Top 18 Ways to Thicken Chili Without Compromising Flavor

Every person has their own favorite chili recipe. Some people like it thick, some people like it watery, and some people just don’t have a preference at all. Try one of these methods if you are trying to thicken your chili, but the right consistency is eluding you!

The secret to great thick chili is to discover thickening methods that don’t detract from the dish’s flavor.

To help you figure out what’s fitting for you, I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of ways to thicken chili. Different people have different reasons for wanting or needing certain ingredients. Each method below has its own set of advantages, whether it be convenience, cost, or dietary need.

18 ways to thicken chili:

  1. Remove the Lid
  2. Refrigerate overnight
  3. Add more beans
  4. Add masa harina
  5. Add cornmeal or polenta
  6. Add chips or Saltines
  7. Add tomato paste
  8. Add xanthan gum
  9. Add cornstarch
  10. Add potato starch
  11. Add flour
  12. Add quick oats
  13. Add more veggies
  14. Add arrowroot
  15. Add protein powder
  16. Add beer
  17. Add cocoa powder
  18. Add tapioca

1. Remove The Lid (Thicken Chili With Reduction)

If you want to keep things simple, take the lid off the pot. Simmer for 20-30 minutes uncovered to help thicken the liquid and encourage the chili to set.

When the chili is thick enough, turn off the heat and let it cool.

2. Refridgerate Chili Overnight

If you let the chili sit overnight and reheat it, it will thicken up a lot. And in my opinion, the chili tastes better the next day. 

The reason this works is given more time, such as overnight or for several hours after cooking, ingredients in the chili, like meat and beans, will absorb all of the delicious flavors that are in the chili broth.

3. Add More Beans (Thicken Chili with Mashed or Refried Beans)

To thicken the liquid, mash some black or pinto beans with a potato masher. They will be able to release their natural starches, which will aid in the thickening process.

To keep the flavor, sprinkle a little extra pepper or cayenne to even out the recipe.

This is specifically if you make your chili with chili beans. If you make chili without beans, then you probably want to choose a different method.

4. Add Masa Harina

A tablespoon of masa harina (corn flour) can be added to thicken chili. 

It’s important to remember that adding masa harina will alter both the flavor and the texture of your chili. It will have more richness, but still be hearty and delicious.

Masa is a maize dough that comes from ground nixtamalized corn. Nixtamalization is a method of preparing corn that consists of soaking the grain in an alkaline solution, typically limewater.

Corn tortillas, gorditas, tamales, pupusas, and other Latin American dishes are produced using masa. The dried and powdered flour is called masa harina, which translates as “corn flour.”

5. Add Cornmeal or Polenta

If you like to have a slightly grainy texture to chili broth as well as thickness, add cornmeal. Cornmeal makes chili thicker by absorbing the extra liquid. 

All you need to do is add about a third of a cup of cornmeal to your chili while it’s cooking and stir it in. The cornmeal will start cooking, and as it cooks, it’s going to start thickening up the soupy chili and turn it into a nice thick and chunky chili.

You’ll notice that the chili will thicken just a little bit right after adding the cornmeal, and it hasn’t even been cooked yet!

If you want the graininess of cornmeal, but not as thick of chili, add polenta instead of cornmeal. It will not absorb as much of the liquid.

6. Add Chips or Saltines

Chips or saltines are a great option if you want to thicken the chili after it is done cooking. They can actually be added while the chili is cooking as well. All you need is a handful or two of crushed chips or a sleeve of crushed saltines.

Adding chips or crackers after cooking/serving is useful when you have guests or are feeding a large number of people. Each person has the option of how thick they want their chili to be.

7. Add Tomato Paste

A can of tomato paste may be used to quickly thicken your chili when desired. It not only improves the texture but also adds flavor.

To use, add about 6 ounces of tomato paste to start, then add 2 ounces every few minutes as needed towards the end of your chili cooking process.

Gradually adding tomato paste makes it easier to mix in. 

Many chili dishes are already tomato-based, so adding tomato paste will not substantially alter the taste. It will, nonetheless, provide zest and a tangy flavor to the dish.

However, tomato paste also has some bitter, sour undertones that can be balanced out with a spoon of sugar.

8. Add Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a popular food thickener used in food items like smoothies. The best part about xanthan gum is that, unlike other items on this list, it won’t impact the flavor of your chili at all.

Xanthan is a shear-based thickener, making it harder to use in chili versus other dishes. Shear-based means that you need the liquid swirling at blender-like speeds when you add it. Xanthan gum thickens nicely, but fast, so be prepared to stir quickly for a short time.

It’s not the cheapest ingredient, but not too expensive either. As of writing this article, xanthan gum cost about $1.00 per ounce, and it typically sells in 8 Oz. packages.

To use xanthan gum, dilute a few tablespoons in cold water and then mix it into the chili.

9. Add Cornstarch

Cornstarch is a common thickener for many foods. 

To use as a thickening agent, whisk corn starch with either cold water or some broth from the chili. (Scoop a bit of the broth out into a mug and add the cornstarch to it.) Ensure you whisk until there are no lumps, then stir the mixture into your chili, pouring it in slowly. 

It may add a milky color initially, that will become transparent as it cooks and thickens. 

Cornstarch won’t alter the flavor.

10. Add Potato Starch

Potato starch is an alternative to cornstarch. Potato starch is gluten-free and holds up to temp, and pH changes better than most gluten-free options.

To use this method, combine potato starch and liquid as you did for cornstarch.

When potato starch is used to thicken a mixture, it does not give you a chalky, gritty, pasty aftertaste that many other thickeners do.

11. Add Flour

Flour is a flavorless classic thickener for chili, among other things. However, adding flour may diminish the flavor and will add more carbohydrates to the chili. The taste can be offset by adding in more spices and seasoning.

To thicken with flour, prepare a slurry in a separate container, as you did for the cornstarch method. It is suggested to add two tablespoons of all-purpose flour to 1/4 cup of water. Mix in with the chili and continue cooking the chili over medium-high heat.

12. Add Quick Oats

Adding oats to chili instead of cornstarch or all-purpose flour is a great, healthy alternative for an extra nutritional boost. It will alter the flavor minimally.

Add a spoonful of instant oats to your chili. They will absorb the extra liquid after three minutes or so of cooking on medium-high heat.

Keep adding more and stirring until you reach a good consistency, and remember that it will thicken a little more after removing from heat.

13. Add More Veggies

As vegetables cook, they release starches, which work as a thickener that absorbs the surrounding liquid. Adding small pieces of veggies, such as carrots, celery, potatoes, or onions, to your base will thicken the mixture and enhance the earthy flavor and taste of your chili. 

14. Add Arrowroot

Arrowroot powder is a starch obtained from the roots of a tropical plant known as Maranta arundinacea. Arrowroot is gluten-free, paleo-friendly, vegan, and an excellent substitute for cornstarch.

Arrowroot is flavorless and powerful, so less is more when it comes to arrowroot. To create a rich thickener, just combine 1 tablespoon arrowroot with 1 tablespoon water. When adding the slurry, add it gradually and carefully towards the end of your chili cooking time.

15. Add Protein Powder

Protein powder will thicken your chili, as is a low-carb alternative to some of the other thickening options..

Whisk together 1/4 cup cold water (or liquid from your chili) and 2 tablespoons of protein powder to create a slurry, then slowly stir the mixture into your chili while it is cooking.

I recommend using unflavored protein powder to prevent altering the flavor. 

16. Add Beer

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier is one of my favorite beers to use. It’s a German rauchbier which literally means “smoked beer.”

It works great in chili, and I find most smoked beers go great in chili because it enhances the flavor. 

17. Add Cocoa Powder

To thicken chili, as well as mellow it out a bit, add cocoa powder. It will also take out the sharpness and make a smooth chili, while not completely masking the heat.

To thicken, just mix in the cocoa powder. It is initially going to be lumpy, because the cocoa powder doesn’t dissolve that easily but keep cooking the chili for a while, and the lumps will disappear.

18. Add Tapioca

Tapioca starch is a gluten-free thickener so it is a good option for people with food allergies. This method will change the appearance of your chili making it less glossy, but it will not alter the taste. 

To use as a thickener, create a slurry using the same method as cornstarch described above, then add it to your chili.

In Conclusion

When it comes to thickening chili, there are a lot of options. The key is finding the best way for your particular taste and situation. Here we share 18 different methods you might want to try out if you’re looking to thicken up your favorite dish!

Hopefully, this article has been helpful and encouraged some new ideas or gave insight into how others have tackled their own chili dilemmas.

There are so many ways to make chili, but I hope you found these 18 tips helpful for your next batch! Have any other ideas? What’s your favorite tip? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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Hi! I’m Ashy. I am a Christian, wife, mom, and physical therapist. I am also an amateur painter, baker, crocheter, and miscellaneous crafter. I hope to be able to share some of my enthusiasm for creating with you and to inspire YOU to begin, continue, or grow YOUR creative outlet!

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