Chili for a Crowd

This easy slow-cooker chili yields enough to serve a hungry crowd, making it perfect for tailgating, Super Bowl parties, and freezing for comfort food on-demand.

two bowls of chili with two cups of beer
Photo: Will Dickey
Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
8 hrs
15 to 18 cups

If there's one dish that's synonymous with fall and winter gatherings like tailgating and the Super Bowl, it's classic beef chili loaded with veggies, beans, and spices. Nothing else satisfies a hungry crowd like this hearty and warming comfort food. Plus, it's an easy and wallet-friendly way to feed a big group, and can be cooked well ahead of time. (In fact, it's even better a day or two after it's made.)

This slow-cooker chili for a crowd yields 15 to 18 cups, which can feed about a dozen folks at big gathering. Or, if you're a family of four, that means you can ladle up one complete meal right away, keep a second in the fridge for leftovers, and still have four more servings to freeze for later.

We've made the process of big-batch cooking even simpler with this slow cooker method. All you have to do is brown the beef, add it to the pot with all the other ingredients, turn your slow cooker on, and let it do its thing—freeing you up to do yours, instead of keeping tabs on the stovetop all day long.

Chili for a Crowd Ingredients

This classic chili recipe combines hearty ground beef with lots of onions, garlic, and green peppers in a slow-simmered tomato broth spiced with chili powder, paprika, and red pepper. Bay leaf lends it a subtle herbal depth. Kidney beans makes the chili extra filling, but can be left out if you prefer.

ingredients for chili in small bowls
Will Dickey

The Best Ground Beef for Chili

What is the secret ingredient to good chili? While some may guess that the answer is an elusive spice, the most essential ingredient is actually the right ground meat.

This recipe calls for ground chuck, which is the best ground beef for chili because it typically contains 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat—meaning it stays juicy even after several hours in the slow cooker. You could also use ground sirloin. But because it's leaner (usually 90 percent meat to 10 percent fat), the result will be drier and not as rich.

If you're more a fan of poultry than beef, you can swap in ground turkey or chicken, but dark-meat turkey (which is higher in fat than light meat) will give you the fullest flavor.

Slow Cooker Tips

Slow cookers vary greatly in size, anywhere from 1.5 to 10 quarts. This big-batch chili recipe yields about 6 quarts, so make sure your slow cooker has a capacity of 7 quarts or more before getting started.

If your slow cooker has a capacity of at least 4 quarts, you can halve the recipe.

How to Make a Big Batch of Chili

Cooking this large batch chili recipe in a slow cooker makes it nearly hands-off. If you don't have one—or would rather go the stovetop route—check out the full recipe for alternate directions.

ground beef in a dutch oven
Will Dickey

Step 1: Brown the Meat

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the beef until no pink remains, about 5 minutes.

Drain and discard the fat and transfer the beef to your slow cooker.

chili ingredients in a slow cooker
Will Dickey

Step 2: Add Everything Else to the Pot

We promised you an easy recipe, and it doesn't get easier than this: Simply add all the other ingredients—everything from the onions through the bay leaf, plus the kidney beans if using—and stir to combine.

Step 3: Cook

All that's left to do is to let the slow cooker work its magic. Set it to high and cook for five to six hours, or opt for a slower simmer on low for six to eight hours. (If you want to let it cook overnight, opt for the low setting.)

Remove the bay leaf before serving.

How to Serve Big Batch Chili

If you plan to serve your chili for a casual gathering or family meal as soon as it's cooked, simply turn the heat down to the lowest setting on your Crockpot or other slow cooker (which is usually "warm") and, ladle it into bowls. Keep the lid on when no one is serving chili so the food stays warm.

Chili Toppings

Now for the fun part! There are more ways to top a bowl of chili than you can count, and one of the reasons this crowd-pleaser is so popular is that it's easy for everyone at the table (or gathered around the tailgate) to customize their own.

Options for toppings fall into three categories: something fresh (sliced green onions, diced jalapeños, or chopped cilantro, avocado, or red onions), something creamy (shredded cheese or sour cream), and something crunchy (corn or tortilla chips).

Set out bowls with whichever of these toppings you happen to have on hand, choose one ingredient from each of these three categories, or wow the crowd with a big toppings buffet.

How to Store Chili

It may be tempting to store a big batch of chili in the slow cooker pot you cooked it in to avoid dirtying other dishes. But not only are large, heavy ceramic slow cooker pots unwieldy for the fridge, they can also be damaged by big temperature fluctuations.

Plus, if left in the pot, the large batch will continue to cook residually, evaporating some of its delicious broth. Instead, transfer the chili to food storage containers as soon as it's cool enough to handle. Then, let it cool completely before covering and moving to the refrigerator.

How to Reheat Chili

One of the best things about chili is that it tastes even better after the medley of ingredients sits overnight, making it an ideal make-ahead dish. But as handy as a slow cooker is for the initial cook, it's not the best way to reheat chili. That's because it takes too long to bring a large batch of meaty chili back up to serving temperature in the cooker, which can lead to overcooking.

Instead, simmer the batch on the stovetop until heated through. If it becomes thicker than you'd like during reheating, thin the tomato base by adding a little water, broth, or beer.

For individual portions, just reheat the chili in a microwave until warmed through.

Can You Freeze Chili?

Chili is one of the all-time best dishes to freeze since the texture doesn't change much after thawing and reheating. Consider how many portions you'll want to reheat and eat at a time (single, double, or enough for the whole family?), and divide them into reusable freezer containers or bags.

The leftovers keep for up to three months, and will taste just as delicious when reheated.

Editorial contributions by Elizabeth Brownfield.


  • 4 pounds ground chuck

  • 2 medium onions, chopped

  • 1 green pepper, chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained

  • 4 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce

  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

  • ¼ cup chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon pepper

  • ½ teaspoon paprika

  • ½ teaspoon ground red pepper

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 (16-ounce) cans light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (optional)

  • Toppings: sour cream, shredded Cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, sliced ripe black olives


  1. Cook ground chuck, in batches, in a large skillet over medium-high heat about 5 minutes, stirring until meat crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Place meat in a 7- or 8-quart slow cooker; stir in onions, next 12 ingredients, and, if desired, beans. Cook, covered, at HIGH 5 to 6 hours or at LOW 6 to 8 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf. Serve with desired toppings.

  2. Cooktop preparation: Cook ground chuck, in batches, in a large Dutch oven. Drain beef and return to Dutch oven. Add onions, next 12 ingredients, and, if desired, beans. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 4 to 6 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf.


To freeze: Let chili stand 30 minutes. Evenly divide chili mixture into 3 (1-gallon) zip-top plastic freezer bags; seal and lay each bag flat. Stack bags of chili in freezer. Freeze up to 1 month. Thaw frozen chili overnight in refrigerator or defrost in microwave. Pour thawed chili into a 9-inch square baking dish. Cover tightly with heavy-duty plastic wrap, and fold back a corner to allow steam to escape. Microwave at HIGH 6 to 7 minutes or until bubbly, stirring after 3 1/2 minutes.

This recipe originally appeared in our November 2004 magazine.

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