl—it’s everything a classic beef chili should be and more.

This chili recipe is my tried-and-true favorite—to me, it’s the very best version of a classic chili. Hearty and brimming with deep flavors, it delivers just the right spicy kick to chase away the chill. Whether paired with fluffy cornbread, spooned over cilantro lime rice, or served with crunchy tortilla chips for scooping, this chili never fails to please. It’s perfect for game days, casual get-togethers, or just a comforting meal on a cold day. Plus, it freezes beautifully, so consider making a double batch to stash some away for another day.

“We’re Texans and love your chili! Try this! It is so well flavored without being hot. The hint of cinnamon and molasses balance out the spice. ❤️ Thank you for another great recipe!”

For the best and most tender chili, I have a few tricks. First, mash the beef with a bit of baking soda and let it sit while you prep the other ingredients. This raises the pH of the beef, which locks in moisture and accelerates browning, resulting in a more flavorful, tender chili. Second, opt for 85% lean ground beef. 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.

Wondering about beans? I don’t add them to my chili since my family tends to eat around them, but feel free to add a can of your favorite drained beans during the last half hour of cooking. Finally, for those who like a sweeter chili, try adding a touch of molasses and cinnamon for a delicious twist.

Begin by combining the ground beef, salt, baking soda, and water in a large bowl.

Using your hands, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit for 20 minutes. The baking soda raises the pH of the meat, helping to lock in moisture and accelerate browning. (I borrowed this tenderizing trick from Cook’s Illustrated; it works like a charm.)

I use a food processor to speed this up, but it’s fine to chop by hand too.

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil and add the onions, garlic, and red pepper.

Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add the beef and increase the heat to high.

Cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break up the meat, until the beef is browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

The beef will release a lot of fat and liquid — do not drain it; you’ll skim the fat off at the end. Add the ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, smoked paprika, and cinnamon (if using).

Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant. Add the cornmeal, beef broth, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and molasses (if using).

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours. Skim any excess fat off of the surface of the chili — there will be quite a bit.

Stir in the lime juice, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with accompaniments and enjoy!

I'd love to know how it turned out! Please let me know by leaving a review below. Or snap a photo and share it on Instagram; be sure to tag me @onceuponachef.

Prepping for game day or seeking warmth on a cool day? Give my chili recipe a whirl—it’s everything a classic beef chili should be and more.

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Exceptional chili packed with an amazing amount of flavor! I added the cinnamon and so happy I did! My husband was questioning why I was using 2.5 pounds of beef and now he’s grateful that I did! Amazing!

Hi Jenn: I love your recipes, always follow them to the letter and have consistently great results. Getting ready to try this chili and am wondering if you can give me a better idea of how many cups is in 1 large onion. Google results say anywhere from 1 1/2 to 3 cups. Thanks!

So glad you like the recipes! I’d guesstimate you’ll get about 1 1/2 to 2 cups from a large onion. Don’t worry too much about the measurement. As long as you’re using a large (or 2 small) onion(s), you’ll be fine. Hope you enjoy!

This is just the best chili ever! That hint of cinnamon and molasses balance out the wonderful seasonings. The splash of lime wakes it all up to freshness. Wonderful. Thank you, sweet Jenn.♥️

Made this recipe recently for a small party and everyone loved it. It really is the ultimate chili!!

This is the best chili recipes I’ve ever made. Usually, following other recipes, my beef tastes dry and lacks flavor. With yours everything was so tender and delicious. Threw in a can of white beans with the broth, tomatoes, etc and it was perfect!

Tried this today and it was “simply the best” chili I’ve ever tasted! Coming from an Arizonite it’s meant to be a sincere compliment.🤠

This is a fantastic recipe! Thanks again for another winner. I have never been disappointed with any recipe from this site. I consider myself a pretty good cook – you make me better!

The best chili I’ve ever made! Baking soda added to the ground beef is genius—making the meat much better! Also unusual for me was addition of corn meal, molasses and all the different spices. This chili and Lowcountry Boil were big hits with our extended family day after Thanksgiving. Thanks Jenn💕

I’m surprised by all the positive comments. I like a lot of the recipes on this sit but this surely isn’t one of them. I used Penzy spices but all I could taste was tomato. If you want to make this I would suggest you use something other than CRUSHED tomatoes. I think diced or whole would have been much better. I’m guessing she tweaked another chili recipe so she could call it her own and substituted crushed tomatoes for another kind but it just doesn’t work here. Cooking Light (gosh I miss that magazine) has an All American Chili with about the same spices but is MUCH, MUCH better.

This is such good chili! My husband hates beans in his chili so I tried this one. It’s delicious and easy to make. I’m definitely making it again soon.

Made for a chilli cook off and based off the comments I for sure thought we would win. Made it exactly as the recipe called and transferred into a crock pot for the remainder of time and for the contest. By the time it came to judging the liquid was completely absorbed and was thick mush. Came in 2nd last place :/ Is there something I should do differently when using a crock pot. I’m not giving up and want to try this same recipe next year for my chili cook off redemption.

Hi Amanda, I’m sorry you had a problem with this and came in second to last! I’m surprised that the liquid was absorbed in your crockpot. I don’t have any experience using one, but I thought that, if anything, they tend to make things more liquidy. If you try this again, maybe cook it entirely in a standard pot and then transfer it to a crockpot just for the contest/judging. Also, you could reduce the cornmeal (which serves as a thickener) to 1 tablespoon. Hope that helps!

Best chili- delish!!! We love beans so the only change I make is adding one can kidney & one can black beans. My boys eat it up!!!! Your recipes are always amazing, flavorful & easy to follow. Thank you ❤️

I had to make an adjustment, used 3 Tbsp chipotle chili powder (did not have ancho). Added a Corona beer and tsp sugar as I’m a wimp with heat now, so needed to tame the heat level. My husband must have beans in his chili, so added 1 can dark kidney beans and 1 can white beans (limited bean choices in France). By far the best chili recipe I’ve ever used, and I did taste before making my additions. In my younger years the recipe as written would have been perfect! Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!

Love this chili. I’ve made it several times and it’s always the first thing gone at a party. I made it exactly to the recipe with the addition of tri-color kidney beans. The cinnamon, molasses, smoked paprika and chipotle chili powder are crucial to its unique flavor.

Excellent chili! Everything I make from this website is excellent! I added 2 cans of kidney beans because that is chili to me and there was also so much liquid that the beans filled the pot and it was perfect. Will definetly be making this again.

Fantastic chili! When I need a good recipe for something, I always come and see what Jen has to offer. So many of her recipes are on repeat in my house. THIS is sooooo good. I only added 2 tsp. of the chipotle chili powder, because the one I have is scorching hot. I just added an extra tsp. of the adobo instead. I added a jalapeno, sans seeds, to the onion/pepper mixture. I also used Muir Glen Fire Roasted tomatoes, smoked paprika, molasses and cinnamon (it doesn’t make the chili sweet, just gives it dimension of flavor). It has such a wonderful smokiness. Lastly, I added two cans of drained & rinsed kidney beans and one can of cannelini, because I like beans in my chili.

I made the chili for a small crowd tonight and it was a hit with everyone! I doubled the recipe (cooked the meat and veggies in two separate pots first and combined it) and added two cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed, and one can of white beans, drained and rinsed, because I didn’t have enough meat. I’ll definitely make this again in the future.

Wow. This is a proper chili. Worth every step, every spice. Add the cinnamon and molasses. It won’t be too sweet but it does add a depth of flavor. This chili packs some heat that I turned down with sour cream in my own bowl, though everyone else said it wasn’t too hot and I was the wimp. I only added one can of beans. Two would probably work better. I actually made this in a cast-iron pan and transferred to crockpot to cook on low for 3 hours. I love ground beef to be really tender. Having said all this, I don’t like chili in general. I made this recipe for my family and it is so flippin good, I will gladly make it again.

Made this tonight for dinner and it was absolutely incredible! The depth of flavor was unparalleled and now I understand how others placed or won using this recipe in a cook-off. Another winner!

Hi !! Wondering if I can substitute brown sugar for molasses. How much? Or not at all? Linda

Yes, that would work. You can also just omit the molasses.

Made this for a gathering at the weekend and it went down a storm, absolutely delicious and easy to make. Everyone loved it!

I made this very good. Easy to make. Great flavors.

I made this chili this afternoon and it was terrible. It had a very weird “fluffy” consistency to it and no “bite” when chewing it. I don’t know if I made a mistake or if the recipe is at fault. I suspect the cause may be the baking soda on the meat browning step. Perhaps I used too much. Aside from the consistency, the flavor can best be described as “off” and didn’t taste like a traditional chili. We will not be making this recipe again.

This makes an excellent chili. I especially appreciate the tip about baking soda in the ground beef. Because chili is a forgiving, highly personalizable (is that a word), I passed on the cinnamon, and added two cans of black beans packed with with jalapeños, 2-3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, and a couple diced (and deseeded) jalapeños.

Hi what kind of cornmeal do i need im in the uk,so not used to using/buying cornmeal..Theres stone ground medium grind or course on amazon ? Thanks

Hi Katie, I’d get the stone ground or medium grind. Hope you enjoy!

I’ve been to 2 grocery stores and can’t find ancho chili. Any suggestions on what to substitute? I don’t want the chili too spicy as I’m hoping my young grandchildren will eat it. Apologies if this question has already been asked and answered. I love your recipes and cookbooks as I find them so dependable!

Hi Linda, sorry you had a hard time finding it. You can just replace it with regular chili powder. Hope everyone enjoys!

I made this chili following the recipe for a halftime chili cook off. I did add chili beans. It took 2nd out of 12 entries! I was very pleased with how the chili tasted. It was the best I’ve ever had. Thanks for the inspiration.

I made this chili for dinner last night, and it is truly fantastic!

For those asking if you can make it in the slow cooker, you absolutely can because I did and it turned out great.

I sauteed the vegetables, meat and spices per the recipe instructions, then added all of that along with everything else into my slow cooker. It ended up cooking on low for about 10 hours, though I think it would’ve been good to go after about 7-8 hours on low. I did end up doing the last half hour on high with the lid off to reduce some of the liquid, so probably next time I’d cut the broth back by at least half a cup or so.

But it was delicious! I made it mostly as written, except I used three full pounds of ground beef instead of 2.5 lbs then scaled up the seasonings a tiny bit to go along with that. I also did add one 15oz can of drained and rinsed small red beans, which we loved. I did not use the optional molasses or cinnamon, and we were very happy with the resultant spice level and flavor profile. I would say that if you’re sensitive to spicy heat, I would probably find a mild chili powder and use that in place of the ancho and chipotle chili powders rather than to omit chili powder entirely.

This one’s a winner! We’re having it again later this week as a topping for baked potatoes, and I’m already excited for that dinner, too. Thanks, Jenn!

Made this for a family gathering today and everyone said it was a winner. Left off the Chipotle chili powder as it was expensive. Only had a bit leftover for my lunch tomorrow. Added some canned pintos at the end. Thanks for another great recipe.

Hi, Jen! I’ve made this easy chili several times as is. Sometimes I substitute Ro-Tel tomatoes and green chilies for the tomatoes. This recipe has become my standby for easy chili! It never fails to please. As an aside, your Texas Beef Chili is my favorite of all the chilis I’ve made in over 50 years of cooking!! Thanks again!

Best chili ever. Followed the directions exactly including a couple ingredients I would never imagined in chili. Delicious.

We absolutely loved your chili recipe. We will definitely make it again. I used Rotel Hot diced tomatoes with Habaneros for added spice. Thank you again.

I made your chili again yesterday from a printed copy of the recipe I had. When I tried to look it up on your site using the name on it — Best Ground Beef Chili — I found that you’d changed the name! Now it’s The Ultimate Chili Recipe! Anyway it came out fantastic – even better than the last time I made it! I did mix the ground beef with two links of hot Italian sausage. I’m sure that helped. Thanks for the recipe! It’s great!

Made this today for 1/2 time Bears game tomorrow . Turned out FANTASTIC!! Instead of chipotle powder I used the sauce from a can of chipotle peppers. Everyone keeps coming in to ‘sample’ it! Thanks for posting the recipe👍👍

Absolutely fantastic chili! Best ever!! Nights here in Moab, Utah, are now below freezing so what better way to warm a chilly night than with chili! My husband is not a fan of beans in his chili (as I are most assuredly are) so, I served his chili on rice and I simply added chili beans to my bowl. I did add the cinnamon and molasses as you suggested – great flavor add. A hearty squeeze of lime (also your recommendation) really makes this chili shine and pique with flavor. As I love to utilize my dried summer herbs in soups and stews, I topped our bowls with cilantro and chives. So good, I’ll make it again and again! Thanks!

It was a hit. I had 2 ears of fresh corn which I cut off of the cob and added, otherwise I would have made it as written. Cooked it on Wednesday, cooled it in the fridge, removed 3/4 of the fat from the top and served it on Thursday. Added some Queso Fresco cheese and sour cream to each bowl. So good. I will likely be making it again as the weather gets colder. Thanks Jenn

LOVE this recipe!! Made it and it tasted sooooo good! I made one minor change to it, hope you don’t mind…. I call it Jim’s Best Chili recipe. 🙂 Whatcha think?? Pretty good name? Fits it well, i think! Thank you Jenn!

Could you use substitute beef chunks instead of ground beef? My husband asked!

Hi Dawn, if you’d like to use chunks of meat, I’d recommend this recipe instead. Hope you enjoy if you make it!

Have you ever adapted your lovely recipe for the crock pot?

Hi Wendy, I haven’t but I think it will work. I’d love to hear how it turns out if you try it!

Hi Jenn: I was excited to make this today to take to our Grandkids. We ended up having to go to a Celebration of Life service so I put it in my Crock pot on low. We were gone for 4 hours. I have been cooling it and will put it in the refrigerator to cool overnight and make it easier to take the fat off. I did add a can of drained kidney beans at the end I don’t know if the longer time made it runnier but maybe it will thicken as it cools? If it doesn’t thicken should I add more cornmeal? Thanks Jenn

Hi Janess, No need to add more cornmeal. When you reheat it, just continue simmering it, uncovered, until you reach your desired consistency. Hope the grandkids enjoy!

I can’t wait to make this! Oddly, I love chili but I’m not a fan of beans. My boyfriend loves beans but he is not a fan of chili. So, this should work for the both of us! =)

Another keeper. We aren’t a fan of a lot of smoky flavor, so I opted for regular paprika and chili powder. Other than that no changes. My 9 year old proclaimed it the best chili of all time:)

What’s the cornmeal for?

Hi Hannah, it helps to thicken the chili and adds an another layer of flavor.

Can I use turkey? I know it might not be as rich, but that is ok.

Hi Cathleen, For turkey chili, I highly recommend this recipe.

Why do you add Cornmeal?

Hi Ann, It acts as a thickener and also adds nice flavor.

I made this for a casual get-together and everyone loved it and asked for the recipe! It is now my go to chili recipe 😊

This recipe is amazing!! I added 1 can each of dark red kidney beans, black beans and corn. I also added the cinnamon and molasses. The flavor is incredible! I took it to a chili cook off and won!!

I’m a fan of beans in chili. Thank you!

At first, when I tasted it, I thought it was okay. Then I kept discovering more depth, then I tried it the next day, and it’s fantastic! I didn’t even have the lime juice and still found it bright and tasty.

I made this last night before the Bears/Commanders game and it turned out great! I had some jalapeños ready to add because I didn’t think it would have very much heat when I saw the recipe. Boy was I wrong! I didn’t have to add a thing! I only had 80% lean ground beef, but it was still very good. I may try adding some andouille sausage in the future, but this recipe really doesn’t need it! Thank you for creating this recipe! 😊

Great chili recipe! Loved the flavors … just the right amount of heat and sweet! Thanks for another perfect recipe!

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Once upon a time, I went to culinary school and worked in fancy restaurants. Now, I’m cooking for my family and sharing all my tested & perfected recipes with you here! Read more…

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