Recipe Review

Who Wins the Title of Best Chili Ever?

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(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn; Headshots, from left to right: MediaPunch/Shutterstock, Noam Galai/Getty Images, Bobby Bank/Getty Images, Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)

When it comes to easy dinners, chili reigns supreme. It’s hearty, budget-friendly, and a staple weeknight dish for families all across the country. But not all chilis are created equal — so in an attempt to find out which recipe should earn its place in our rotation, we decided to test some of the most popular chili recipes out there (from Carla Hall, Ina Garten, Guy Fieri, and Ree Drummond) to see which one was the absolute best.

So which chili recipe took the crown? Here’s how they ranked, from our least favorite to the clear winner.

The Quickest (Yet Most Underwhelming) Chili: Ree Drummond’s Simple Chili

This recipe was fast, easy, and budget-friendly. It had all of the classic components that make up a good chili, but it was totally underwhelming. It was overly thick (more like something you’d slather over a hot dog than a stand-alone dish), and unfortunately the flavor was flat. This chili might work well as a topping for a baked potato, but if you’re looking for a stand-out dinner that would please a crowd, this isn’t it.

Rating: 3/10

The Best Spicy Chili: Guy Fieri’s Dragon’s Breath Chili

When Guy dubbed his chili “dragon’s breath,” he wasn’t kidding. Between the jalapeños, the cayenne pepper, and the spicy Italian sausage, this chili packs some heat. Guy also takes extra steps to make sure his chili has layers of flavor behind all the spice — from roasting the peppers to using three different kinds of meat. But while this chili was packed with flavor, it was a bit too spicy to fully enjoy. (Especially if you’re feeding kids!)

Rating: 6/10

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Most Elevated Chili: Carla Hall’s Chili con Carla

Carla’s chili is rich, complex, and impressive. If you ever find yourself needing to make a fancy chili, this is the recipe to use. It uses quality ingredients, braises them low and slow to develop their flavors, and serves them with an array of garnishes that take the whole thing from good to great. But be warned: This recipe is a serious commitment. Between soaking the chilis, prepping the ingredients, and braising it in the oven, this chili takes about six hours to make — so it’s definitely not a simple weeknight dinner.

Rating: 7/10

The Very Best (Yet Most Untraditional) Chili: Ina Garten’s Chicken Chili

When I first made this recipe, I was hung up on the fact that it was pretty untraditional. But after trying three other chili recipes, I kept thinking about how delicious Ina’s recipe was. It’s fresh, flavorful, and hearty without weighing you down. Even as a chili purist, I still loved this recipe and found myself coming back for more. Ina’s chili also comes together in a fraction of the amount of time as the others, so the recipe is a true win-win. Honestly? If this was the only chili recipe I could eat for the rest of my life, I’d probably be OK with that. When it came down to picking a winner here, the decision was clear.

Rating: 8.5/10

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Big Takeaway Lessons from All Four

  • When it comes to chili, anything goes: Chili is so much more than just beans and ground beef, and Ina’s recipe proves just that. If beef isn’t your thing, use chicken. Don’t like beans? Swap them out for roasted peppers or chickpeas. Chili is all about building flavor, and there are no rules for doing that, so go ahead and try untraditional recipes that use unexpected ingredients — they might just be better than the classic.
  • Don’t skimp on the seasoning: Because chili usually starts with a lot of liquid, it also requires a lot of seasoning to taste good. Salt is a given, but other spices like chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin help make the chili shine, so don’t be afraid to use a hearty amount. Guy’s recipe, for example, uses a total of seven tablespoons of spices, and his was one of the most flavorful.
  • Onions are the unsung hero of chili: When making a few of these chili recipes, I originally thought there were way too many onions. But after cooking, the onions shrunk down so much that it didn’t seem excessive at all. Onions helped build the foundation for these chilis — don’t overlook them.
  • Garnishes are key: Toppings are crucial. Grated cheese, sour cream, and red onions are a given, but something unexpected like diced avocado or even french fries can take a chili from good to great.

What’s your best tip when it comes to making chili? Tell us in the comments.