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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.
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