8 Easy Ways to Thicken Chili

updated Oct 4, 2023
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Nobody wants a thin chili because, honestly, then it’s really just soup! Chili should be thick and hearty enough to be a meal on its own, but sometimes there’s just a bit more liquid than you want in the pot.

While you can simply keep simmering the chili, that method risks overcooking softer ingredients like the beans, losing all your nice texture to mushy monotony. Here are six other ways that you can easily thicken your chili, whether you want to add more ingredients, time, or elbow grease.

How To Thicken Chili

1. Use a Potato Masher.

All you have to do is take a potato masher and smash some (but not all) of the chili around. Mashing the beans and vegetables so that they break down and release their natural starches will help thicken the excess liquid while still leaving a good portion of the beans intact.

2. Add Cornmeal.

Sprinkling in a tablespoon or so of cornmeal or polenta is a great way to thicken Southwestern-inspired chilis. Adding either of these to a hot pot of chili means that it’ll absorb and help thicken the liquid after simmering for about 10 additional minutes.

While it might add a slightly grainy texture to your chili, I find that it’s not too different than when you crumble cornbread into your bowl.

3. Add Tortillas.

A lot of tortilla soup recipes rely on tortillas or tortilla chips to break down and thicken the soup, so you can apply the same principle here. Just tear up some tortillas into small pieces — flour or corn is up to you — stir them into the pot of hot chili, and let the whole thing simmer for 10 minutes before you stir again.

4. Add Beans or Veggies.

If you have another cup of beans or chopped vegetables on hand, add them to your pot and simmer. Those additional solids will help soak up the extra liquid.

You might need to adjust your seasonings, however, so be sure to sample a spoonful after the chili has thickened and add salt or spices to taste.

5. Uncover and Simmer

If you’ve been cooking your chili in a covered pot, remove the lid and simmer until some moisture evaporates. It might be tempting to crank the heat up to high to speed up this process, but that risks burnt or bitter-tasting chili. So, be sure to keep your pot at a simmer.

6. Make a Slurry with Masa Harina.

To make your slurry, combine equal-parts masa harina and room-temperature water in a small bowl, stir until dissolved, and then pour the mixture into your pot of chili and stir over low heat. Masa harina is an especially effective thickener, so start with a small amount — say, 1 tablespoon each water and masa harina per 3 cups of chili. 

 It can take a few moments for masa harina to work its magic, so let the chili simmer, stirring often, for about five minutes, and then check its consistency.

7. Make a Slurry with Flour

Flour is commonly used to make a slurry, which is one of the best ways to thicken chili and other stewed dishes. Just like with masa harina, you can use flour if that’s what you have in your pantry. To make a slurry with flour combine equal-parts masa harina and room-temperature water in a small bowl until incorporated. Add this mixture to the chili and allow it to simmer and thicken.

8. Make a Slurry with Cornstarch

If you don’t have flour or masa harina or flour in your pantry, you can also use cornstarch. You can also make a slurry with cornstarch and water and use the mixture the same way as the methods mentioned above.

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