The Secret Southern Ingredient for Thicker Chili
And it’s probably already in your pantry.
Whether you like your chili with beans or without, chock full of beef or strictly vegetarian, mild or spicy enough to make you sweat, we can all agree that a good bowl of chili should have a thick and chunky texture. After all, you want to pile your bowl full of delicious toppings, right?
Many chili recipes, especially ones made with beans, will thicken up in the pot all by themselves as the cooking liquid simmers and reduces down. Other chili recipes have a brothier, soupier consistency, which means you’ll need an extra ingredient to help give it more body.
Cornmeal is one of our go-to thickening agents for chili. Unlike all-purpose flour, this Southern pantry staple adds a subtle earthy flavor to the chili in addition to thickening it up. You can use white or yellow cornmeal that is fine to medium-grain. Or try masa harina, a very fine corn flour made from hominy. Masa harina is usually stocked near other Latin American food products in grocery stores.
Be sure to avoid using coarse-grind cornmeal. It has a larger grain that’s great for baked goods like cornbread, but it won’t dissolve properly in the chili. Also avoid dry cornbread mixes, which may contain other ingredients like flour and sugar.
If your chili recipe doesn’t already call for cornmeal, you can stir it into the pot at the end of the cooking time. Usually one to two tablespoons of cornmeal is all you will need to get a nice, thick texture. Let the chili simmer for an additional 10 minutes and stir it frequently until you’ve reached your desired texture.