If you’ve made a batch of chili and discovered it’s more like soup, don’t worry! You can still enjoy a thick hot bowl without ruining the taste.
This post lays out 15 different ways to thicken chili and save the day. They work for any chili: Texas-style, vegetarian, or my infamous Paleo Chili.
What Causes Thin Chili?
The number one reason people get runny, thin chili is because they “wing it” and “throw stuff in the pot” and then hope it works. Kidding, ok, well, only a little.
Common culprits of thin chili involve:
- Using too much broth or stock.
- Fresh tomatoes instead of canned.
- Not cooking the mixture long enough.
Too much broth will make it more soup-like. If you followed a certain recipe to a T and it was soo soupy, it’s time to find a new recipe like my All Meat & Veggie Chili.
Using fresh tomatoes will yield different results than using canned. When heated, fresh tomatoes release a lot of liquid which can water down the entire batch of chili.
Last but not least, to achieve a thick and robust chili, you want to simmer it low and slow, so the liquid evaporates and thickens simultaneously.
How Thick Should Chili Be?
The thickness of chili is a personal preference, but from experience, I’ve found that the most enjoyed batches have a hearty and thick consistency.
In other words, your spoon is filled with solid ingredients, not mostly liquid, and if the chili toppings, like sour cream, cheese, and tortilla chips, can sit on top of the chili’s surface without sinking to the bottom- that’s a good batch!
Best Ways to Thicken Chili
Under each heading below, you’ll see a note about whether it might alter the flavor or if there are any challenges with the method.
Among these simple tips and tricks to thicken chili, you’ll find options for any scenario, including dietary preferences like gluten-free, grain-free, corn-free options and vegetarian.
1. Remove the lid
This method takes the least amount of effort and thought. As the chili simmers, the excess liquid will begin to evaporate, reducing the amount of moisture, and resulting in a thick chili.
How to do it: remove the lid and simmer on low heat. Stir occasionally.
How Long it Takes: this method will take 20 to 30 minutes for enough liquid to evaporate.
A long-standing thickening agent for soups, stews, sauces, and chili! It gets the job done quickly without altering the flavor.
How to do it: mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 2-3 tablespoons cold water and add it to the chili. Stir thoroughly and simmer for 10 minutes.
How Long it Takes: if everything goes right, you should see results within 10 minutes. The chili should be much thicker.
3. All-Purpose Flour
Regular flour is another quick fix to thicken chili. You’ll need to mix it with water in order to create a slurry and avoid any lumps.
How to do it: add 2 tablespoons of flour and ¼ cup of cold water to a bowl and whisk to combine. Stir the slurry into the chili and simmer.
How Long it Takes: less than 5 minutes. The whole batch of chili will have a more cohesive consistency.
Bet you didn’t think about this one! We all know how easily oats absorb liquid when making oatmeal; the same goes for chili! Plus, they don’t altar the flavor, and you’ll only see a few small flecks of oats in your chili.
How to do it: stir 1 tablespoon of quick oats into the chili.
How Long it Takes: give it 1-2 minutes. Repeat the process once or twice if there’s still too much liquid.
Veggies like zucchini, corn, potatoes, and onions release starches that soak up excess moisture. Plus, they’ll increase the amount of chili and provide additional fiber.
How to do it: Add a cup of finely diced veggies of choice OR blend 1 cup of veggies with 1 cup of chili and stir the mixture into the pot.
How Long it Takes: simmer for an additional 15 minutes, and you should notice it has a heartier appearance.
6. Tomato Paste
Chili is a tomato-based recipe, so adding tomato paste enhances the consistency and flavor. If you notice the chili flavor is a little bitter, add half a tablespoon of sugar to balance it out.
How to do it: ladle some chili broth into a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the paste and whisk to combine. Transfer the mixture to the pot of chili and repeat the process with the remaining paste of a 6-ounce can.
How Long it Takes: give it 30 minutes to simmer and take on a robust consistency.
This powder is made from arrowroot and is highly absorbent, so a little goes a long way. It’s also an excellent grain and gluten-free option.
How to do it: combine a teaspoon of arrowroot powder with a teaspoon of cold water. Add it to the chili and watch the magic happen.
How Long it Takes: after 5 minutes of simmering, the chili will be more cohesive.
8. Corn Chips
If you love chili topped with chips, give this idea a go! Not only does it provide a delicious crunch, but the starches in the chips are released and do their job of soaking up moisture.
How to do it: stir a handful of chips directly into the chili.
How Long it Takes: simmer the chili and chips for 5 minutes, you should notice less liquid.
When broken down, the bean’s starches help thicken the chili texture. It’s also a great way to add additional fiber and protein to the batch.
How to do it: Add 1 cup of canned beans to a small bowl and mash thoroughly with a fork. Transfer the beans to the pot of chili and stir to combine.
How Long it Takes: allow the chili to simmer for another 30 minutes until the “broth” has a thicker and smooth consistency.
Both polenta and cornmeal are corn-based ingredients. While the starches absorb extra liquid, they give chili a grainier texture, which tastes like cornbread crumbles.
How to do it: mix a tablespoon of polenta or cornmeal with a tablespoon of water and stir it into the chili.
How Long it Takes: after 10 minutes, the chili will be thickened with a few flecks of polenta throughout.
11. Masa Harina
This corn-based flour is not to be confused with cornmeal. It has a pale color and finer texture that easily mixes into the chili and soaks up excess liquid.
How to do it: Add 2 tablespoons to the pot of chili, stir, and wait 5 to 10 minutes. If the consistency isn’t thick enough, repeat the process.
How Long it Takes: give it 10 minutes. You should be able to detect a heartier texture and more volume.
12. Xantham Gum
Long known as a gluten-free thickening agent in desserts and treats, this also works for chili. As the gum is mixed into the hot mixture, it will begin to bind with the broth and create a stew-like consistency.
How to do it: in a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of xantham gum with 3 tablespoons of cold water. Stir the mixture into the chili and simmer for 10 minutes.
How Long it Takes: this process will take up to 10 minutes. The chili should bubble and have viscous broth.
Since beer contains starch, it does a great job of thickening chili while enhancing the overall flavor. Use any can or bottled beer of your choice.
How to do it: pour a can of beer into a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Transfer it to the chili and stir to combine.
How Long it Takes: 5 to 10 minutes. You’ll notice a lot of the broth evaporated.
14. Baking Powder
Did you know baking powder contains cornstarch? Now you do, and it’s an easy way to quickly thicken soups and chilis. To avoid giving your dish a bitter flavor, mix the baking powder with milk.
How to do it: combine ½ tablespoon of baking powder with ½ tablespoon of milk or water. Stir the slurry into the chili.
How Long it Takes: about 10 minutes or until the broth is bubbling.
15. Gluten-Free Flour
Gluten-free flour is composed of rice flour and potato starch, which means it has everything required to thicken a thin chili. It also works just as well as regular flour and won’t alter the taste.
How to do it: whisk 2 tablespoons of flour with ¼ cup of cold water in a bowl until no lumps are visible. Stir the mixture into the chili and simmer.
How Long it Takes: approximately 5 minutes. You’ll see the broth and ingredients hold closer together.
Ready to get cooking? Try one of my chili recipes and then use these strategies to help thicken it right up!