How To Thicken Chili- Include Insider Tips And Tricks 

 Last Update March 4, 2024

By Jenny Zhang

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 surprisingly easy.

However, getting the perfect thick, stew-like consistency is not easy. 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 your favorite 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.

How To Thicken Chili While It's Cooking

Let The Chili Simmer

Simmering chili

To thicken chili without any additional ingredients, leave the pot uncovered for a portion of the cooking time. Many 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 to allow excess liquid to evaporate. Stir frequently to avoid scorching your chili. However, this method will not work for Instant Pot or even a slow cooker.

Add beans

Adding beans to chili

Another easy way to thicken chili is by adding beans to the chili recipe. When thickening chili with beans, stick to black beans, red beans, pinto beans, or kidney 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 beans, which hold onto most of their natural starches during cooking, mashed ones release their starches into the excess liquid, encouraging it to thicken. 

Stir In A Cornstarch

Pouring cornstarch into chili

Cornstarch is a common thickening agent in runny chili, 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. However, keep in mind the chili may have a slightly grainy texture.

Stir In A Handful Of Cheese/ Nutritional Yeast

Adding cheese to chili

If you want 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.

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 before serving. 

Add Tomato Paste

Adding tomato paste to chili

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.

Throw In Tortilla

Adding tortilla to chili

Whether you have extra tortilla chips (or corn chips) around or tortilla shells, they are a great chili thickener. Simply crush or chop them into small pieces, 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. Add crushed tortilla chips on top when serving to add a crunchy texture to your chili.

Add Chia Seeds

Adding chia seeds to chili

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 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 the extra liquid. Most pasta can cook in under 15 minutes, but test the pasta to ensure it is fully cooked before serving.

Add Cornmeal To Thicken Chili

Adding cornmeal to 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. A common ratio for the slurry is one 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 10 to 15 minutes. The cornmeal will absorb some liquid and thicken the chili as it cooks.

Add Root Vegetable

Adding root vegetables to chili

Adding 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.

Masa Harina

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, mix a slurry with water or broth. Begin by combining one tablespoon of masa harina with two tablespoons of liquid, using a 1:2 ratio. Thoroughly stir the mixture until it achieves a smooth consistency without any lumps.


All-purpose or wheat flour is typically used to thicken a thin 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, 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 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. As the liquid evaporates, the chili will naturally thicken. Just make sure to stir occasionally while simmering to avoid sticking to the pot's bottom.

Use Cornstarch

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 one 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 that combines 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 to the pot and stir it in. The pureed ingredients will add thickness and creaminess to the overall texture of the chili.

Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.