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. Read on for our favorite ingredient for thickening chili and tips on how to use it.

Slow-Cooker Brisket Chili

Hector M. Sanchez

Using Cornmeal to Thicken Chili

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 traditionally used to make corn tortillas or tamales. Masa harina is usually stocked near other Latin American food products in grocery stores.

Types of Cornmeal to Avoid in Chili

Be sure to avoid using coarse-ground cornmeal or polenta. It has a larger grain that's great for baked goods like cornbread, but it won't dissolve properly in the chili and adds a gritty texture. Also avoid dry cornbread mixes, which may contain other ingredients like flour and sugar.

How to Thicken Chili with Cornmeal

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, 1 to 2 tablespoons of cornmeal are all you will need to get a nice, thick texture. Let the chili simmer for an additional 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently until you've reached your desired thickness.

Other Ways to Thicken Chili

Though adding cornmeal is our favorite method for thickening chili, there are several other ways to reach that thick, hearty texture you're seeking:

  • Cook longer: Sometimes chili just needs more time. Remove the lid and allow the pot to simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes. Stir and check to see if it needs to cook longer.
  • Use tortilla chips: If you don't have cornmeal on hand, tortilla chips can make a good substitute as a thickener (though keep in mind that they will add more salt to the dish). Crush up a few chips and sprinkle them into the chili. Mix into the pot and simmer until the chips are fully absorbed.
  • Mash the beans: Use a potato masher to mash some of the beans, which releases the starch. Give the chili a good stir afterward to mix the mashed beans into the base. You can also choose to add more beans to the chili, mashing them first to help thicken the broth. Depending on how much you add, you may need to adjust spices and seasoning after.
  • Make a cornstarch slurry: Mix 1 tbsp. of cornstarch and cold water together, stirring well to remove any lumps. Then, stir the slurry into your chili and let it simmer for another 10 minutes to fully thicken.
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