3 Tips for Buying the Right Chili Powder for Chili

updated May 5, 2022
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

When it comes to making a really good pot of chili, there’s a ton of versatility and flexibility in the ingredients you use. There is, however, one ingredient that is an absolute must no matter what kind of chili you’re cooking up: chili powder.

Chili powder is the spice blend made with ground dried chiles, cumin, oregano, and a touch of garlic powder that gives a pot of chili its signature spiced, smoky aroma. But buying a jar of this basic ingredient can prove tricky because not all chili powders are created equal.

These three helpful tips will steer you in the right direction to help you buy the best jar of chili powder for your chili.

1. Always read the label.

When faced with a big selection of chili powders, read the label to help you buy the right one for you. Not all of them might be right for a pot of chili. The label will include the type of dried chiles that are used and all the other additional spices used to flavor the chili powder. Look for ingredients like ground dried chiles, cumin, garlic powder, and oregano. The label can also be an indicator of a mild, super-spicy (if it contains cayenne), or smoky-flavored (if it contains smoked paprika) chili powder.

2. Buy salt-free chili powder.

An important ingredient to always look out for on the label is salt. Some chili powders contain salt, while others do not. Your best bet is to buy salt-free chili powder. Seasoning the pot separately gives you more control over how much salt is added to the chili.

3. Cayenne pepper is not the same as chili powder.

While they look pretty similar and sit pretty close together on the grocery store spice rack, these two flavor boosters are not the same thing. Cayenne pepper is a fairly hot pepper, so just a pinch goes a long way. (If you’ve made this mistake once, you’ll probably never make it again.) While cayenne pepper is often used in chili powder blends, it should not be used in place of chili powder.

What’s your favorite chili powder? Do you buy it or make your own?