6 Steps to Perfect Homemade Chili

Chili season is upon us. That means it’s time to dust off your favorite chili recipe and grab your cherished chili pot. But before you get too deep into prep, consider adding one of our six secret ingredients; each capable of transforming any bowl of ho-hum chili into something magnificent. Our secret ingredients are items you likely already have in your kitchen.

Here Are Our Six Secret Ingredients for the Best Chili

1. Canned Puréed Pumpkin

You already use this to make pumpkin-infused quick breads and waffles, but did you know you can add it to chili too? Pumpkin is a great addition to chili because it adds body, providing a natural creaminess and richness to your chili. This helps smooth things out a bit in that sea of meat and beans. It’s flavorful too. It has a sweet earthiness to it that, when cooked, gets even tastier. When should you add it? Stir some puréed pumpkin into your chili just after sautéing your aromatics (onions, garlic, etc…) and before adding any liquid. This will deepen and sweeten its flavor, making it a great balance for all the chile peppers and heat. If you don’t have a recipe in mind for this just yet, try this pumpkin chili as a start.

2. Cocoa Powder

Brownies made with cocoa powder are pretty awesome, and so is chili. Cocoa powder has earthy undertones that play well with the spices found in chili. You don’t need a lot of it either. If you’re making a big pot, 1 to 2 tablespoons will be all you need. Add it with your liquid ingredients and simmer for as long as you can to maximize flavor. Take the lead from this Paleo Chili recipe.

3. Coffee

Save a little bit of that morning cup of Joe for your stew. The bitter flavor is complementary to the meat and spices of your chili. Skip any flavored coffees as those won’t have the same effect. Instead, choose a good quality coffee or cold brew with undertones of chocolate and spice, and add about 1/4 cup to your big batch of chili when you add your other liquid ingredients.

4. Maple Syrup

Brown sugar is a common sweetener added to chili. It’s a relatively neutral-flavored sugar with a touch of molasses that pairs well with the other ingredients. But try replacing it with maple syrup next time for a fun twist. Maple syrup has a similar “vibe” to brown sugar with an almost caramelized flavor. And similar to many of the secret ingredients listed here, it’s got that earthy thing going on that makes it a perfect addition to your bowl. Add this towards the end of cooking, starting with 1 tablespoon and adding more to taste as needed.

5. Pepperoncinis (Plus Liquid)

Ancho chiles, New Mexico chiles, and jalapeños are all great in chili, but we like the hot and sweet pickled pepperoncini peppers you find in a jar in the condiment section of the grocery store too. These little banana pepper-like pickled peppers are the perfect addition here. Add them early to flavor your chili while it cooks and use them as a topping too. And don’t forget that pickling liquid! Add some at the end, just before serving for a blast of tangy, sourness!

6. Root Beer

Besides being delicious in a root beer float, root beer also makes a great addition to your chili. Replace a bit of the tomato juices or other liquids in your version with root beer and let it simmer. Or swap it for the regular beer in this Beef, Bean, and Beer Chili recipe for a new spin on a classic. The longer it sits, the more concentrated the flavor you’ll get. If you’re up for it, consider cooking your root beer ahead of time into a sort of root beer concentrate, like you would with balsamic vinegar. This root beer “syrup” will add a great balance of sweetness and bitterness you’ll love.