A really good bowl of chili delivers tender beans, seasoned beef, and a savory tomato base laced with just enough spice to wake up your senses. And better yet, all of this can be made in the slow cooker. But with so many ways to make this classic dish, it's often hard to find a simple, straightforward technique for making chili that delivers exactly what we expect in a bowl. If you invest your prep time in making chili powder from scratch and browning the beef really well, you'll have the best bowls of simple, tasty chili waiting in the slow cooker when you get home.
Simple and Tasty Slow Cooker Chili
Our goal with this recipe was to make the most straightforward, crave-worthy slow cooker chili without much fuss. It also needed to be quick in prep work so that it could be pulled together quickly in the morning and left to cook low and slow for the whole day. The resulting chili is just what you expect from a hearty slow cooker stew: a robust spiciness, a little tangy tomato goodness, and a ton of beefy flavor with tender, creamy beans.
For Your Information
- This recipe relies on a homemade chili powder. Make sure you have oregano, garlic powder, and two types of ground chili pepper — chipotle and ancho.
- Buy ground chuck for making slow cooker chili. The extra fat in this ground beef adds body to the finished chili and keeps the beef from drying out in the slow cooker.
Key Steps for Better Slow Cooker Chili
- Make your own chili seasoning: The single best thing you can do for better chili — slow cooker or stovetop — is to make your own chili seasoning. Don't confuse chili seasoning with ground chilies sometimes labeled chili powder. Chili seasoning is a mixture of ground chilies and other seasonings like garlic powder and oregano and will determine the flavor and spiciness of your chili. The best part? You can use as little or as much as you like depending on your palate and save the rest for future use.
- Brown your beef: Yes, yes, this chili is going to cook for 8 hours on low heat, cooking the meat to tender perfection, but browning adds a caramelized flavor that the slow cooker can't produce. It's totally worth dirtying that extra pan — I promise.
- Cook it low and slow: This chili was designed to cook over low heat for at least 8 hours, so that it can be assembled in the morning and you can come home to warm chili after work. The slow cooker mimics the long, slow braise of the oven or stovetop, helping to make the beef and beans tender.
- Add some acidity at the end: Long slow cooker braises, like chili, can be flat and heavy both in taste and on the stomach after so much cooking. Adding just a teaspoon of vinegar — either apple cider or sherry vinegar for chili — brings a bright tang to each bite and may make the beans easier on the digestive system.
Serving Slow Cooker Chili
How do you like to top your chili? Personally, I'm a big fan of sour cream and green onions, but my husband grew up eating his with saltine crackers. This chili is near perfect on its own, but feel free to serve it over macaroni and cheese, fries, rice, or noodles — and top it to your heart's content.
Simple & Tasty Slow Cooker Chili
What You Need
For the chili seasoning:
2 tablespoons ground chili powder, like ancho chile
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder (optional)
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder (optional)
For the chili:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef, preferably ground chuck
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 (15-ounce) cans dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup low-sodium beef broth, beer, or water
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
For serving (optional):
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chips or crackers, such as Fritos, tortilla chips, saltines, or oyster crackers
Sliced green onions
Measuring spoons and cups
Small mixing bowl
4-quart or larger slow cooker
- Make the chili seasoning. Place the chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and chipotle chili powder in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork to combine.
- Preheat the slow cooker. Set a 4-quart or larger slow cooker to low and allow it to heat while the beef browns.
- Brown the ground meat. Heat the oil in a large 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the beef, season with the salt, and use a stiff spatula or wooden spoon to break the meat up into large pieces. Let the meat brown without moving for 4 to 5 minutes. Break the meat up into smaller pieces with your spatula and continue to cook until mostly cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Combine the beef, beans, tomatoes, and broth in the slow cooker. Transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker. Add at least 3 tablespoons of the chili seasoning (save the remainder for another use). Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth. Stir to combine.
- Cook on low for 8 hours. Cover and cook the chili on the LOW setting for 8 hours. Avoid stirring it too often or you'll break down the beans.
- Add the cider vinegar and serve. Stir in the cider vinegar just before serving. Serve with garnishes if desired.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 4 months.