Nothing beats a thick, hearty chili bowl on a cold winter day. The classic comfort food— made from a spice-filled mixture of beans, tomatoes, meat, and vegetables— is a surprisingly easy dish to make. Stir up a pot of chili on a weeknight, and you'll have leftovers for the whole week!
A defining characteristic of this classic cold-weather dish is its thick, stew-like consistency. Add too much liquid, leaving you with a soupy mush that isn't nearly as satisfying or filling. The good news is there are plenty of easy ways to thicken chili recipes without compromising their signature flavor.
In this article, I will highlight how to thicken chili using ingredients you already have in your kitchen— even without additional ingredients. So grab a stockpot, and let's get cooking!
How To Thicken Chili While It's Cooking
Let The Chili Simmer
To thicken chili without any additional ingredients, leave the pot uncovered for a portion of the cooking time. Leaving the stew uncovered as it cooks allows excess liquid to evaporate as steam instead of keeping it trapped under the lid.
Most chili recipes instruct you to simmer your chili in a covered stockpot for at least an hour or two. If you're nearing the end of the chili's long cooking time and notice it's a bit thinner than you'd like, remove the lid and allow the chili to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until desired thickness achieves. Stir frequently to avoid scorching your chili.
If your chili is finished cooking and you're still displeased with the consistency, leave your chili uncovered as it cools. This allows the mixture to release steam and encourages it to thicken further as it cools. When you heat a bowl for lunch the next day, you'll notice the chili has thickened as it cooled, and the starches have melded with any excess liquid overnight.
Tip: Stir frequently to avoid scorching until desired thickness achieves.
Bulk Up Your Chili With Refried Beans
Another easy way to thicken chili is by adding beans. If you don't have a can of refried beans handy, use a potato masher or a large fork to mash up a regular can of beans. Unlike whole ones, which hold onto most of their natural starches during the cooking process, mashed ones release their starches into the liquid, encouraging it to thicken.
When thickening chili with beans, stick to black beans, red beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans. Simply add the refried or mashed beans to your chili, stir, and allow to simmer uncovered until the chili reaches your desired consistency. To maintain your chili's rich flavor, add an extra dash or two of spices (such as chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper) to balance out the additional ingredients.
If you don't have an additional can of beans on hand, you can mash some of the whole beans you've already added to your chili. Scoop roughly a third of them in your chili recipe out of the pot and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Use a potato masher or large fork to lightly mash them before adding them back to your simmering pot of chili. The starches will activate in the chili and thicken the liquid.
Stir in a Cornstarch
Cornstarch is a commonly-used thickening agent in soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. When thickening soups with cornstarch, you'll need to make a slurry, a concentrated starchy liquid used to thicken liquids. It's crucial that you do not add the cornstarch directly to hot chili, as it will leave you with unappetizing starchy clumps.
To make a cornstarch slurry, simply mix cornstarch and water (or broth) in a small bowl. As a rule of thumb, you'll need roughly one tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup of liquid you want to thicken. Once the slurry is smooth, gradually add the mixture to your pot of chili. Mix thoroughly over low heat until the slurry is evenly incorporated. It may be a few minutes before the chili starts to thicken.
Tip: Do not add cornstarch directly into the chili.
Stir in a Handful of Cheese/ Nutritional Yeast
If you're looking to thicken chili without adding loads of carbs, try adding cheese or nutritional yeast instead. All you'll need to do is add a healthy handful of shredded cheddar cheese or parmesan. While you can shred the cheese yourself, it's best to use pre-shredded cheese, which contains a stabilizing emulsifier called citric acid.
As you stir the cheese into your chili, the citric acid binds the cheese to the wetness, resulting in a thicker chili. For a vegan option, add nutritional yeast instead. Nutritional yeast will deliver a cheesy flavor while adding a nutty and savory note as well. Not to mention, nutritional yeast is a complete protein, and it is packed in vitamin B.
You can also use cream cheese to thicken your chili and add a rich, creamy texture. Start by scooping a few spoonfuls of cream cheese into a small bowl. Add an equal amount of hot liquid from the chili to the bowl and whisk together until smooth. Then, pour the contents of the bowl back into the chili and stir until well incorporated. Allow the chili to simmer for another 10-15 minutes of cooking before serving.
For vegans, check out nutritional yeast. Thickening chili with nutritional yeast is an interesting option for those looking to add a creamy and slightly cheesy flavor while enhancing the dish's texture. To thicken chili with nutritional yeast, you can sprinkle it directly into the simmering chili. Begin with a tablespoon or two and modify as per your personal flavor preferences.
Add Tomato Paste
Thickening chili with tomato paste is a wonderful way to achieve a thicker consistency and enhance the chili's flavor and richness. Tomato paste can enhance the taste of your chili by adding a tangy flavor. Since many chilies are tomato-based, this method won't alter the taste much.
To thicken chili with tomato paste, simply stir tomato paste into the simmering chili. Start with a tablespoon or two, depending on the quantity of chili and your taste preference. If you get a thin chili, add more tomato paste gradually, stirring well after each addition. Adjust the amount based on your desired thickness and taste.
Throw In Tortilla
Whether you have extra tortilla chips (or corn chips) around or tortilla shells, they are a great chili thickener. Simply crush them or chop them into small pieces, and then stir them into hot chili and let it simmer. When the tortilla starts to soak up excess moisture and breaks down during cooking, it will thicken the chili.
To add a crunchy texture to your chili, add additional crushed tortilla chips on top when serving.
Tip: Add crushed tortilla chips or corn chips 10 minutes before your chili is done. Or add chopped tortilla shells and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a superfood that can be used to thicken chili while adding a ton of nutrients. When these little seeds are exposed to water, they will absorb the liquid and form a gel-like texture. Chia seeds are naturally gluten-free and packed in fiber, adding a slight crunch texture to your chili.
Use Uncooked Noodles
Using uncooked noodles is one of the unconventional ways to thicken chili that can add substance and texture to the dish.
Adding uncooked noodles into simmering chili can help absorb and soak up the extra liquid. Most pasta can cook in under 15 minutes, but make sure you test the pasta to ensure it is fully cooked before serving.
Add Cornmeal To Thicken Chili
Cornmeal can be a great ingredient to thicken chili, and it can achieve a heartier consistency and enhance the overall texture of the dish. Cornmeal is a finely ground dried corn that can act as a natural thickening agent when added to liquids.
To thicken chili with cornmeal, you'll typically create a slurry by mixing cornmeal with water. This slurry is then added to the chili during the cooking process. A common ratio for the slurry is 1 tablespoon of cornmeal to 2 tablespoons of water. Nevertheless, the ratio can be modified based on the desired thickness and individual taste preferences.
While the chili simmers, steadily pour the cornmeal slurry into the pot, ensuring to stir constantly. This ensures that the slurry is evenly distributed and prevents clumping. After incorporating the cornmeal slurry, let the chili simmer for a duration of 10 to 15 minutes. The cornmeal will absorb some of the liquid and thicken the chili as it cooks.
Add Root Vegetable
Thickening chili with root vegetables is a fantastic way to add natural thickness, texture, and flavor to the dish. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes, can contribute their starchy properties to thicken the chili while also imparting their own unique taste.
Thickening chili with masa harina is a traditional technique used in Mexican cuisine. Masa harina, a finely ground flour, is created by cooking and soaking dried corn kernels in an alkaline solution, usually lime water.
To thicken chili with masa harina, create a slurry by mixing it with water or broth. Begin by combining 1 tablespoon of masa harina with 2 tablespoons of liquid, using a 1:2 ratio. Thoroughly stir the mixture until it achieves a smooth consistency without any lumps.
Thickening chili with flour is a popular and simple method that can be used to achieve a thicker consistency.
All-purpose flour or wheat flour is typically used for thickening chili. Other options, like cornstarch or arrowroot powder, can also be used, but they may result in a slightly different texture and flavor.
To thicken chili with flour, you must make a slurry. Mix 1-2 tablespoons of flour with water well, and then add to your simmering chili. Allow it to simmer more, and make sure the slurry completely cooks (you shouldn't be able to taste it). After 10-15 minutes of simmering, it should have a significant difference in texture.
How To Thicken Chili Upon Serving
Serve with Bread, Crackers, Or Tortilla Chips
If you want to thicken your chili after it's cooked, serve it with something that can sop up excess liquid, such as bread, crackers, tortilla chips, or cornbread. In addition to thickening your soup, it'll make for a heartier meal. And who doesn't love delicious dipping crackers or a crusty slice of cornbread into their bowl of soup?
If you aren't keen on dipping your toppings into your soup, crumble a few saltine crackers into your chili or stir in a torn piece of cornbread. It's a great way to use up the last few slices of a loaf that's gone stale.
Top It Off With Shredded Cheese
For the low-carb option, add a handful of shredded cheese on top, which will help you thicken and add a cheesy texture to your chili.
How To Thicken White Chicken Chili
This is more delicate than traditional chili, and it has a lighter texture and a creamier taste. Here are some ways to thicken your white chicken chili:
Cook the chili longer
To thicken your white chicken chili, a straightforward method is to allow it to simmer uncovered for an extended period of time. As the liquid evaporates, the chili will naturally thicken. Just make sure to stir occasionally while simmering to avoid any sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Prepare a slurry by combining cornstarch with either cold water or chicken broth. For every cup of liquid in your chili that you want to thicken, use about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of cold liquid. Stir the slurry well to remove any lumps, then gradually add it to your chili while stirring continuously. Let the chili simmer for a few minutes to activate the thickening properties of the cornstarch.
Make a roux
A roux is a thickening agent made by combining equal parts fat (such as butter) and flour. In a separate pan, melt butter over medium heat, then incorporate an equal quantity of flour. Stir the mixture constantly for a few minutes until it turns golden brown. Stirring thoroughly to ensure proper integration. Allow the chili to simmer for a few additional minutes, enabling the flavors to blend harmoniously.
Puree part of the chili
Remove a portion of the chili from the pot and blend it in a blender or use an immersion blender to puree it. Return the pureed portion back to the pot and stir it in. The pureed ingredients will add thickness and creaminess to the overall texture of the chili.
How To Thicken Chili FAQs
How to Thicken Chili with Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a food additive used as a thickening agent or stabilizer. When using this ingredient to thicken chili, do not add it indirectly, and make a slurry instead to avoid any clumping. This food additive should be used aspiringly due to the health risk associated with its usage. It is a lab-made soluble fiber, which your body cannot break down and causes potential health issues.
When To Thicken Your Chili
If you realize that your chili is too thin either midway or toward the end of the cooking process, it's a good time to consider implementing a thickening strategy. There are options available to help you achieve a thicker consistency, whether it's during the cooking process or once the chili is fully cooked.
Will Chili Thicken Overnight
Whether you cook chili in Instant Pot, slow cooker, dutch oven, or a pot, if you let it sit overnight, it will cause the chili to develop a thicker texture.
As it sits and cools, the flavors meld together, and the ingredients release their starches, causing the chili to become thicker in texture. As a result, the chili can develop a more intensified and flavorful profile when enjoyed the following day. If you prefer a thicker consistency, allowing the chili to sit and rest overnight can enhance its overall taste and texture.