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How to Make and Store the Perfect Chili

This cold-weather comfort food is versatile, satisfies a crowd and freezes well

spinner image Chili con Carne with coriander and sour cream, spoon, close-up
Westend61/Getty Images

There is nothing like a hearty chili when temperatures begin to drop. But chili is a meal that goes beyond warming: It's inexpensive to make, can be full of fiber-packed beans and makes enough for multiple meals.

Once you have a basic chili recipe, it's easy to add your own twist by pulling in new spices, different beans and a meat (or not) of your choice. It's one of the most versatile dishes out there. Experiment with toppings that can range from cheese and sour cream to cilantro, green onions or even crumbled tortilla chips.

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Whether it's a Sunday afternoon project or meal prep, chili is usually made in a big batch, so it's the perfect dish for multiple people or to put away for later use. It freezes well, especially if you store it properly, and is a great meal to pull out when you're too tired to cook or want to deliver to a friend in need.

Refrigerate chili within two hours of serving so you don't risk bacterial growth that can come from leaving it out at room temperature for extended periods. Use an airtight container (most well-made food storage containers should do the trick) for refrigerator storage and eat it within three to five days.

To extend the life of your chili, most chefs recommend a simple zip-lock bag for freezer storage. Just make sure to cool your chili first to avoid melting the bag. Get as much air as possible out of the bag and then store flat in the freezer to save room. You can save your chili in large batches or consider freezing in bowl-size servings so you don't have to reheat it all at once. It should last four to six months in the freezer.

Three chefs share their tips and their favorite recipes — and reveal the secret ingredients they use to add pizzazz.

spinner image Christian Eckmann and Beef Chili
Courtesy of Christian Eckmann

A classic version

Executive Chef Christian Eckmann from Bub City, a barbecue restaurant in Chicago, makes a traditional hearty chili. He uses brisket, but other meats like roast beef, steak, bacon or pulled pork work, too.

His key to a good chili? Don't feel you have to be precise about the spice recipe you use. “When making your spice blend, use your nose. If there is something that you like, add a little more. Something that is not your fancy, use a little less or omit,” he says.

The same can go for beans in a chili. Don't limit yourself to kidney beans. If you don't like them or just want to add variety, sub in cannellini beans or pop in garbanzos for a firmer texture.

Be sure to make a big batch so you can eat over a few days. “Chili is one of those things that tastes better the next day, and while great for a meal, it also makes a great condiment for mac and cheese, hot dogs or hamburgers,” Eckmann says.

Smokie's Double Beef Chili

Makes about 1/2 gallon; serves 6


  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80/20 blend)
  • 1 tablespoon jalapeño pepper, small dice, no seeds
  • 2 large cloves fresh garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 3 cups crushed tomatoes in juice, fresh or canned
  • 3 cups kidney beans, fresh or canned
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle en adobo
  • 3/4 cup smoked brisket, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Chili spice mix
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dark chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

You can use a lean blend of beef, bison or turkey but you may need to supplement and add a little bit of seed oil to the pan to saute the onions, garlic and jalapeño.

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Make chili spice mix by combining all ingredients and reserve. Heat a thick, wide-bottom saucepot over medium high heat. Break up the ground beef into thick patties and sear off in the saucepot. Sear the ground beef in batches so the patties are golden brown on each side. Remove the ground beef and place into a bowl to reserve. Save the grease in the bottom of the saucepot. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté the onions, garlic and jalapeño in the beef fat. Sauté until edges of onions begin to caramelize and turn golden brown. Return the seared ground beef to the pan and break up with spoon or spatula. Add in the chili spice mix and stir to combine. Add in the kidney beans, crushed tomatoes and chipotle chili in adobo. Bring to a simmer and slowly cook for 30 minutes. Add in the smoked chopped brisket to warm through. Cook for 10 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with sour cream, green onions, fresh jalapeños, cheddar cheese.

spinner image Jamie Gwen and Chili
Courtesy of Jamie Gwen

Weeknight chili

Chili is sometimes viewed as a project dish, with people whipping it up on a Sunday when they have more time. But it's actually a fairly easy dish to make for a weeknight dinner, too. Jamie Gwen, a celebrity chef and cookbook author, uses a jar of salsa in her chili as a quick and added flavor boost.

However, a good chili often comes down to the spices, and Gwen has a tip:

"Heat up the spices before cooking,” she says. You can do this by sautéing them in a dry frying pan over medium heat until it starts to smell fragrant. “While spices are naturally aromatic, heat really wakes up those aromatic oils,” she says.

Chef Jamie Gwen's Weeknight Chili

Serves 4


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground meat of choice (beef, turkey or chicken)
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • One 16-ounce jar of your favorite salsa
  • One 4-ounce can diced green chilies
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef, chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups canned white, black or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
  • Tortilla chips, tortillas or cooked rice


Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over high heat. Add the ground meat and cook until golden brown all over, stirring often. Remove the meat and drain the pot. Add the remaining olive oil and the onions and sauté, stirring often, until tender and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute. Add the ground meat back to the pot along with the salsa, diced green chilies and broth. Season with salt, pepper and sugar and cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Add the beans and cook for 10 minutes more. Stir in the cilantro or parsley leaves right before serving.

Serve with tortilla chips, for dipping, or over rice or with warm tortillas.

spinner image Christina Pirello and vegetarian chili
Courtesy of Jamie Gwen

Make it vegan

Chili is a hearty dish, and some may think that automatically means meaty. But it's easy to create a delicious, filling bowl sans meat.

This version, from chef Christina Pirello, host of the PBS food show Christina Cooks, uses lots of vegetables, quinoa and black beans.

"It's protein-packed because of the quinoa and beans; it's spicy and delicious so it stimulates circulation; and it's loaded with veggies, so it's antioxidant-rich,” she says.

A secret ingredient in many of her chili recipes is dark chocolate. “It creates a molé sauce flavor to any chili.” Other chefs add in a hint of espresso or coffee to add some complexity and depth to the dish.

Quinoa Chili

Makes 3–4 servings


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced, seeds and spines included
  • Sea salt
  • Crushed red chili flakes
  • Smoked paprika
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 ounces nondairy dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 (14-ounce) can organic black beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 2–3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped


Place oil, garlic, onion and jalapeño in a soup pot over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper flakes and smoked paprika. Sauté for 2–3 minutes. Stir in celery and a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in carrot and a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in pepper and a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chocolate, quinoa and beans and stir well. Add 1 1/2 cups spring or filtered water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until quinoa is soft, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and adjust heat with chili flakes if more is desired. Simmer for 2–3 minutes more. Serve garnished with parsley.

Pro tip: You can add finely chopped seitan to this dish to give a more “meaty” texture to the finished recipe. Add it when you add the quinoa. You can substitute millet for quinoa as well.

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