These Are the Best Ways to Thicken Chili

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
A photo of thickened chiliresnick_joshua1 /Depositphotos

The taste is in the thickness. When your chili is too watery, here’s how to fix the consistency so that it comes out just right.

There’s nothing better than a warm, hearty bowl of chili after a day in the cold. Like most stews, although some argue that this one belongs in its own category, chili is one of those dishes where the mouthfeel matters.

The best chilis combine tangy tomatoes, sweet onions, pungent garlic, hot peppers, and tender beef. Despite lore to the contrary, the beans are debatable; their addition has long been the subject of heated debate among America’s culinary writers.

The meat is browned; the tomatoes, peppers, and alliums are sweated; the tomatoes are added to the pot, along with a seasoned stock. Then, the dish is simmered on low heat for hours, allowing the flavors to mix and mingle, and yielding a dish whose aroma alone is enough to get you hungry.

As with any other stew, adding too much cooking liquid can affect the consistency and flavor of the chili. If you have made this mistake, and you do not want to serve your family a watery chili, we have tips for you on how to get it to the desired thickness.

The Three Ways to Thicken Chili

There are several ways to thicken chili but, these three are no-hassle and take little to no time at all. They allow you to adjust flavors and thickness, making them a go-to for thickening chili (and other stews too!)

Flour or Cornmeal, the Traditional Thickeners

Who doesn’t have flour or cornmeal in their pantry? If you answered “me,” you may very well be the only person on the planet. Once you have your stock replenished, you’ll have a simple fix for runny chili and a cooking companion that you can use for so much more.

To thicken:

Step 1: The first thing you will need to do is whip up a paste-like mixture. To do this, you will need a cup of water and, of course, ½ cup of flour or cornmeal.

Step 2: Mix the water and the thickener in a bowl. Stir the mixture with a fork or whisk until you get a viscous texture.

Step 3:  Add the mixture to your pot of chili, stirring to combine with a spoon or spatula until you can no longer see its remnants.

Step 4: Turn the heat to high, bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat back down again and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often to keep the chili from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

If you feel like your chili needs even more thickness, repeat steps 1through 4 until you have achieved the consistency you deem “just right.”

Mashed Beans, the Controversial Thickener

There is a nationwide debate as to whether or not beans belong in chili. In our opinion, both are great; it merely depends on what you’re in the mood for.

If you’re one who thinks that beans don’t belong in this dish, you could add them, just in a different form for a bit of thickness.

To thicken:

Step 1: Open a can of kidney beans and strain from the bean water.

Step 2: Pour the contents in a bowl and mash them up, whether with your hands, a wooden spoon, or a potato masher.

Step 3: Fold the mashed beans into the pot of chili, stirring it around to combine. Simmer low and slow for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently to keep the beans from sticking to the bottom.

Repeating steps 1 through 3, with ⅓ or ½ a can of beans, will help you add more thickness if you feel like your chili is still lacking. Keep mashing if you feel like your chili needs a bit more love.

Tomato Paste, the Tangiest Option of Them All

Tomato paste is rich and tangy. Its deep and dark red color works wonders on a number of dishes—and chili is no exception. Apart from acting to add pizazz to your dish, tomato paste also works to thicken it up, providing a richness that it didn’t have before.

To thicken:

Step 1: Grab a can of tomato paste and pop it open.

Step 2: Add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste into your chili in the last 20-30 minutes of cooking, allowing it to mix in and simmer before turning off the heat.

Step 3: Give your chili and swirl and a taste, ensuring that it has the flavor and texture you were hoping for.

You can add an extra can if you think your chili needs more thickening, though you want to give the paste a moment to rest before deciding.

Also, don’t forget to check the seasoning: Adding a pinch more of salt or sugar to balance out the flavors.

When Can You Thicken Chili?

When trying to add some more texture and fullness to your chili, you have three opportunities to do so, including:

While Cooking

This, of course, is the culinary correct moment to thicken chili. The heat will melt and meld the aromas and flavors of the chili and the thickener, resulting in a thickened dish with a uniform taste.

When in doubt, add your preferred thickening agent bit by bit, stirring to combine and allowing 2-3 minutes for the ingredients to incorporate, until your chili reaches its ideal consistency. Thickeners alter the aroma, flavor, and texture of your dish. Always give it a taste before adding in more.

After Serving

Everyone has their own set of preferences. And, more often than one, it is good to just let the folks at the table choose for themselves.

You can add some things for optional garnishes for the table, like shredded cheese, sour cream, and tortilla chips. Let everyone dress their bowl of chili up just the way they like it, and we guarantee you that there will be no leftovers.

On Its Own

Water evaporates with heat. Simmering your chili, as long as you have the time to do it and you do not wander off from the stove (frequent stirring is required), will thicken it up naturally, allowing you to keep all the flavors in without any additions.

You can also turn your stove off, let your chili cool, and add it to a container to store in the fridge. Leaving chili in the fridge overnight will add some thickness to it, all while allowing all the flavors to get acquainted with one another for enhanced boldness.

Cook Up the Perfect Chili Every Time!

If you’ve got a craving for a warm and thick bowl of chili, getting the right consistency is key. If, once you’re done, you find that your chili is too watery or lacks some texture, don’t panic. You have a few options to thicken up your chili.

During cooking, while it’s on the table, or even in the fridge, there are ways to ensure that you always get the perfect flavor, texture, and thickness that you’ve looking for, leaving the only debate to be whether or not you should or shouldn’t have added beans.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.