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These Are the Best Ways to Thicken Chili

Say goodbye to mediocre chili and hello to thick, hearty perfection with these three no-B.S. thickening techniques.

Since you’re here reading this, chances are you’re a chili lover like myself.

And if you’re a chili lover, then you know that the perfect bowl of chili is all about balance. That’s right. You want rich, hearty sauce that clings to every bite of tender beef and beans—and you definitely don’t want it to be too thin and watery. That’s where thickening your chili comes into play.

Thickening chili isn’t difficult, but it does require a little bit of planning and attention to detail. In this article, we’ll go over the different methods you can use to thicken your chili and how to choose the right one for your recipe. No matter if you prefer a traditional Texas-style beef-only chili, beef-and-beans chili, or some vegetarian version, or something in between, we’ve got you covered.

Grab your spoons and let’s start thickening!

How to Thicken Chili

Let’s go over the three traditional methods you can use to thicken your chili, and how to choose the right one for your recipe.

Method #1: Cook It Down

The simplest way to thicken chili is to remove the lid from your pot, turn the heat to medium, and cook it down, stirring.

By allowing the chili to cook down and evaporate some of the liquid, it will naturally thicken up over time. This method does take the longest, and it requires stirring and monitoring the chili as it cooks, but it’s a tried and true technique that won’t change the aroma, flavor, or mouthfeel of your chili in any way.

To use this method, bring your chili to a simmer and then remove the lid. Then reduce the heat to medium and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches your desired thickness.

Easy, right? This process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to about an hour, depending on how much chili you’ve got cooking, how watery it is right now, and how thick you want it to get by the time you’re done.

Method #2: Make a Cornstarch Slurry

Another way to thicken your chili is by using cornstarch as a thickening agent. Cornstarch is a fine, powdery starch that’s commonly used in cooking and baking as a thickening agent. When you mix it in with a liquid and bring it to heat, it forms a thick, glossy sauce with that starchy creaminess.

To use cornstarch to thicken your chili, you’ll need to create a slurry. A slurry is a mixture of cornstarch and cold water that’s stirred together until smooth. You’ll then add the slurry to your chili and cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the chili has thickened to your desired consistency.

If you use cornstarch to thicken chili, it will its flavor. Cornstarch has a very mild flavor, but it can nevertheless add a starchy taste to your chili. And if you don’t cook the cornstarch for long enough, it will leave a slightly grainy texture in your chili.

To avoid this, cook your chili for at least a few minutes after adding the cornstarch slurry. This will dissolve the slurry and meld the flavors of your dish together. All in all, using cornstarch to thicken your chili is a quick and easy method that can produce great results. Just don’t go overboard and add too much of it.

Method #3: Make a Roux

To take your chili thickening skills to the next level—and I mean cooking contest level—it’s time to learn about roux. A roux sounds fancy, but it’s really a mixture of butter and flour cooked together and used to thicken sauces, soups, and, you guessed it, chilis.

To make a roux, you’ll start by melting your butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, you’ll slowly sprinkle in an equal amount of flour, stirring constantly to create a smooth paste. You’ll then cook the roux for a few minutes, until it reaches a golden-brown color.

To thicken the chili with the roux, bring the chili to a simmer. Now slowly whisk in small amounts of the roux, stirring constantly, until your chili reaches your desired thickness. Be sure to cook the roux-thickened chili for a few minutes after adding the roux to cook out any flour flavor.

Why do I love this method so much?

While it does require a little bit of extra effort, the nutty, toasty flavor of a well-made roux can add an extra layer of depth to your chili. So it doesn’t just thicken it; it makes it even more delish.

Which Method to Choose?

So, which method should you choose to thicken your chili? It really depends on where you are in the cooking process and how exactly you want your chili to come out.

If your chili is still cooking and you want to thicken it up, Method #1 is a great option. Simply remove the lid, turn the heat to medium, and cook it down, stirring occasionally, until it reaches your desired thickness. It’s easy and straightforward, but it does take the longest, so be prepared to put in some extra time and effort.

If your chili is already cooked but needs to be thickened, both Method #2 and Method #3 are good options. They involve adding a thickening agent to the chili and cooking it over medium heat until it reaches the desired consistency.

Method #2, the cornstarch slurry, will give your chili a starchy aftertaste, while Method #3, the roux, will add a nutty, creamy flavor to your chili. Ultimately, which one you choose will come down to your personal preferences. Some may prefer the starchy creaminess of a cornstarch slurry. Others, the nutty depth of a roux.

Experiment with both methods and see which one you like best!

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.