This Is The Best Ground Beef For Chili

Our Test Kitchen Director shares his top choice.

Pressure-Cooker Beef-and-Bean Chili
Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch Stelling; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Chili season in the South is the time during the fall when fall weather arrives and football season starts, causing sudden cravings for big pots of chili. Like pumpkin spice latte season, but spicier.

Which Ground Beef Is Best for Chili?

If your favorite chili recipe calls for ground beef, choose the best kind, and don't just reach for whatever is closest in the meat aisle. Here, we explain how to pick the best ground beef for your chili, no matter the style.

Consider the meat-to-fat ratio

Different types of ground beef have different meat-to-fat ratios, depending on the meat trimmings that were used. Ground chuck (made from chuck roast trimmings) contains the most fat, typically 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat, so it cooks up juicy and rich. Ground sirloin (made from the loin) is much leaner, usually 90 percent meat to 10 percent fat. When cooked, ground sirloin is drier with a heartier texture.

You don't have to choose one type over the other. When making chili, former Southern Living Test Kitchen Director, Robby Melvin, recommends using a mix of ground chuck and ground sirloin.

"It's the best of both worlds," he says. "You get a balanced lean-to-fat ratio from the chuck and the hearty, beefy leanness from the sirloin."

Our West Texas Chili recipe calls for two pounds of ground chuck or venison, but you could easily make it with a pound of ground chuck and a pound of ground venison (or sirloin).

Classic Beef Chili
Greg DuPree

Look for coarsely ground beef

Because you're making chili, not spaghetti sauce, you want the meat to really stand out. If your butcher will grind meat to order (or if you grind your own meat at home), Melvin recommends coarsely ground beef for a heartier texture.

"Coarsely ground beef has a presence that a chunky style of chili needs," he says.

What You Need To Make Chili

Classic chili recipes call for your choice of ground beef, beans, and a blend of seasonings. Tomato sauce and onions often make their way into most chilis, but there are several ways to customize chili to your preferences or add flavoring that will make it unique. Some additives include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, beer or liquor, and cheeses.

Tips For Making Chili

Chili is a creative dish. Cooks can add their personal touch to basically every step, but there are a few tricks to help you along the way.

First, prepare ingredients like browning the meat, draining your beans, and making your blend of spices. These details will help set your chili apart from others.

Next, make sure you leave enough time for the chili to simmer. Slow cookers are great for chilis because you can add your ingredients and let the meat tenderize.

Finally, as previously mentioned, customize your chili by adding something sweet—or spicy—to your dish. Anything from vegetables to ketchup and brown sugar can make your chili sweeter. Also, a range of spices, hot sauces, and jalapeños can add an extra kick. Remember to offer plenty of topping options, including cheese, sour cream, corn tortillas, and different chopped vegetables.

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