How to make perfect Wendy's Chili

There's nothing quite like a warm, hearty cup of chili on a cool day. Wendy's chili is a simple go-to for many folks, and the flavor is familiar and inviting; so much so that making Wendy's chili at home is a hot commodity. Wendy's chili is shockingly easy; you just need a few ingredients that are available everywhere and in no time you'll be making your own Wendy's chili at home.  

Gather your ingredients

Here's what you need to make your own Wendy's chili: Ground beef, a tomato, an onion, a stick of celery, a green pepper, chili powder, kidney beans, pinto beans, tomato sauce, sugar, and water. The full ingredients list is at the end of this article, along with a step-by-step recipe.

What's the deal with their chili?

People love Wendy's chili. It's not very spicy, and the flavor is more beef than anything — which isn't a bad thing. It's a bit on the watery side, and there's a preponderance of beans —- the ratio is "a lot of beans" to "a little bit of beef." This isn't uncommon in store-bought chili's, but just be prepared for the side effects of beans if you're going to eat a lot of this. What this chili isn't is spicy — if you're one of those "throw every hot thing possible" into your homemade chili people, this isn't for you…  However, this is a great base chili, so if you're looking for something that's easily adaptable to heat, run with this.

Where's the beef?

Wendy's stresses "fresh never frozen" so in order to get this right you need to do the same. But the Wendy's chili is actually just their burgers broken up into smaller pieces, so brown about a pound and a half of ground beef. Many recipes ask you to break up the meat into very small pieces, however, there are some chunks in the Wendy's chili, so that step isn't necessary. Just brown and drain the fat. If there are some rather large pieces, that's perfectly fine.  

Celery

Celery is the base of quite a few dishes. It brings a peppery flavor to the dish, and obviously has a high water content. Believe it or not, celery is a 95 percent water. We'll need a stick of celery, trim off the leafy stuff at the top and the white base.

Onion

Wendy's doesn't say exactly what kind of onion it is, but my suspicion is it's a yellow onion. If you're able to fish out a single piece of onion from Wendy's chili, it seems to be more yellow than white. Either way, you can go with pretty much anything you want here, but I'd avoid a sweet onion.

Green pepper

A mirepoix is a trinity of onions, celery, and carrots and is the staple of most French dishes. The holy trinity… not that Holy Trinity… uses something different: green pepper instead of carrot. The green pepper gives a little bite, but certainly not hot by an stretch of the imagination. It's just a flavorful, almost peppery (but not much despite the name) taste that will work well in the chili.  

When cutting up a green pepper, it's important to take the white stuff out — that's the veins. It doesn't really matter how you cut the pepper up, but make sure you get in there with your knife and get the veins out, because they have no flavor and are difficult to digest.  

Pinto beans

The pinto bean is actually the most common bean in the US, and is quite popular in Latin dishes, including refried beans. You may think you want to go buy a bag of dry beans, but fight your urge to make pinto beans from scratch. There's no real benefit to it; it's way more simple (and just as tasty) to take a can, crack it open, and go from there.  

Kidney beans

Same with the kidney beans; get a can. Kidney beans are really good for you, and have a ton of fiber, so plan ahead after eating some of this chili; probably don't want to do a spin class directly after a bowl, if you know what I mean.  

Chili powder

The overall flavor isn't very hot, but that doesn't mean there it doesn't pack some spice. Fight the urge to overload this with spices; the only thing you need is chili powder. Two tablespoons will do it. That may seem like a lot but it's the only spice; no cumin, garlic salt, paprika, or any other stuff you usually dump into your homemade chili.  

Tomatoes

The amount of fresh tomatoes is up for debate. There isn't a ton of tomato flavor really, so a single, solitary tomato will do it. Wendy's doesn't tell us what kind of tomato they're using, but a vine ripe or beefsteak will do the trick here. Remember, the dominate flavor to the chili is the meat, not the tomatoes — which is why we only need one.  

Tomato sauce

There is, however, a lot of red to the sauce. Tomato sauce — the same you'd get if you made a homemade Italian red — will do the trick. A can of it will suffice. There's no need to get a can with the salt added, so if you can find it (and you can) use the salt-free sauce.   

Sugar sugar

And just like an Italian "gravy," a little bit of sugar will cut the tomato harshness. A tablespoon of sugar helps the chili go down.  

Basically, the "chili base" is chili powder, tomato sauce, and sugar. Wendy's adds some other stuff in, like cornstarch and our good friend xanthan gum, but neither is necessary for a small batch like this. And if you really look at their chili, you'll see it's actually pretty "wet" for lack of a better term — there isn't a need for anything to tighten this up.  

A cooking device

I'm a big slow cooker guy. Wendy's is not. Get the biggest pot you have and that'll get 'er done. A slow cooker will thicken this up a bit too much, so the key is the big pot, with no lid. Not the way I'd usually make a chili, but we're going for authenticity, not what I'd do.  

Slice and dice

If you look at a cup of Wendy's chili, you'll be hard pressed to find large chunks of veggies — except the celery. You want to cut the veggies up as small as humanly possible. See that image? Smaller than that. "Petite dice" is the cut you're looking for.  

Meat and beans in the pot

Place that biggest pot you have and put it on your stove at slightly above medium, which is approximately 375 degrees. Let that heat up and then put the meat in. It's fine that the meat is already cooked, a little extra sear will only give us a bit more flavor here. Next comes the beans; pinto and kidney right from the cans, juice and all. That juice will give us a little extra liquid to work with in the final dish.  

Everybody else in the pot

After the meat and beans enter, time to get the veggies in.  Pour all those into the pot and give it a little mix. If you didn't get your veggies super tiny that's okay; you'll get a little more veggie bite into each spoonful. After the veggies, get the rest in: the tomato sauce, chili powder, sugar, and a cup of water. Give it a stir — this isn't a layer cake.  

Heat it up

With a dish this large, it's going to take a bit to get to a boil, even up to 10 minutes. Leave it at that same temperature setting until you start to get bubbles, and then take it down to a simmer. This needs to go for a while. How long? At a minimum of two hours. Set your timer for three hours if you can spare it, and give it a stir every 20 to 30 minutes.

Keep on simmering…

Keep going! It's not ready yet. It will slowly resemble chili — a lot more than when you started as you can see by the picture above taken about an hour into the simmer process. Make sure you give it a twirl every twenty minutes or so.  

How close are we?

This is crazy close. The mild, meaty flavor is there, and the spice — or lack thereof, is present as well. There are two differences, the first being how finely you cut up your veggies (if you can get them very very small you'll never tell the difference). The other is that Wendy's is more of a "soupy" chili — as you can see ours came out a little thicker; more like a "real" chili. I guess another half cup to cup of water would liquify the homemade version — but truthfully, I can live with the hearty home version. This is a nice chili, throw some crackers on the side and maybe a little hot sauce in there and you've got a winner.   

Directions

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 3 minutes

Serves: 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lbs ground beef

  • 1 small yellow onion

  • 1 tomato

  • 1 celery stick

  • 1 green pepper

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder

  • 1 can kidney beans

  • 1 can pinto beans

  • 1 can tomato sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 cup water


Directions:

  1. Brown the ground beef, drain fat, and set aside.

  2. Cut onion, tomato, celery and green pepper into small (as small as possible) pieces.

  3. Combine beef and (undrained) canned beans in a large pot, add diced vegetables.

  4. Add tomato juice, chili powder, sugar, and water.

  5. Cook on a medium-high setting and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes

  6. Bowl, eat, and enjoy!