My 5 Secrets To Great Chili

Sep 13, 2019 | Cooking Tips

The other day I posted a picture of some chili I made at Atlantic SuperStore. They asked me if I would help them to feed people who still didn’t have power and I was happy to do it. Since then a lot of people asked me for that chili recipe, but the truth is I didn’t use one. So, rather than write a recipe that isn’t going to be exactly the same as what I made anyway, I’m going to tell you my 5 secrets to great chili. That way, you won’t need a recipe either.

So, let’s get right to it,

My 5 Secrets To Great Chili

Number 5 – Lot’s of Vegetables in Chili

There are plenty of people out there that think that chili should just be meat, and sauce, sometimes not even beans. But I completely disagree. Chili can and should be a full meal in a bowl. So, I like to start with a base of carrots, onion, and celery, also known in French cooking as Mire Poix. I pretty much always add red and green peppers to my chili as well. If you are adding bell peppers into your chili, add them only in the last quarter of the cooking time. If added too early they can become bitter.

Other vegetables that can be added to chili include zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, corn, or cauliflower. I’m sure there are plenty of other vegetables that would be great in chili.

The point is to just load that chili pot up with vegetables to balance out the meal. You will feel fuller, and probably not as bloated or heavy as you otherwise may.

Number 4 – Beans and Legumes

I think most of us probably add kidney beans into our chili. It is very common. But I like to take this one step further. I always like to add in a second bean or legume. This could be pinto beans, lentils, chickpeas, anything like that. I do this for two reasons. Beans and legumes are loaded with protein and fiber which is really good for you. And they are way cheaper than meat. Adding extra beans or legumes is a great way to bump up the protein without adding the cost of additional meat.

If I am making a vegetarian chili I may even go with three different kinds of beans and legumes just to make sure I am hitting those protein requirements.

Number 3 – Chili Spices

We all put spices in our chili. I think cumin, coriander, and oregano are really common. If you use chili powder, not ground chilies, but chili powder which is a blend of spices then you are pretty much using cumin, coriander, and oregano. In addition to those spices, I like to add a bit cinnamon to my chili as well. It doesn’t take much, maybe 1/4 – 1/2 tsp in a pot, but it adds a really nice flavour.

There is something else I want to mention about spices. The flavour of spices actually comes from flavour compounds held in the essentially oils in the spices. These flavour compounds are heat soluble and volatile. What does that mean? It means that in order to get the most flavour out of our spices we need to do two things. The first thing is to sauté the spices. The high heat will cause the spices to release their flavour. This only takes about 1-2 minutes. Once your onions, garlic, and vegetables have been sautéed, and right before you add any liquid or wet ingredients to your pot add your spices, and stir for 1-2 minutes. Once the smell of the spices really starts to hit you add liquid to cool them and slow the release of those essential oils.

The second thing we have to do is probably counter to everything you know about cooking chili. Generally, when people talk about cooking chili they brag about leaving the pot on the stove simmering for 12, 14, 18 hours! The assumption being that the longer the chili is cooked the better it will be. This is actually 100% false and the reason goes back to those essential oils coming out of the spices. As I said, those oils are heat soluble and volatile. So, the longer you cook them the more they degrade and the less flavour you get. You really don’t want to cook chili for any more than two hours.

I should say too that if you are cooking your chili, give it a taste and notice that it could use a bit more of a certain spice it is okay to just add it into the chili as its simmering. It’s just that those late addition spices aren’t going to have the same depth of flavour as those early addition spices.

Number 2 – Heat

Whether you like spicy food or not I think we all can agree that chili needs to have a bit of heat to it. Chilies are what chili takes its name from. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but there needs to be some. At least a bit of warming on the tongue. To achieve this heat people often will add cayenne pepper. This is okay but I much prefer fresh chilies. For a little spice 1 jalapeno, you can even remove the seeds if you want to really downgrade the heat. For hotter chili, a few jalapenos and a couple of habaneros or scotch bonnets will really throw things into overdrive.

To use the chilis just chop them up (it might be best to wear a glove when doing this) and sauté them with the onion, garlic, and other vegetables.

It is important to remember that not all chilies are created equal. One jalapeno may be way hotter than another one. A good way to tell how hot a pepper is going to be is to cut into it and give it a smell. Does it smell slightly metallic? Does it sting your sinuses a little? If so, you know it’s going to be a hot one. It might be best to remove the seeds before use. For those of you that don’t know why I keep saying remove the seeds, its because much of the heat in a chili comes from the seeds and the white ribs inside the pepper.

Numer 1 – The secret ingredients

My two secret ingredients to making an amazing chili are coffee and chocolate. Yup, you read that right. These two ingredients add depth to the flavour of the chili that is unbelievable. And, you don’t need much.

To a pot of chili, I will generally add between a 1/2 – 1 ounce of semi-sweet bakers chocolate. I just drop it right into the pot about halfway through cooking. For the coffee, I will use either 1 shot of espresso or 1/2 a cup of strong brewed coffee.

I know it seems odd but you won’t believe how amazing this will make your chili.

Bonus Tips

When making vegetarian chili start with a base of 1 chopped portobello mushroom and 4-6 cremini or brown mushrooms. Cook these on a moderate heat with a bit of oil and salt. The mushrooms will release their liquid which should then be cooked until almost fully evaporated. This will create a base for the flavour of the chili that will replace that missing meatiness.

When adding tomato paste to chili sauté it with the vegetables for 3-4 minutes before adding in any liquid. This will take away the harsh metallic flavour of the tomato paste and make it sweeter. The sweetness from the tomato paste will balance the acidity of the tomatoes meaning you won’t need to add any sugar or much less sugar than you otherwise may have to.


Chili is a delicious, full meal in a bowl that is just as great in the middle of summer as it is in the dead of winter. Use these secrets and let me know what you think in the comments or on social media.

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