This easy chili recipe is quick and makes a big batch that you can stash in the freezer and thaw whenever you’ve got a mad crazy craving.
Keeping a ready-to-use stash in my freezer at all times really does contribute to my all-around contentment and satisfaction in life. Chili is just one of those things that opens up a world of possibilities, from chili dogs to nachos. Fill your freezer with chili packets! It’ll make ya happy, I promise.
As for what to do with the chili once it’s thawed, well, there are no limits, but for starters, you can slather it on chili dogs, smother burgers with it, ladle it on baked sweet potatoes, treat it as a taco filling, dump it on tortilla chips, or simply scoop it from a bowl with a spoon the old-fashioned way.–Ree Drummond
- 4 pounds ground beef (preferably 85/15)
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- Two (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
- One (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chili powder or more to taste
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground oregano
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper more to taste
- Two (15-ounce) cans kidney beans drained and rinsed
- Two (15-ounce) cans pinto beans drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup masa harina (corn flour) or regular cornmeal
- Place a large, heavy pot over medium heat and toss in the ground beef and the garlic. Stir, crumbling the meat with the spoon, until no trace of pink remains. Drain off most of the excess fat, leaving a little behind for moisture and flavor.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and cayenne to the pot. Stir everything together really well, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Gently simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Take an occasional peek and if the liquid level seems to be getting dangerously low, add up to a total of 1 cup water, a little at a time, to keep the chili from burning.
- After an hour, stir in the beans. In a small bowl, use a fork to combine the masa harina with 1/2 cup water until it’s smooth. Pour some or all of the masa mixture into the chili, depending on how thick and gritty you prefer things. Stir together and then taste the chili and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Let the chili gently simmer until thickened and warmed through, about 10 minutes more. Turn off the heat and ladle into bowls.
- To freeze the chili, let the chili cool to room temperature. Fill large or small resealable plastic freezer bags and freeze them flat for easy stacking.
- To reheat the chili, remove individual bags of chili and place them in the fridge to thaw for at least 24 hours, then reheat in a saucepan over medium-low heat, adding 1/4 cup water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency OR place a bag of frozen chili on a microwave-safe plate and defrost it in the microwave according to the manufacturer's instructions and then transfer the nuked chili to a bowl and place it back in the microwave until warm. Place a bag of frozen chili in a microwave-safe bowl and reheat according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Easy Chili VariationsOmit the beans for a meat-only chili. Add diced bell pepper (any color) to the chili. Substitute ground turkey for part of the ground beef.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The author is correct, this is simple, perfect chili. Sometimes you just want a bowl of regular ole chili, no fancy chili powder or exotic chiles ground up and toasted. This is the chili you probably grew up with. I’m delighted to have this recipe in my repertoire and take pleasure in the knowledge that I have a stash of this stuff in my freezer.
I thought it was interesting that the meat wasn’t browned in oil, nor did it include onions. Because of this, I opted to “brown” my meat Cincinnati chili-style—that is, to simmer the ground meat in water. This allows the meat to break up very finely, which is exactly what you want for chili dogs. I’d say I used about 1 cup of water for this step. I halved the recipe, so if you make the full recipe you may need to do this in two steps, as 4 pounds of ground beef is a lot to brown at one time. I added the rest of the ingredients once the meat was done and proceeded according to the directions. I think I’d have had to add water by the end of the cooking time though if I hadn’t added any at the beginning.
After 1 hour, the chili was quite thick, and I didn’t see how it needed any thickening from masa harina. But I really wanted that flavor profile, so I diluted the chili with more water and added masa harina to thicken, using half the amount called for. I divided the chili into 2 batches, adding beans to one half and leaving the other half bean-free. In my humble opinion, beans just don’t belong in chili dog chili!
I enjoyed the chili with beans Cincinnati-style, on top of spaghetti noodles, and showered with lots of onion and finely grated cheddar cheese. For the chili dog, I adjusted mine to reflect the Coney-style I grew up with. I used the chili with no beans and diluted it even more before topping my hot dog. You want the chili to be a bit soupy, but not watery, which is where the masa harina comes in handy.
What’s not to like? If the chili can be made ahead, frozen, easily reheated, and used for a variety of other recipes, then you’re sure to have a winner! I used 85/15 ground beef. I omitted the beans. I needed to add 1 cup of water to the chili before I simmered it for an hour since there wasn’t much liquid in the pot at that point. After adding the masa, the chili was already quite thick, so I didn’t need to let it simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
I used 2 cups of chili right away for the chili dogs, but I froze the rest in 2-cup quantities in freezer bags. I pressed the mixture in an even layer and laid the bags flat in the freezer, making them quick and easy to thaw later on. To thaw the frozen packets, I simply used the defrost feature for weight on my microwave. Once thawed, I transferred the chili to a microwave-safe bowl and continued to use the microwave to heat it through. I used my second batch of chili to make chili nachos, which were a huge hit.
This is a nice, simple chili that you can dress up or down. I used ground beef with 15% fat. I used 1/4 cup chili powder, and with the other spicing, didn’t find it to be too hot. After 1 hour of simmering, the chili was quite thick. I did mix up the masa harina and water and had to add 1 cup of water at this point, as the masa harina made it too thick. I’d be inclined to leave it out next time, as I don’t know that it brought anything to the mix. The seasonings were good, so I just let it simmer for the remaining time.
I got eight 2-cup freezer bags out of the batch I made. This was less than the stated yield but that might be because someone was overly generous making chili dogs the first night or someone had a midnight snack…I can’t be sure.
We reheated 1 bag in the microwave by removing the freezer bag, placing the frozen chili into a microwave-safe bowl, and reheating it for 6 minutes until nice and hot, stirring it around the 3-minute mark. The taste and texture were as good as the day I made it. I’m glad to have several packets of this chili in my freezer.
This chili recipe is easy and endlessly adaptable. The goldmine in this recipe is in the chili batch size. And there’s virtually no chopping. (At first, I thought a chili recipe with no onions would never work!)
Change the flavor profile by changing your chili powder; a big-name grocery store version will taste Midwestern compared to a Tex-Mex version rich with ancho chile or smoky chipotle powder.
I like to thaw chili by plopping the Ziploc into a bowl of hot water until it loosens a bit (squish it a little with your fingers after a few minutes). Then release the contents by cutting the bag with kitchen scissors over a bowl or saucepan. Microwaving is easiest because you retain liquid better; cover with plastic wrap and stir after each 30- to 45-second burst. A saucepan can be used, but make sure to use a lid to trap the steam/moisture.
I made this recipe with my 6-year-old nephew, and every time we test a recipe together, he gives it a “10” because he made it! We made these ready-to-go chili packs for his family of 4. This recipe took about 30 minutes of hands-on time (you could probably make it less if you’re not with a 6-year old). The timing of the recipe was spot-on.
The recipe says it makes twelve 2-cup packs, but I only got ten. When frozen, thawed, and reheated, more water was added, so the amount expanded closer to the said amount. We defrosted the packs in the refrigerator overnight, put the chili in a pot, and added water to reheat.
This is a great recipe for large parties and ready-to-go meals for families. The only thing I would change is to add chopped onions when cooking the chili and maybe a bit of smoked paprika for a more complex-tasting chili.
I used 80/20 ground beef since the recipe called for not draining all the fat off after browning for flavor. After the addition of all the spices, I did have to add about 1/2 cup water to help out in the simmering; it would’ve been very dry without. I used light red and dark red kidney beans and pintos. These make this dish great for a main course—very hearty.
After simmering the chili, I allowed it to cool to room temperature and portioned about 1 1/2 cups per quart-size freezer bag. It yielded 8 bags, which I put on a cookie sheet for flatness and popped in the freezer. The next morning before leaving for work, I took out a bag and placed it in the refrigerator for thawing. When I arrived home later that evening, the chili was still frozen, but a quick few minutes in the microwave got it nice and hot. Freezing the chili in packets made portion control great and super convenient.
After simmering the chili, I tasted it and added 3/4 teaspoon more cayenne pepper. And I didn’t use the cornmeal. This recipe produces a thick chili great for serving on top of hot dogs or eating right out of a bowl.
Originally published March 16, 2016