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How to Thicken Chili: 11 Easy Ways
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How to Thicken Chili: 11 Easy Ways

Estimated time to read 9 minutes

Whether you enjoy chili at the tailgate, in your living room, or as an office lunch, this versatile, delicious meal sure is comforting! With rich flavors and aromas, there’s just something about chili that feels homey and cozy, isn’t there?

But for those who prefer to make chili at home, things can go wrong and all-too-often, chili can end up thin and watery. In those circumstances, there are many easy ways to fix it! In this blog post, we’re learning how to thicken chili using a couple of easy methods. 

Vegan Southwest Chili - Eat Proper Good

What chili is: Learn all about this fantastic food

If you frequent restaurants or cook from home, you’ve likely heard of soups and chilis, but what is a chili, anyway? 

Chili is a type of spicy stew that often contains ground meat and chili powder, as well as beans and tomato. There’s quite a bit of variety when it comes to chili, but you can tell it apart from other stews by its use of fresh chilis and chili powder. 

Fortunately for those looking to mix things up, chili can be made with almost any meat or made vegetarian. Chili can also be made with or without beans, and be tomato or broth-based. If you can dream up a way to make chili, it likely can be done! ;)

Is your chili too thin? Learn the causes

Even for the most seasoned chili chefs, sometimes chili can come out too watery. The causes can vary depending on a few factors. Let’s dive in, shall we?!

Cooking time is too short

The best chili recipes require time for flavors to combine and mesh together. Often, the ground meats in chili require 90 minutes - 2 hours to fully break down and become the desired level of tender. If you cook your chili for less than this amount of time, it might be watery.

To avoid watery chili, you can always make chili ahead of time in a slow cooker the day before so you can truly set it and forget it! 

Too much stock

Beef or chicken stock can add a lovely earthy flavor to chili. However, if you accidentally include too much stock, this can result in chili that’s too watery. Adding more solid ingredients, like vegetables, meat, and beans, can help counterbalance too much stock. Or, try cooking your chili a little longer. 

Too much tomato

Yes, here at Proper Good, we looooove tomato (just ask our Tomato Basil Soup! ;) ). However, when it comes to the fine art of making chili, there’s such a thing as adding too many tomatoes. Most chili recipes include fresh tomatoes, which contribute to its rich flavor and texture. 

However, fresh tomatoes release water when heated, which can thin your chili. To avoid this issue, make sure you add the appropriate amount of tomatoes the recipe calls for and not too many.

Thickening chili while cooking and after serving it

If you check on your chili while it’s cooking, you may notice the chili has become too thin and be able to remedy while cooking. 

Other times, you may notice watery chili after it’s done cooking and need to perform a quick fix before serving. Regardless, there are ways to resolve too-watery chili either while cooking or afterwards!

Add a thickening agent

If you cook home-made meals often, you may have these common thickening agents in your pantry already! Cornstarch and all-purpose flour are used to thicken a variety of dishes, including chili. Try making a “slurry” by adding one tablespoon of cold water with one tablespoon of cornstarch, then stirring into your chili. 

If you’re relying on flour instead, simply double the amount of water to avoid lumps. After mixing in the cornstarch or flour “slurry,” let chili simmer for an additional ten minutes.

Add tortilla, bean, or crumbled cornbread as a topping

If you’re short on time and can’t add a thickening agent to your chili, disguise watery chili by adding a topping instead! While toppings won’t necessarily fix watery chili, the right toppings can add flavor while soaking up some of the liquid.

Crushed tortilla chips, beans, and crumbled cornbread can all be suitable toppings or mix-ins to help counterbalance watery chili.

Add shredded cheese

Who doesn’t love shredded cheese in their chili?! If you’re dealing with a watery chili mixture, try adding shredded cheese to provide an extra dose of thickness. Actually stirring in the cheese versus topping can help thicken up chili nicely … while adding delicious, cheesy flavor.

How to thicken chili - Eat Proper Good

11 simple ways to thicken chili

More ways to thicken chili … What's not to love about that?! We love options, and fortunately, in addition to the ideas above, there are many many more ways to thicken up chili.

Simmer the chili longer

As we mentioned a bit earlier, it’s common for chili to cook for 90 minutes - 2 hours. So if you’re experiencing watery chili, it could be contributed to not cooking the chili for long enough. If you’ve been cooking your chili for less than 90 minutes and it’s still watery, odds are that it simply needs more cook time to thicken up. So relax for a while longer and let your chili cook!

Add mashed beans

Chili often includes whole beans, such as red, black, or white beans. However, a way to infuse unique flavor and thickness can be to add in mashed beans, too! Watery chili can be balanced out by mashed beans, and fortunately, you can use the same common beans–red, black, or white. All are absolutely delicious and can easily be mashed yourself or bought that way canned.

Add cornmeal, polenta, cornstarch, or all-purpose flour

Another way to thicken chili is by adding a thickening agent, such as cornmeal, polenta, cornstarch or all-purpose flour. Polenta is a type of cornmeal porridge that originates from Northern Italy. If you’re truly craving cozy flavors, polenta can add that to your chili!

As mentioned above, cornstarch or all-purpose flour should be added as a “slurry” or mixed with water to avoid clumping.

Add quick oats

If you don’t have any leftover vegetables or beans handy, it’s easy to use quick oats to thicken your chili. Adding oats to chili is a healthy alternative to cornstarch and all-purpose flour. Just add a tablespoon of quick oats to your chili, and after three minutes of cooking on medium-high heat, they will absorb the excess liquid.

Add Xanthan gum or arrowroot

Xanthan gum is a type of sugar extracted from soy, wheat, or corn, and works as an incredible thickening agent when trying to thicken chili. The best aspect about using xanthan gum is that unlike other methods, it won’t affect the flavor of the chili.

To use xanthan gum, dilute a few tablespoons in cold water and then add it to the chili mix.

Add protein powder

For a healthier (and lower-carb) version of chili, protein powder can thicken as well as add extra health benefits to your dish. Make a slurry using ¼ cup cold water (or liquid from the chili) and 2 tablespoons of protein powder. Add the finished slurry to your pot of chili and mix until thickened. 

Add beer

Beer is an awesome flavor enhancer to chili, but it also does a great job at thickening chili, too. The main reason for this is because beer contains starch, which, as we know from earlier in this blog post, is often used as a thickening agent.

To use beer to thicken your chili, cook the beer on medium heat in a separate pot for a few minutes. Then, mix the beer in with the chili, and allow to simmer for a few minutes while thickening.

Add more veggies

Did you know that as vegetables cook, they release starches? This works as a thickener that absorbs the surrounding liquid. So if your chili is looking a little too watery, adding small pieces of veggies can help thicken the base of the mixture. Commonly used vegetables are carrots, celery, potatoes, or onions–as an added touch, these vegetables really enhance the earthy flavor and taste of your chili!

Add Masa Harina

Masa Harina is dried corn dough and is sometimes referred to as corn flour. Dried corn is soaked in calcium hydroxide and then put through a fine-grade grinder to make the corn dough, which is then dehydrated to result in corn flour. 

For a nice, thick chili, whisk together masa harina and 6 tablespoons of water and stir into chili. Continue to gently simmer for an additional 5 to 8 minutes and voila! Thick, scrumptious chili coming right up!

Add Shredded Cheese

Using cheese to thicken chili works well because shredded cheese and cheese sauces actually contain citric acid, which acts as an emulsifier. The liquid binds to the cheese which results in thickening the chili.

Evaporate

If you’re out of extra ingredients or just want to keep the solution simple, take the lid off the pot in order to thicken chili. Try simmering the chili uncovered for 20-30 minutes to help reduce the liquid and encourage the mixture to thicken up. Continue to stir throughout this duration of time!

How do you thicken the different types of chilies?

If you’re a chili savant or just really like mixing up your chili recipe in the kitchen, you may be wondering if the same thickening “hacks” above work for various types of chili. Let’s dig in!

How should I thicken green chili?

Fortunately, many of the same tips and tricks above can be used to thicken green chili. To thicken green chili, try adding a thickening agent such as cornmeal, tomato paste, and flour. The chili can also be thickened by simmering over low heat to help evaporate the moisture in the pot. You can either thicken the whole pot or thicken only individual servings once it has been served.

How should I thicken white chili?

White chicken chili is commonly thickened using cream cheese and corn starch. Cream cheese adds richness without making the chili too heavy. Another option is to purchase extra white beans and puree them in a blender before adding to the chili. This is an awesome solution for those who are looking to go dairy-free!

Is your stomach grumbling yet?! Ours sure are after reading about so many delicious chilis and ways to thicken chili up!

And for those days when you don’t have ingredients for chili on hand or simply don’t want to bother? Proper Good is here to help! Our Southwest Chili is naturally thick and flavorful … and believe it not, plant-based. There are tasty meatless crumbles in every bite to replicate a tender ground beef flavor and texture. Smoked paprika, ancho chili and poblano peppers add low to medium spice level to keep you guessing and never bored. We hope you’ll give our Southwest Chili a try! ;)

Vegan Southwest Chili - Eat Proper Good

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