How To Thicken Chili

There’s nothing like a rich, thick chili to warm you up on a cold day. A good chili is packed with flavor and keeps you full until your next meal. However, if your chili is runny, thin, or watery, it won’t have the desired effect! 

If your chili looks more like soup than stew keep reading!

How To Thicken Chili

You’ll find out how to thicken chili with a few proven methods below. We’ve also included a few reasons why your chili may turn out thin, so you can avoid this when you next make a chili. 

Why Chili Turns Out Thin

If you’re wondering why your chili always ends up runnier than you’d like, here are some reasons why this may be the case. 

Adding Excess Cooking Liquid

The cooking liquid you choose for your chili, whether it be broth, stock, cream, or water, affects how your chili turns out. If your chili seems runny, you may have used too much liquid than what’s needed. 

Gradually add your cooking liquid the next time you make a stew. You only need as much liquid to relax the stew a little, not turn it into a soup. 

Not Cooking It Enough

Chili should simmer slowly at a low temperature. The long cooking time lets the liquid evaporate, leading to a thicker, richer dish. 

This also affects the stew’s flavor, as the cooking time lets the spices and fragrant ingredients release their flavors. 

Using Too Many Tomatoes

Concentrated ingredients, like sun-dried tomatoes or tomato paste, taste stronger and don’t  carry a lot of moisture. 

On the other hand, canned or fresh tomatoes contain a lot of water. As they are needed in a lot of red chili dishes, they will release their water into the chili as it cooks. 

Make sure you don’t use too many canned or fresh tomatoes when you make chili, or depending on the recipe, swap some for concentrated tomato ingredients to keep the chili thick. 

How To Make Chili Thicker

Now you know why chili may turn out runny, here are some things you can do to make your chili thicker. Most of these relate to the watery chili causes outlined above.  

Some other fixes involve adding kitchen staple ingredients to the dish. These should keep the stew rich without overpowering the main chili flavors.

No matter if you cook your chili in a Dutch oven, slow cooker, or on the stove, here are some effective ways to thicken your chili.

Let It Simmer

This is the simplest method of thickening up a chili. If your recipe looks runny, keep it on the heat and lower the temperature. If you’re using a lid, remove it and set it aside. 

Let the chili simmer for 15 more minutes, or when you notice the chili reaches the desired texture. 

Add A Little Cornmeal

Cornmeal and other corn-based items, like masa harina or polenta, are rather absorbent. These ingredients can soak up a decent amount of liquid, so they’re ideal for thickening up recipes, like chili. 

Add one to two tablespoons of fine ground cornmeal (or polenta or masa harina) to the chili, then let it simmer for five to ten minutes. Keep monitoring the stew and see if it thickens up a little.

Don’t use coarsely ground cornmeal, as these can make your chili mealy or grainy. 

How To Thicken Chili

Add Some Cornstarch

If you can’t find any cornmeal, masa harina, or polenta, you can substitute it for common baking staples. Cornstarch, oats, and all-purpose flour can absorb excess liquid from your chili. 

Don’t add these ingredients straight into your chili, as this can form clumps. Instead, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of water in a separate bowl. Next, add this mixture to your chili and stir to combine. 

If you’re using flour, add a tablespoon of flour to two tablespoons of water, then add the mixture to the chili in the same way.

You won’t need to create a separate mixture if you’re using oats. Just add one or two tablespoons of absorbent oats to the chili. 

In all three instances, let the chili simmer for an extra five to ten minutes. Keep an eye on the stew as it simmers and it should become thicker. 

Use More Veggies

Tomatoes may be a ‘wet’ vegetable, but starchy vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes, can help thicken your chili. 

Dice half a cup to a cup of root vegetables, then transfer them to your chili as it cooks. You’ll need to simmer your chili for longer here. The extra cooking time will help the tougher veggies lose some starch, turning soft and tender in the process.

Use Tomato Paste

A lot of chili recipes involve tomato paste as one of their ingredients, so you may already have this in your kitchen. 

Add between two tablespoons and a quarter of a cup of extra tomato paste to the chili. Stir it and leave it on medium heat for half an hour. This should give you a heartier, thicker, and more flavorful chili.  

Use Beans

Add a cup of pinto beans, black beans, or kidney beans into a separate bowl. Use a fork to mash the beans, so they form a paste. 

Add the mashed beans to your chili and stir to combine. Let the dish simmer for an extra five to ten minutes.

Add Corn Chips

Tortilla or corn chip crumbles can help transform watery chili. Add a handful of your chosen chips into a zip-top bag, then roll over the bag with a rolling pin. 

Add the corny crumbs to the chili, then let the dish simmer for an extra five to ten minutes. This can give the stew a chewier texture, but this can pair nicely with extra tortilla chips. 

Final Thoughts

If you try any of the fixes above, always taste the dish before you serve it to other people. As we’re changing the recipe’s moisture content, you may want to add more seasoning to compensate. 

Give your chili a taste, then if required, add a little chili powder, salt, pepper, or paprika. With a little patience, you should end up with tasty, rich, and perfectly thick chili!

Mark Williams
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