This thick and hearty classic slow cooker chili recipe is filling, easy, and full of flavor. Cooked slowly in the crockpot and then loaded with your favorite toppings, this meal makes everyone happy!
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My dad won’t eat fast food but I have seen him get the chili from Wendy’s on occasion. I was told they used to make it with burnt hamburgers crumbled up. Anyone worked there & can confirm?
Anyway, this slow cooker chili recipe is easily made at home, is super filling, can be customized to your favorite heat level, and topped with your favorite toppings. Unlike my crockpot green chile chicken soup, this classic chili has a beefy tomato base.
Perfect for serving to a group (like for a tailgate?), just prep the ingredients, throw them in the crockpot and let it cook low and slow all day. When ready, set up a topping bar so each person can get their bowl just how they like it.
Below is a list of the major ingredients with some helpful tips and suggestions for substitutions. Scroll all the way down for the full, printable recipe card with amounts & instructions.
GROUND BEEF – I recommend using a lean ground beef (like sirloin, 90-93%). It is full of flavor and not greasy. If you’re using a higher fat content, make sure you drain off any grease so you don’t have greasy chili.
ONION & PEPPER – Dice up a white onion and green pepper.
GARLIC – Three cloves of fresh garlic or 2 Tablespoons of garlic paste.
SEASONINGS – Chili powder, ground cumin, and paprika for great depth and flavor.
TOMATOES – You’ll use a combination of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies, tomato sauce, and tomato paste for the chili base.
BEANS – You’ll use a mix of dark kidney beans, light kidney beans, and white kidney beans (cannellini).
BEEF BROTH – You can use low sodium.
LIGHT BROWN SUGAR – A bit of sugar, just a tablespoon, helps balance the acid from the tomatoes.
DARK CHOCOLATE – Hear me out, dark chocolate adds great color and flavor. Use 60-75% bittersweet baking chocolate.
TABASCO SAUCE – Hot sauce is optional, use it if you like a little kick.
TOPPINGS – Popular chili toppings include sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, corn chips, scallions/onions, cilantro, crushed tortilla chips…
Tools found on Amazon to help you
- Veggie Chopper – I love this thing. It makes dicing onions and peppers so easy.
- Slow Cooker – This is my slow cooker of choice. I love that it has a timer and switches itself to WARM after the set cook time. It’s good for days you’ll be away from the house.
- Meat Chopper – This little gadget is great for breaking up ground meat as you cook it.
How do you make chili in the slow cooker?
Making chili in the slow cooker is really easy, but you do need to start the meat mixture on the stovetop. Let’s do this.
STEP ONE: Brown the beef. To a large skillet, you’ll add olive oil and the ground beef. Cook until no longer pink. Drain (if necessary) and add it to the bottom of your slow cooker.
STEP TWO: Cook the veggies. To the same skillet, add more olive oil and then add the diced onion and pepper and cook until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste, chili powder, cumin, and paprika to the skillet with the vegetables and cook for 1 minute stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn. Pour it on top of the beef in the slow cooker.
STEP THREE: Slow cook. Add the remaining ingredients (diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, beans, and beef stock) to the slow cooker and stir in the sugar, salt, and pepper. Cook on HIGH for 2 to 4 hours or LOW for 5 to 6 hours.
Slow Cooker Chili FAQs
Is chili better in a slow cooker?
Cooking chili low and slow in the slow cooker really brings the flavors together. If you have time, I highly suggest it.
What is the best secret ingredient for chili?
In my opinion, adding chocolate to your chili is the best secret ingredient. Not only does it create a rich color, adding a little bit of dark chocolate really intensifies the flavors.
Can you slow cooker chili too long?
Yeah, you really shouldn’t let your chili cook longer than 8 hours. After that point, the beef and beans start to break down and you’ll be left with overcooked mush.
Should chili be thick or soupy?
Chili, by definition, should be thick and hearty. It’s filling enough to be a meal by itself, but if you like a looser chili, you can add additional beef broth.
What can I top chili with?
Traditionally, chili is topped with sour cream, shredded cheese (cheddar), and jalapenos. Other options include onions, cornbread, saltine crackers, Fritos… in some parts of the country they pair chili with cinnamon rolls. To each their own!
What to put in chili to make it spicy?
As written, this chili is pretty tame. As in, safe for kids. If you want to take the spice up a notch, top with jalapenos (leave the seeds in for maximum heat), add more hot sauce, or mix in red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper.
Can I make it on the stovetop?
If you don’t have time for the crockpot, prepare as directed and let simmer on low for 2-3 hours on the stovetop instead.
How to serve it
Chili is so versatile that you can serve it many ways. Purists just go for a large bowl but if you want to get creative with leftovers, you can use it to stuff baked potatoes, use it as a dip with tortilla chips or corn chips, or on top of a hamburger or hot dog.
How to store it
Leftover chili will last 3-4 days in the fridge, covered. Longer than that, you’ll want to freeze it or toss it.
Can I freeze it?
Chili freezes beautifully! Use something like these to dole out perfect portions and freeze for up to 6 months.
NEED MORE BEEF RECIPES? TRY THESE:
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Slow Cooker Chili Recipe
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds ground beef 85-95%
- 1 medium white onion finely diced
- 1 medium green pepper finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic or 2 Tablespoons garlic paste
- 2 tablespoons chili powder more to taste
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 10 oz Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies
- 1 15 oz tomato sauce
- 1 6 oz tomato paste
- 1 16 oz dark kidney beans drained
- 1 16 oz light kidney beans drained
- 1 16 oz white kidney beans/Cannellini beans drained
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar packed
- 2 teaspoons salt more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper more to taste
- ½ ounce dark chocolate bar 60-75% bittersweet baking chocolate
- 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce optional
- sour cream optional topping
- cheddar cheese optional topping
- corn chips optional topping
- scallions optional garnish
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the ground beef to the pan and cook until brown, breaking the beef up as it cooks, about 5 minutes. If needed, drain the beef and then add it to a slow cooker.
- To the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil with the diced onion and pepper and cook until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic, chili powder, cumin, and paprika to the skillet with the vegetables and cook for 1 minute stirring constantly so the garlic doesn't burn. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.
- Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, beans, and beef stock to the slow cooker and stir in the sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Cook on HIGH for 2 to 4 hours or LOW for 5 to 6.
- Serve with optional toppings.
Nutritional information is an estimate and provided to you as a courtesy. You should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe using your preferred nutrition calculator.
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