How to Thicken Chili: 12+ Simple Methods
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When it comes to chili, there are two philosophies on thickness: 1) some people prefer a soup-like chili, 2) while others like theirs to be more like a stew. No matter which camp you’re in, there’s no denying that a thick chili has a certain appeal.
If you find yourself with a soupy chili and instead prefer a thicker chili—don’t worry; there are ways to thicken it up. We’ll show you a dozen simple ways to thicken chili, and you can choose the best method based on your preferences and the ingredients you have on hand.
#1 Simmer & Reduce – No Extra Ingredients Needed
Let’s talk about simmering chili first. It’s our go-to option because it doesn’t require any additional ingredients. All you need to do is simmer uncovered on low to medium heat to thicken up your chili to the desired consistency.
When you simmer, the water evaporates, and the chili becomes thicker. The longer you simmer, the thicker the chili will be. Simmering also allows the flavors to meld together, making the chili more flavorful. This can be done on the stovetop or using a slow cooker.
- How It Thickens: simmering allows the liquid to evaporate, and the chili thickens.
- Instructions: first remove the lid, then bring the chili to a boil and reduce to low to medium heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until it reaches the consistency you prefer.
- What You Need: uncovered pot on the stovetop or a slow cooker.
🥘 What if the chili gets a little too thick? You can add beef or vegetable stock or a little water to thin it back out.
#2 Add More Vegetables
Another tasty option is to add more vegetables to your chili to soak up some of the excess liquid. With this method, you are adding more texture and flavor instead of a thickener.
Yes, beans are veggies! Part of the legume family, along with lentils and peas. Beans are a common chili ingredient, but they also have the essential role of thickening the chili. Because beans are high in starch, they help to absorb liquid and add body to the chili. Adding more beans will usually result in a thicker chili.
First, try cooking the beans longer. This will break down the starches and make them more effective at thickening. You can also mash or puree some of the beans before adding them to the chili. This will release even more starch and create a smoother texture. Finally, make sure to simmer the chili for a long time so that the starches have time to fully cook and thicken the chili. With these tips, you’ll be able to achieve the perfect thickness for your chili.
Beans to try: kidney or pinto beans, black beans, refried beans, mashed beans
Just about any vegetable can be added to chili—from peppers to carrots, celery to zucchini, and squash. This is also the perfect way to use up leftover vegetables. To thicken the chili, simply simmer the vegetables in the chili. This will not only add flavor to the chili, but will also help to thicken it.
Veggies to try: green bell pepper, squash, zucchini, carrots, spinach, chickpeas, broccoli, mushrooms, potato flakes, or pumpkin puree
#3 Add More Tomato (Paste or Soup)
If you are making a tomato-y chili, adding more tomato-based ingredients like tomato paste and tomato soup to thicken will only enhance your chili—not add additional flavors that may affect the overall taste.
Tomato paste is a common ingredient many people use to thicken chili. Be advised that this paste has a strong flavor profile, so we recommend adding the tomato paste a few tablespoons at a time. Stir it in well and let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes. This will give the paste time to break down and thicken the chili. Be careful not to add too much; add just enough so that it reaches the desired consistency.
- How It Thickens: tomato paste is thick and concentrated (not tomato sauce, which will contain too much liquid) and will complement the existing flavor of the chili.
- Instructions: add 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.
- What You Need: one can of tomato paste and a whisk.
Another way to thicken up chili is to add a can of tomato soup. Not only does this help to thicken the chili, but it also adds a boost of flavor. Tomato soup is especially good in chili because it contains tomato paste. Campbell’s tomato soup is a popular choice for chili, but any brand will do. Just be sure to check the ingredients list to make sure there are no added spices that will throw off the flavor of your chili.
- How It Thickens: tomato soup contains tomato puree and will help bulk up the chili.
- Instructions: start by adding 1/2 can of tomato soup. Allow the chili to simmer for several minutes. If needed, add the rest of the tomato soup.
- What You Need: can of tomato soup, we prefer Campbell’s.
#4 Make a Starch Slurry
Starch is a very common thickening agent you can use for chili. However, be sure to make a slurry (a mixture of water and thickener) before adding it to your dish. Here’s how to use cornstarch and other starch options to make a slurry.
Corn starch is a simple ingredient that can help you achieve the perfect thickness. When added to chili, cornstarch will help to thicken the liquid and give the chili a heartier texture. Just be sure not to add too much, as this can cause an overly thick chili.
- How It Thickens: corn starch is a natural thickener that will help to give your chili the right amount of body. It tends to dissolve better than flour.
- Instructions: simply make a ‘cornstarch slurry’ and whisk together a tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water (1 to 2 ratio, corn starch to water), then slowly stir the mixture into your chili little by little until you reach the desired consistency. Allow your chili to simmer for several minutes before adding more.
- What You Need: cornstarch, water, mixing bowl, and whisk.
🍲 This is a great option for thickening chicken chili because it won’t alter the taste or color of the soup, similar to adding tomato-based ingredients to traditional chili.
Potato starch can be found near the other starches at your local grocery store. It’s a common grain-free and gluten-free thickener. Follow the same process to make a potato starch slurry as you do to make a cornstarch slurry (see above). Be sure to use cold water and mix in a little at a time.
Tapioca Starch (or Tapioca Flour)
Tapioca starch is a gluten-free thickening option (from the root of the cassava plant) used to thicken soups and sauces. Follow the same process to make a tapioca starch slurry as you do to make a cornstarch slurry (see above). Be sure to use cold water and mix in a little at a time.
Baking Powder (Contains Cornstarch)
Baking powder contains cornstarch, which will help to absorb excess moisture and give the chili a thicker consistency. So if you’re out of cornstarch, you can easily substitute it with baking powder. Just be sure to mix it with liquid first and then add it to your dish.
Arrowroot powder is made from the root of a tropical plant (Maranta arundinacea or Zamia integrifolia). It can often be confused with tapioca flour made from cassava or Manihot esculenta. It is gluten-free, so it’s often used by people with gluten sensitivities.
- How It Thickens: arrowroot is a starchy substance with thickening abilities similar to cornstarch.
- Instructions: whisk together 1 teaspoon of arrowroot powder and 2 teaspoons of cold water in a small bowl. Add to the chili and simmer. If needed, add more.
- What You Need: arrowroot powder, water, a small mixing bowl, and a whisk or fork.
#5 Make a Flour Slurry
Flour is also a common staple used for thickening soups and gravies. Be sure to also make a slurry for flour, and don’t just add directly to your chili without mixing with water first. This will avoid clumping.
All-Purpose White or Wheat Flour
Flour is a common ingredient used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups. Simply combine flour and cold water (also using a 1 to 2 ratio, flour to cold water) in a bowl and stir until it forms a smooth consistency. Then, add the mixture one tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired thickness.
- How It Thickens: flours are also made of starch, and when heated, the granules burst and release starch into the liquid
- Instructions: make a flour and water slurry by whisking together 1 tablespoon of flour for every 2 tablespoons of cold water. Then add little by little until you’ve reached the desired consistency.
- What You Need: flour, water, mixing bowl, and whisk.
➡ Tip: Don’t add dry flour directly to your dish. It may cause unwanted clumping. Be sure to use a mixture of flour and cold water, also known as a slurry.
Other Types of Flour
There are many other types of flour you can also use as thickeners. Examples are almond flour, oat flour, chickpea flour, quinoa flour, rice flour, etc. The process is the same as white or wheat flour—make a slurry, as discussed above. Be sure to add small amounts of the mixture at a time, as most of these options tend to be heavier than wheat flour.
Types of flour to try: almond flour, oat flour, chickpea flour, quinoa flour, and rice flour
#6 Add Cornmeal or Corn Flour
Corn meal and corn flour are thickening agents used to give chili a perfectly thick consistency. You can add them directly to your dish.
Corn meal is a type of flour made from finely ground corn. When stirred into chili, it helps to thicken the mixture and give it body. Simply add one or two tablespoons of cornmeal directly to your pot of chili and simmer.
Masa harina is a type of corn flour that is commonly used in Latin American cuisine. It’s corn ground more finely than cornmeal and used to make tortilla dough. When added to chili, it helps to absorb excess liquid and gives the chili a thicker consistency. Because of its flour-like consistency, it’s best to make a slurry before adding. Begin with 1 tablespoon of masa harina and add 2 tablespoons of cold water. For best results, add the mixture to the chili slowly and stir well until the desired consistency is achieved.
Polenta is a type of cornmeal that is normally cooked into a thick porridge. When added to chili, it helps to absorb some of the liquid, resulting in a thicker and more satisfying dish. Start with one or two tablespoons, adding it directly to the chili. Add more, as needed. Please note polenta is more coarse and will add texture to the chili.
#7 Add Quick Oats
Quick oats are a type of rolled oats that have been broken into smaller pieces and then steamed. This makes them cook more quickly than regular rolled oats, which is why they are often used in recipes like chili. To use quick oats to thicken chili, simply add them to the pot when you are almost finished cooking. Add to the chili 2 tablespoons at a time until you reach the preferred thickness. The quick oats will absorb some of the liquid from the chili, making it thicker and more filling.
#8 Add Gums or Gelatins
Although gums and gelatins may be less common, you can use these ingredients to thicken soups and chilis. Here are a few options.
Xanthan gum is a tasteless food additive that is derived from plants and is often used as a thickening agent in sauces and dressings. When added to chili, xanthan gum helps to create a thick consistency in very little time. Use a small amount in a slurry with cold water. Add to your chili and simmer.
Guar gum is made from ground seeds of the guar bean and can be found near the starches and thickeners in your local market or natural foods store. Mix with a small amount of cold liquid and then whisk into your chili.
How much gum or gelatin to use? check the packaging, follow instructions, and adjust based on the volume of your chili.
Beef gelatin is protein from the animal tissue of cows or pigs high in collagen. You can use beef gelatin as a thickener and a way to add additional protein. To use, whisk a small amount of beef gelatin into cold or room temperature water and then add the mixture back to the pot of chili.
Interesting tidbit: most gelatin products will only list GELATIN as an ingredient. What does it really contain? Collagen from animal products.
#9 Add Cream Cheese
Not only does cream cheese add creaminess and body to chili, but it also helps to thicken it. Simply add a few spoonfuls of cream cheese to chili that is too thin, and cook until melted. Then simmer, and the chili will thicken while taking on a delicious cheesy flavor. The perfect option for white chicken chili.
#10 Add Protein Powder
To use protein powder to thicken chili, simply add a scoop or two to the chili as it is cooking. The protein powder will help to absorb some of the liquid in the chili, making it thicker and more filling. A great option for those trying to fit a little more protein into their daily macros.
#11 Add Beer
Just add a little beer. Beer is full of starch, which will help to thicken the chili. Plus, the flavor of beer complements chili nicely so that you won’t end up with a weird-tasting dish. Add a little at a time and taste as you go until you reach the desired consistency. Cheers!
#12 Add Chili Toppings
We like to add chili toppings to soak up the excess liquid in chili. Shredded cheese and sour cream will melt into the chili and help to thicken it up. Crushed tortilla chips, crackers, crumbled cornbread, or even potato flakes will absorb liquid and add bulk.
Here are common questions about soup-like chili or how to thicken this popular dish.
What causes soupy, thin chili?
Thin chili is caused by too much stock, water, or other liquid ingredients. Some people like soupy chili, while others prefer a thicker consistency. To thicken up your chili, use one of these easy methods described in this post.
Does simmering chili make it thicker?
Yes, simmering chili does make it thicker. Simmering, uncovered, helps reduce the liquid and evaporate water, resulting in a thicker chili. You can also use added ingredients to help thicken up a thin, soupy chili; here are several easy ideas.
How can I thicken white chicken chili?
If you don’t want to change the color or taste of your chili, simmering uncovered or a cornstarch or flour slurry are great options. If you don’t mind changing the flavor a bit, adding cream cheese or chili toppings works great too.
Whether you’re an experienced chili maker or just starting out, we hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any questions about the process, feel free to reach out in the comments.
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