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Best Ground Beef Chili

5 stars based on 24 votes

Chili is a winter mainstay at my house, whether for a cozy dinner in front of the TV or a Super Bowl party. As such, I’ve shared several tried-and-true chili recipes with you over the years – White Chicken Chili, Texas Beef Chili, and Chicken Chili with White Beans – but none of them are made with the most common chili ingredient: ground beef. That’s because I always find ground beef chili to be a little dry and tough, no matter what type of ground beef I use or how long I cook it. But recently I discovered a tenderizing technique on Cook’s Illustrated that calls for treating ground beef with a baking soda solution before cooking. The idea is that baking soda raises the pH of the meat, helping to lock in moisture and accelerate browning. It works like a charm! This ground beef chili is melt-in-your-mouth tender, thick, and rich — and wonderful over rice or scooped up with tortilla chips. I keep it on the mild side for the kids but feel free to add more chipotle chili powder at the end, if you like.

ingredients

Note that the recipe calls for 85% lean ground beef. Don’t be tempted to use extra-lean beef or drain off the fat after browning. The fat bastes the meat during cooking, adding richness and flavor, plus you can skim it off at the end. I don’t use any beans in this chili — my kids tend to eat around them — but feel free to add a can of drained beans for the last half hour of cooking. (Any kind of beans will work.)

treating-meat-with-baking-soda-and-salt

Begin by combining the ground beef, salt, baking soda, and water in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit for 20 minutes.

mixing-meat

Meanwhile, chop the veggies.

veggies-1

I use a food processor to speed this up, but it’s fine to chop by hand too.

veggies-2

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and red pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes.

sauteing-veggies

Add the beef and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break the meat up into 1/4-inch pieces, until the beef is browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

browning-meat-1

The beef will release a lot of fat and liquid — do not drain it; you’ll skim the fat off at the end.

browning-meat-2

Add the ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and sugar; cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant.

adding-spices

Stir in the cornmeal, beef broth, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and molasses and bring to a boil.

ready-to-simmer

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.

finished-chili

Skim any excess fat off of the surface of the chili. Stir in the lime juice, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Enjoy!

ground-beef-chili-1

Best Ground Beef Chili

Servings: 6
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes
Total Time: 3 Hours

Ingredients

  • 2.5 pounds 85% lean ground beef
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion (or 2 small), minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder (reduce for milder chili)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, from 1 lime

For Serving (optional)

  • Cilantro, lime wedges, sour cream, cheese, scallions

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the beef, salt, baking soda, and 1 tablespoon of water. Using your hands, mix until evenly combined. Let the beef mixture sit on the counter for 20 minutes.
  2. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, garlic, and red pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the beef and increase the heat to high; cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break the meat into 1/4-inch pieces, until the beef is browned, 10 to 12 minutes. (The beef will release a lot of liquid -- do not drain it; you'll skim the fat off at the end.)
  3. Add the ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and sugar; cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until well combined and fragrant.
  4. Stir in the cornmeal, broth, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and molasses; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.
  5. Skim any excess fat off the surface of the chili. (There will be quite a bit; don't worry about getting all of it, as it adds flavor.) Stir in the lime juice, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. For a thinner chili, you can add a bit of water. To thicken the chili, continue simmering, uncovered, until desired consistency is reached.
  6. Make Ahead: Cool slightly, and then refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (6 servings)
  • Calories: 655
  • Fat: 44 g
  • Saturated fat: 15 g
  • Carbohydrates: 28 g
  • Sugar: 15 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 39 g
  • Sodium: 1711 mg
  • Cholesterol: 134 mg

Reviews & Comments

  • Hi Jenn!
    I plan on making this and wanted to know if it would still have a great taste if I omitted the chilis altogether and used regular paprika (its extremely difficult to find smoked where I live)?

    - Sarah on July 15, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Sarah, you have a couple options if it’s hard for you to find the chipotle and ancho chile powders; you could just use regular chili powder, or even canned chipotle peppers in adobo. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on July 17, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This chili was excellent! I’m from Australia and used ground roo instead of beef…very lean so definitely no fat to skim off. I have never heard of mixing baking soda in but will definitely use that tip for other roo recipes. As a matter of taste I left out the molasses, and I also cut the veggies chunky as we prefer them that way. I mixed all the spices together and added them to the veggie mixture and sauted for a couple of minutes before adding the meat. I also added a mixture of beans in the last half hour. Melted cheese on corn chips and served with gauc. So yummy, thank you!

    - Gwyneviere on July 5, 2017 Reply
  • I have a quick question- I made this but realize it’s going to be too spicy for most of my family. Is there anything I can do to tone down the heat now that it’s already done? I was thinking to add beans and serve over rice? Thanks!

    - Sara on June 1, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Sara, That’s exactly what I would recommend. Hope everyone enjoys it!

      - Jenn on June 1, 2017 Reply
  • I live in a country where it’s really hard to find ground beef. If I substitute ground pork, should I still use the tenderizing method with baking soda? Or is pork different enough that it wouldn’t work?

    - Katie on June 1, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Katie, You can skip that step with pork. Please let me know how it turns out!

      - Jenn on June 1, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is an amazing chili recipe! I’ve made it several times including trading out the beef for turkey when we wanted something a little healthier. I add a generous dash of cayenne since my family loves spicy! Along with black and kidney beans and it’s a perfect chunkiness and consistency. Definitely a recipe to keep!

    - Julia Goryachy on May 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Has become my go-to chili recipe. Sooo good!

    - Mark on April 27, 2017 Reply
  • Just delicious! I didn’t find the recipe to be sweet, just flavourful with a lovely woody undertone. I’m not usually a fan of chili, but made this as my husband loves chili (and what better meal during a snow storm in Maine); I loved it! Hubbie is especially thrilled, as this was his most favourite chili ever (and that’s saying something!) and I will most definitely be making it more frequently, as I was relishing each bite! Loved throwing all the veggies in the food processor, made preparation super quick and easy, meat just melted in the mouth, and lined up all the herbs ready to fire in the pot! Again, thank you for yet another winner of a recipe!

    - Caroline on March 14, 2017 Reply
  • Why the baking soda?

    - Stephanie Oskie on March 6, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Stephanie, The baking soda raises the pH of the meat, helping to lock in moisture and accelerate browning (which helps make it very tender). Enjoy!

      - Jenn on March 7, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    After I tasted this chill, I immediately ripped up my previous recipe and put this in its place. It is so so good. The spice combination is just perfect. A must try. Thanks for such a wonderful recipe!

    - Nurse12 on March 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Had this for dinner tonight. Tasted great. Wife and I are not too big on spicy foods so I reduced the chipotle chili pepper to 1 teaspoon. I would advise anyone making this to have all your ingredients out in advance. Get the spices all measured out and in a small bowl ready to add. Also, have the onion, red pepper and garlic all sliced up and ready to add. There isn’t enough time to do those things while the meat is cooking. Local store only had 80 and 90% lean ground beef so went with the 80 and skimmed a lot of fat off it. Still came out great.

    - Jim Matthews 219/17 on February 19, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Thank you for sharing this delicious Beef Chilli recipe! I have been searching for a recipe like this for a very long time and knew that I could rely on you to post an amazing recipe that my whole family would love!! I followed the recipe exactly with the only addition of a can of red kidney beans. I will be making this chilli again very soon and will not be making any substitutions or changes. I served the chilli over rice with corn chips on the side and everyone enjoyed it so much they came back for seconds! Using the baking soda and salt made a big difference to the beef, I loved how the meat turned into little meatballs! Do you think this recipe would work with ground chicken as a different option to the beef?! Thanks again!!

    - Marilyn on February 18, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Marilyn, so glad your family enjoyed the chili! Yes, you can use ground chicken here– if you do, need to use the baking soda but don’t omit the salt (just add with the other spices). I’d love to hear how it turns out with chicken!

      - Jenn on February 20, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This chili is delicious — and a perfect party recipe! I was astonished at what a difference it made to tenderize the meat beforehand: the texture was silky smooth. (BTW, I used 80/20 ground beef because our grocery store only sells 90/10 or 80/20, and I thought the higher fat option would work better.) Since no one in my family cares for overly spicy chili, I went easy on the chipotle chili powder — and the combination of the other spices was just lovely. Towards the end of cooking I added one can of red kidney beans and actually wished I hadn’t. I like beans, but I thought they distracted a bit from the sweet, slightly complex taste of the beef/spice/tomato combination — so what I will do the next time is to warm up some beans and put them on the side. Chopped avocado and a little grated cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese on top were nice additions. On the side I served the pumpkin cornbread muffins whose recipe is on this site; the muffins are yummy, but I think I prefer something with a little more crunch (e.g., corn chips) on the side.

    - Marie-Jeanne on February 14, 2017 Reply
  • Absolutely delicious! My family loved it.

    - Traci Power on February 14, 2017 Reply
  • Can I use the baking soda solution on chop meat when I am making a Bolognese sauce.
    It worked so well on the chili. Great, great chili recipe.

    Also as a thickening agent, can cornmeal be used on other recipes instead of flour or cornstarch.

    - [email protected] on February 12, 2017 Reply
    • Yes and yes :).

      - Jenn on February 13, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This really is the best ground beef chili I have ever had. It comes on somewhat sweet initially, but then the overall blend of spices and flavors come in followed by some nice heat. I did not have a lime, but it was perfect to us. The ground beef was very tender too. I cooked the vegetables & the beef, added the spice mix and cooked that as in the recipe. Then threw all ingredients in a crock pot & into the fridge overnight. In the morning I set it on low for 6 hours. I did add a can of rinsed dark red beans during the last half hour. We served it over rice, topped with shredded sharp cheddar and sour cream and a square of cornbread on the side.

    - Dana on February 9, 2017 Reply
  • Haven’t made this yet, but the recipe prompted a question :-) I see recipes all the time that tell you to add (like this one) an ingredient like 1/4 t of cinnamon. My question is whether or not that tiny amount of spice is even noticeable in the final product. If you made the recipe with and without it and did a blind tasting, could anyone tell the difference? Just something I’ve always wondered :-)

    - John on February 9, 2017 Reply
    • Hi John, Great question. Cinnamon is a strong spice that not everyone loves in savory dishes so I don’t use a lot. A little bit adds background warmth to the chili but you can’t really taste it as an individual flavor. I don’t think it would stand out in a blind tasting, but to me that’s a good thing. If you could identify it, that might mean it’s overpowering the other flavors. In general, I go for a balance of flavors with recipes like this. That said, one of my girlfriends made this dish and told me she doubled the cinnamon since she loves that flavor — so always feel free to adjust the spices to your liking. Maybe just wait to the end so that you can adjust to taste.

      - Jenn on February 9, 2017 Reply
  • 2 stars

    Disappointing. Sweet and no flavor

    - Kathy on February 9, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I have a family member that cannot eat beans so I was thrilled to come across your recipe! Our son has been so hungry for chili and this recipe hit the spot. It is so flavorful and hearty and is good just the way it is. Also a side of pasta, cheese and onions gets along nicely with it too.

    - Karen on February 8, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Oh, Jenn! BEST CHILI EVER! Had company for Super bowl and this was FABULOUS! I made it the day before almost exactly as your recipe stated. I did not have coriander or Chipotle chili powder and since we like a mild chili it was perfect! I did add a can of black beans and a can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained. Super yummy! Adding the beans also stretches the servings to 8.
    Served it with the sides you suggested. It was a FEAST! I’ve tried at least 25 of your recipes and they are always excellent! For almost two years I check your recipes first and seldom stray. Thank you so much for all you do to create, adapt and share your kitchen creations. It’s totally revived my joy for cooking!

    - Susan Young on February 8, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I thought I had the best chili ever. Well, I don’t, Jenn does. It was a very big hit with my husband and friends. It’s a bit involved but, believe me, worth it. Had to buy molasses and smoked paprika and glad I did as it made a difference. Also, Jenn mentioned two different chili ingredients that I couldn’t find so I used regular chili. I also used the juice of almost a whole lime instead of a tablespoon. Great recipe Jenn. Thanks so much.

    - Gen Cerefice on February 8, 2017 Reply
  • Can in use canned chipotle in adobo and make my own ancho chili sauce to add to the mixture? Also, fresh herbs? Not a huge fan of dry spices. I try to use fresh ingredients as much as I can.

    - Alex on February 7, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Alex, You can use canned chipotle peppers in place of the chipotle chili powder and ancho chili powder, cilantro in place of coriander and fresh oregano instead of dried. You can omit the smoked paprika but you’ll need to use cumin – there’s no fresh sub for that. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on February 8, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    i made the chili yesterday for tonight’s dinner. It was soooo good!
    Hubbycommented that it was the best chili he ever had. I did add a can of black beans since we like them. Many thanks for this recipe!

    - Susanna Alcaro Funk on February 7, 2017 Reply
  • Your recipe call for vegetable oil, but the picture of ingredients shows canola oil. Can either be used for this recipe?

    - sv on February 6, 2017 Reply
    • Either is fine, SV. Hope you enjoy it!

      - Jenn on February 7, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this for the Super Bowl and it was delicious. It was just a little sweet on the front end but had nice heat on the back end.

    - Lynn on February 6, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This is the best chili I’ve ever made! The spice combination is fantastic! It has just the right amount of heat for my family’s tastes.

    - Annabelle on February 6, 2017 Reply
  • Are you sure about the carbohydrate count per serving?? I am on a low carb diet and this seemed like a great recipe, but then I saw the carb count and wondered where the carbs are coming from, the 2 tbs molasses? no the 2 tbs cornmeal, not really… please clarify if you can.

    - Noelle Tatton on February 6, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Noelle, Because I’m not a nutritionist, I use an online tool to calculate the nutritional information for the blog. When I plugged in the ingredients for this recipe, those were the results. I agree that the carb count sounds a bit high, but I just double-checked it and am getting the same numbers. I assume the combination of the cornmeal, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and molasses all contribute to the number. Hope you enjoy the chili if you make it!

      - Jenn on February 6, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this for Super Bowl last night and it was fantastic! I made two small edits — I subbed half the beef broth for a bottle of beer and I added one can of beans. After browning the meat and veggies, I added everything to the crock pot and had it cook most of the day. Everyone loved it — it was rich and flavorful, and spicy but not too hot. I will definitely make again! One question — do you do the baking soda/ground beef trick every time you cook with ground beef – like meatballs, meatloaf, etc?

    - Amy on February 6, 2017 Reply
    • So glad you enjoyed it, Amy — and I love your idea to use beer. I would only use this tenderizing technique for dishes similar to chili, like tacos, sloppy joes, etc. With meatballs and meatloaf, bread crumbs, eggs and cheese are added to tenderize.

      - Jenn on February 6, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I’ve tried the recipe yesterday and can highly recommend it! I followed it step by step and it was simply delicious!

    - Gustavo Woltmann on February 5, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    My sweetie, who doesn’t usually like chili, LOVED this one! I used organic ground bison, and it was delish!

    - Laura Sherrill on February 5, 2017 Reply
  • I note your food processor appears to be a Cuisinart with the blade that has been recalled. Hope you saw that notification as you can get a free replacement blade from them. The riveted ones can break apart apparently. Info on their website.

    - Geoff on February 5, 2017 Reply
    • Thanks Geoff– I did hear about that recall- thanks for thinking of me!

      - Jenn on February 5, 2017 Reply
    • 5 stars

      Have the replacements begun yet? I’m also waiting for the new blade.

      - June on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this yesterday. Absolutely delicious. I didn’t change a thing. Once Upon a Chef is my go/to website now.

    - Donna on February 4, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi Jenn- I just found your website & I’m planning meals for weeks thanks to you! My question is do you think I could do the chili in the crockpot after I tenderized the ground beef? I think it sounds amazing for anytime but a sure hit for Super Bowl. Thanks – Juli

    - Juli on February 4, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Juli, Welcome to the site! I’d brown the meat and veggies on the stovetop first and then add everything to the crockpot. Hope you enjoy it!

      - Jenn on February 4, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn, What’s the purpose of the cornmeal?
    I’m a big fan of your recipes :)

    - Carmen on February 4, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Carmen, Thank you! The cornmeal thickens it up nicely and also adds flavor.

      - Jenn on February 4, 2017 Reply
  • CAN YOU SUBSTITUTE PLAIN CHILI POWDER FOR THE ANCHO AND CHIPOTLE KIND? IF SO, WOULD THE AMOUNTS BE THE SAME?

    - CHRISTI on February 4, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Christi, Yes, you can substitute regular chili powder for the ancho chili powder. The amount would be the same. Hope you enjoy the chili!

      - Jenn on February 5, 2017 Reply
  • Is the cornmeal fine ground or medium? Thx.

    - Vee on February 3, 2017 Reply
    • Either should be fine here, Vee. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on February 3, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This recipe, as my husband says, is “a keeper.” I did add two cans of beans.

    - bw on February 3, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was absolutely delicious! A keeper! Thank you!

    - Denise Aaron on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • I’m going to try this recipe this weekend. I’d rather not buy molasses just for this. Any suggested substitution?

    - Brigitte on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Brigitte, Go ahead and leave it out; I’d just add another teaspoon or two of sugar, to taste.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • No kidney beans???? I guess I could add them, right?

    - Yvonne Quintin on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Yep – I’d add them in for the last half hour.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Instead of cornmeal, could I grind up corn tortilla(s) in a food processor and use that?

    - Kate on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • That should work, Kate.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • Any thoughts for improving the caloric and fat intake on this recipe? a leaner ground beef? what are your thoughts on using ground buffalo.

    - Lilian Dominkovics Dominkovics Lowe on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Lilian, A leaner beef or buffalo will work; the meat just won’t be quite as tender. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it that way.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • Jenn, I am a big fan of your recipes! I only have a question. What do you think of adding the spices to the vegetables to “toast” them before adding the meat? Would it cause them to overcook? Thanks for your help!:)

    - Valerie on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Valerie, I think that would be fine. Hope you enjoy it and please lmk how it turns out!

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • no beans?

    - Darlene on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Darlene, My family prefers it without beans but feel free to add a can of drained beans for the last half hour of cooking.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn – This recipe looks interesting with such a variety of flavorful spices. I definitely plan to make this chili. Just curious as to what is the purpose of the baking soda? Thanks!

    - Delada on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Delada, It tenderizes the beef — see the first paragraph of the post for more info :)

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply
  • Your chili recipe looks intriguing, but the sodium level is way too high for me.

    - Gail on February 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Gail, Feel free to use low sodium beef broth and reduce the salt.

      - Jenn on February 2, 2017 Reply

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