How to Thicken Chili: 6 Simple Ideas to Master

by Anne B. Robinson

Let’s be honest — few things are as good and tasty as a hearty bowl of chili. In fact, ever since its creation in the 17th century, chili has been an all-time favorite of people all around the country. From California all the way to Missouri and beyond, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like chili.

However, while everybody enjoys chili, only a handful of people are able to cook it properly. And, more often than not, even the most skilled cooks have a hard time thickening this tasty dish. Luckily, this article should teach you how to thicken chili so you don’t end up with a bowl of soup instead.

Does Chili Need to be Thickened?

While there is still some debate about its thickness, most people agree that chili should not have a liquid consistency. As a matter of fact, during cooking contests, judges put a lot of emphasis on the thickness of chili dishes. Not only that, but most, if not all, recipes recommend thickening the mixture using all sorts of methods.

So, it’s safe to say that chili needs to be thickened, regardless of which recipe you want to use. And even though the consistency depends on your personal preference, you should aim for a thick yet smooth-feeling chili.

Why Do I Need to Thicken Chili?

Generally speaking, chili is a combination of meat, vegetables, and gravy that is served in a bowl. Unfortunately, mostly due to the use of bottled tomatoes or greasy meat, the dish can end up being a watery mess.

And, without thickening, the chili can lose its flavor and turn into a soup instead of a tasty and popular dish. Therefore, as previously mentioned, people prefer to thicken their chili, especially when they want to keep it as close as possible to the original recipe.

How to Thicken Chili

thicken chili

Thickening chili can seem like an overwhelming task even for the most dedicated and skilled cooks. In fact, a simple mistake is all it takes to turn chili into a mushy mess or a liquid nightmare. And while there are many ways to do it, the following are the most common and effective methods to thicken the chili dish.

1. Using Reduction and Uncovered Cooking

Reduction is a popular method of thickening chili that is based on evaporation. Simply put, the idea is to simmer or boil a liquid until the desired thickness is reached through evaporation.

However, this method takes longer than other, similar alternatives and requires you to pay close attention to the chili while cooking. It’s also important to mention that using reduction can make the flavor of your chili more concentrated.

So, if you want to use reduction to thicken your chili, you need to first strain it through a sieve and pour it back into the pot. Afterward, simmer the chili without the lid on for about 10 minutes and try to stir frequently to avoid scorching.

Simmer until you reach your preferred thickness and then allow it to cool. And, if you want to thicken it even further, you can keep the chili uncovered as it cools.

Voilà, you’ve just thickened chili without any additional ingredients! Now, all you have to do is take a bowl and enjoy your favorite and delicious dish.

2. Using Flour

Don’t mind adding some extra ingredients to your chili? Then you can use flour to thicken it! The process itself isn’t too hard, yet it can change the flavor of your dish. As a matter of fact, some cooks use almond, rice, or coconut flour to improve the taste of their chili while also thickening it.

Ready to use flour to thicken your chili? Then start by making a slurry using a tablespoon of flour and two tablespoons of room temperature water. Stir the slurry directly into the chili as it’s cooking and simmer for about 10-15 minutes in order to remove the raw flour taste.

Alternatively, you can mix two tablespoons of flour with a cup of hot liquid from your chili. Whisk it until you get rid of the clumps, and then slowly pour it back into the pot. Just don’t forget to stir, or else you might thicken your chili too much and turn it into a clumpy mess.

3. Using a Roux

If you want to use flour but want to avoid the raw flour taste, you can use roux. But what is roux? To put it simply, roux is a paste created using equal parts fat, mainly butter oil or lard, and flour. And while cooks use roux to thicken their sauces, it can also be used when cooking chili. But remember to stir when adding the roux to your chili in order to avoid lumps.

Besides thickening, you can also use roux to slightly change the taste of your chili. For example, a browned roux, made using flour and unsalted butter, can give your chili a toasty flavor.

4. Using Refried or Mashed Beans

using refried or mashed beans

Most cooks already know that you can use all sorts of beans to thicken chili. In fact, puréed, mashed or even refried beans are perfect if you want a quick and reliable fix for watery chili.

All you need to do is to add refried or mashed beans to your chili, mix it and then simmer without a lid until the mix has thickened. And if the end result isn’t thick enough, you can add more beans to improve it.

However, keep in mind that you need to mash the beans to allow them to release their natural starch, which thickens the chili. If you used normal beans or just forgot to mash them, you can do it after the chili is cooked.

Try to mash them lightly using a potato masher or use a fork. But try to avoid mashing the entire chili, or else you might ruin the consistency.

5. Using Cornstarch

Cornstarch is a perfect way to thicken up even the most watery chili while also improving its taste. To try this method, you need approximately a teaspoon of cornstarch for every cup of liquid in your chili recipe.

Use equal parts water and cornstarch to create a slurry and slowly add it to the pot while mixing the chili. Keep stirring over low heat until the chili starts to thicken, then let it cool without a lid.

However, never add dry cornstarch to the chili, as it can make it clumpy. Also, if you want to experiment with your chili, you can use corn flour, polenta, masa harina or even cornmeal instead of cornstarch. Just remember that you can easily dilute the meaty flavor of chili when using too much of it.

6. Using Tortilla Chips or Shells

Still not satisfied with any of the previous methods? Then it’s time to give tortilla chips a try. Yes, you’ve heard that right; you can use tortilla chips, even shells, to thicken your chili. Here’s what you need to do.

Firstly, crush a few tortilla or corn chips in a freezer bag and add them to the chili 10 minutes before it is done. Continue stirring the chili thoroughly until you reach the desired consistency and then let it cool. And if you want to thicken it even further after it’s cooked, you can add a layer of crushed tortilla chips into your bowl right before adding the chili.

Tip: You can use traditional tortilla chips to thicken your chili even faster, as they absorb huge amounts of liquid.

If you want to make the process even faster, you can use tortilla shells instead of chips. Just fold the tortillas in half, bash or roll them using a rolling pin, then chop them into small pieces.

Add them to the hot chili, stir, and then let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes, depending on your preference. You can also add a few pieces of crumbled corn muffins or corn bread to your chili when serving. Not only will that make the chili thicker, but it will also give it a delicious and exotic flavor.

7. Using a Potato Starch Roux

Similar to cornstarch, you can use potato starch to thicken your chili in a matter of minutes. Begin by melting a tablespoon of unsalted butter in a skillet and then add a tablespoon of potato starch.

Keep stirring and cooking until the resultant roux is browned. Once that’s done, add the roux into your chili, stir, bring it to a simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes. Let it cool without a lid and then you’re done! It’s time to enjoy a delicious and flavorful chili con potato roux.

You can also use instant potato flakes to thicken and lighten the color of your chili. Just remember to stir thoroughly and let the chili cook for one or two minutes after adding the potato flakes.

Can I Thicken Chili When Serving?

thicken chili when serving

Most chili recipes recommend thickening it during cooking, as it is the most effective way to do it. However, if you aren’t happy with the final consistency, you can always try thickening your chili when serving. Here are just a few ingredients you can add to your chili as toppings in order to thicken it:

  • White Bread: It’s no mystery that bread absorbs liquids, making it perfect for thickening chili. Just stir a few pieces of bread, preferably white, into the chili and allow it to absorb the extra grease. Check back in a couple of minutes and add more if you want the chili to be thicker.
  • Fried Onions: If you want to thicken individual servings of chili, you can add some fried onions. And, as long as you stir thoroughly, your chili will get thicker and more delicious. But if you want to avoid onions, you can add cheese instead.
  • Crackers: By crushing a few crackers and stirring them into individual servings, you can thicken the chili. However, try not to use too many crackers, as you can make the dish too thick or clumpy.
  • Bread Crumbs: You can use fresh, frozen, or dried breadcrumbs to thicken your serving of chili. But just like crackers, adding too much can ruin your chili, so try to keep that in mind.

Extra Tips and Tricks For Thickening Chili

As previously noted, thickening chili can be a hard task even for seasoned cooks and professionals alike. So, if you find yourself in need of more help, then take a few moments and check out the following tips and tricks. And, with a bit of patience and skill, you too will be able to thicken chili like a true master chef.

1. The Pot Matters

Using the right pot can make the difference between a delicious dish and a burned mess. But what kind of pot should you go for? Usually, most professionals recommend using a thick bottomed pot to avoid scorching the chili during simmering.

Also, aluminum or cast iron pots tend to alter the taste of your chili, as they are reactive. So, you should go for a pot that has a neutral surface such as enamel or stainless steel.

2. Cool Without a Lid

Unfortunately, you can’t just start eating chili as soon as it’s done. Instead, you need to let it cool down to prevent hurting your mouth, as chili is usually extremely hot. During cooling, you can actually promote the thickening of your chili by not using a lid. Why?

Because doing so allows the steam to vent, which reduces moisture and eliminates extra liquid. So, cooling without a lid is one of the best and quickest ways to thicken your chili right after cooking.

3. Avoid Using Xanthan Gum

Some people use Xanthan gum to thicken sauces and even chili. However, most doctors don’t recommend its usage, regardless of quantity, due to potential health risks. But, if you still want to give it a try, mix it with some cold water beforehand, as applying it directly to the chili can cause clumps.

4. Some Ingredients Are Natural Thickeners

If you don’t feel like using flour, cornstarch or any other similar method, you can always add a few extra ingredients. In fact, some vegetables can thicken your chili while also altering its flavor slightly. For example, raw broccoli absorbs liquids as it cooks, making it a perfect ingredient for a thicker chili.

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