5-Ingredient Chili Recipe

We all know someone with a secret chili recipe. They bring it to potlucks and office lunches, accepting praise while refusing to disclose the secret that makes it shine. And there are plenty of secret chili ingredients to choose from these days: balsamic vinegar, chocolate, coffee, or whiskey, to name a few. But does the secret ingredient really make the chili good, or is chili just good on its own? Our 5-ingredient chili recipe proves that it's the latter, and chili can be filled with complex flavors without including complicated ingredients.

Our recipe contains five simple ingredients to create a delicious gluten-free, dairy-free chili. We use mostly canned goods and shelf-stable ingredients to make things easy, creating a thick, warming chili that's ready in only 30 minutes. You can make it on the stovetop, using an Instant Pot, or in your slow cooker, and the ingredients can be fully customized to make the recipe your own. Read on to find out what makes our 5-ingredient chili recipe so good (spoiler alert: It's not a secret ingredient!).

Gather the ingredients for this 5-ingredient chili recipe

There are dozens of chili variations out there, but we wanted to keep our 5-ingredient chili recipe as simple as possible. We used our Wendy's chili copycat recipe as a baseline because it turned out so delicious, but it has way too many ingredients to be practical for a last-minute weeknight meal. So we streamlined the recipe, eliminating all but five ingredients to create a chili recipe that's finished in about 30 minutes.

All you'll need is a pound of ground beef, a yellow onion, some chili powder, a few cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies, and canned beans (we used two kinds to create a nice color and textural contrast, but all you need is one). We'll discuss most of the ingredients swaps in a minute, but feel free to make this recipe your own by using ground chicken or turkey instead of beef. You can also skip the meat and make this recipe a vegetarian or plant-based chili by adding more beans.

What are the best beans to use when making a 5-ingredient chili recipe?

If you're from Texas, you're probably shaking your head right about now: True Texas chili doesn't contain beans! Well, this isn't a Texas chili recipe — it's an easy chili recipe — so we recommend using at least one variety of beans. Without the beans, you would have to double the amount of beef to create the same bulk. Beans are much cheaper than meat, and they're already cooked, so they just need to be warmed up. Put it all together, and it just makes sense to include them in this 5-ingredient chili recipe.

Feel free to use whatever beans you have on-hand in the pantry. Red kidney beans are a great addition for their striking color and firm texture, while pinto beans are softer and creamier. When it comes to flavor, black beans are an excellent choice because of their sweet, earthy flavor, or you can use Great Northern or navy beans because of their super mild taste.

You can also use a can of chili beans, which are usually made by combining pinto beans with a flavorful sauce. They come in mild or hot varieties, so you may need to adjust the amount of chili powder you use to keep the chili from becoming too spicy.

Can you make a 5-ingredient chili recipe with ground turkey?

We made our 5-ingredient chili recipe with 80/20 ground beef because it's what we had on hand. These numbers refer to the amount of lean to fat ratio (so, in this case, the beef is 20 percent fat). The higher the fat content, the richer the beef, and the more grease you'll find in the pan after browning the meat. If you're watching your fat intake, feel free to use a leaner ground beef, like 90/10 or ground sirloin.

You can also use ground turkey or ground chicken when making chili. It's a great way to reduce the fat and caloric content of the chili. According to the USDA, a three-ounce serving of ground beef contains 209 calories and 13.5 grams of fat. The same three-ounce serving of ground turkey has only 120 calories and 6 grams of fat. Surprisingly enough, it's hard to taste the difference between the two after they've been simmered in the spicy chili sauce.

Of course, you don't need any meat at all. Add another can of beans to the mix and consider adding a few extra vegetables when cooking the onions, like carrots or bell peppers. You can also add hearty vegetables like diced winter squash or sweet potatoes during the simmering step to amp-up the veggie content.

Cook the beef and onions to start this 5-ingredient chili recipe

To make this 5-ingredient chili recipe, grab a large stockpot or Dutch oven. You shouldn't need to add any cooking fat (like olive oil) when using 80/20 ground beef. Leaner meat won't release as much fat, so you can add a splash of oil to the pan before you get started. Cook the ground beef and diced onion over medium-high heat until the beef is browned and the onion is softened. You'll want to stir frequently to break up the chunks of beef as it cooks.

If you're using ground beef, you'll notice a lot of grease in the pan when you're finished. You can certainly leave it in the pot — some people say this grease makes the chili more flavorful — but we like to remove it before moving on. It can cause the finished product to have an unappetizing grease slick over the top of the bowl. Lean beef or ground turkey don't create as much grease, though, so you can skip the draining step.

After draining the grease, return the pot to the heat and add two tablespoons of chili powder to the pan. Cook for about one minute to bloom the spices, allowing them to release their fragrant flavor.

What liquid do you put in a 5-ingredient chili recipe?

Most chili recipes add a little bit of liquid to the mix. It might be beef broth, chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water, or they might get fancy and include bourbon, beer, or wine. Our 5-ingredient chili recipe skips these additions because we love a super-thick chili that's not soupy.

The only liquid in this recipe is the juices from the diced tomatoes. We don't need to add more because we use ground beef instead of thick chunks of steak. Instead of simmering the chili for hours while we wait for the meat to become tender, we only need to simmer for 20 minutes. The ground beef would dry out over a longer simmering period, but that also means there's not extra time to let the liquid evaporate. Adding too much could create a thin chili. So, we make sure to keep the lid on the pot while we're simmering to trap all the steam inside. That ensures tomato juice won't evaporate and the chili will be the perfect texture in the end.

If the mixture looks too dry to you, feel free to add a splash of water to the pan. Just keep in mind that you may have to take steps to thicken the chili later.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer the 5-ingredient chili recipe

When the beef is cooked and seasoned, add the undrained tomatoes and rinsed beans to the pot. It's important to use all the tomato liquid for this recipe, but you don't want any of the bean liquid. The Bean Institute explains that while the liquid is safe to consume, it's high in sodium. They reference a study from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that showed that draining and rinsing beans can reduce their sodium content by up to 41 percent. Better Homes and Gardens also remarks that rinsing removes any lingering metallic flavors from the can.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat before reducing the heat to a simmer. If the tomatoes weren't as juicy as you were expecting, feel free to add up to a cup of liquid, like chicken broth or water. Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes, until the beans are heated through.

From here, the chili is ready to serve. Of course, we always find that leftover chili tastes so much better because the flavors have a chance to meld and come together overnight in the fridge. So don't be afraid to make the chili a day in advance and reheat it for dinner or lunch the next day.

What do I do if my 5-ingredient chili recipe is too watery?

Our 5-ingredient chili recipe is specifically designed to create a super thick chili. We don't add a ton of extra liquid or simmer over long periods of time, so the resulting chili should have an ideal liquid content. That said, if the chili is thinner than you were expecting, there are some easy ways to thicken it up.

The no-ingredient way to thicken chili is to simmer it over medium heat with the lid off. This reduces the actual water content by allowing the excess liquid to evaporate. In an Instant Pot, you can use the simmer function or cook the chili on high in a slow cooker. Be sure to stir from time to time to keep the chili from burning on the bottom of the pot.

You can also add a few extra ingredients to the mix. Grab an extra can of beans and mash them lightly with a potato masher or in a food processor. This helps to release their natural starches, which will bind to the liquid and create a thicker chili. Alternatively, you can add a few tablespoons of masa harina (corn flour) or simmer the chili with a few crushed corn chips. All these additions will change the chili's flavor and texture, so taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

The best garnishes for this 5-ingredient chili recipe

A great chili recipe should be able to stand on its own, but it can only be made better with the right garnishes. We've included some suggestions for garnishes, including the classic sour cream, chopped green onion, and shredded cheddar cheese topping. But don't be afraid to get fancy with it. A squeeze of lime will bring out the acidity from the tomatoes, cilantro adds a burst of herbaceous flavor, and crunchy Fritos add texture and salt. If you need to adjust the spice profile of your chili, add creamy avocado on top to mellow out spice or thinly sliced jalapenos to make it even spicier.

Most of these garnishes can be chopped in advance, but we don't recommend storing them in the same container with leftover chili. They can become soggy and soft in the chili as it sits in the refrigerator, affecting their texture. Many of them also don't heat well, so it's best to keep them separate until just before you're ready to serve.

How to store and reheat this 5-ingredient chili recipe

Chili leftovers taste incredible, and they're also easy to store and reheat. Ladle the chili into airtight containers and let them cool down in the refrigerator before covering the containers with lids. When stored properly, chili will last in the refrigerator for three to four days. After that, transfer any remaining leftovers to freezer-safe containers. Freeze for up to six months and let the chili thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

In general, we've found that the best way to reheat leftovers is to use the original cooking method. For chili, that means heating it on the stovetop in a saucepan over medium heat. The beans will absorb some liquid as the chili sits overnight, so you'll want to add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water or broth before reheating. Stir the chili from time to time as it reheats to keep it from burning to the bottom of the pan. Of course, it's easier to reheat chili in the microwave. Be sure to add that splash of liquid we talked about for stovetop reheating, and cover the bowl with a microwave-safe cover or a damp paper towel to keep the moisture in.

Can you make this 5-ingredient chili recipe in the slow cooker or Instant Pot?

The best part about this 5-ingredient chili recipe is that you can make it on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, or using an Instant Pot. The leftovers also taste great, so don't be afraid to double the recipe.

Like the stovetop method, the Instant Pot method will start with using the saute function to cook the beef and onions. Follow the instructions below until all the ingredients are added to the pot. Then, use manual high pressure for 15 minutes to cook the chili. Let the pressure release naturally for five minutes before releasing the pressure manually.

For the slow cooker, you'll want to brown the ground beef and onions in a skillet before transferring them to the bowl of a three- or four-quart slow cooker. Then, add the remaining ingredients and an extra cup of liquid (broth or water). Cook on low for five to six hours, until the flavors have come together.

How did our 5-ingredient chili recipe turn out?

This simple 5-ingredient chili recipe had us asking ourselves why we would ever spend more time and effort to make chili. It turned out just as good as more complicated recipes. The beef was savory with a crumbly texture, and the beans were well-salted and firm. The tomatoes brought the perfect level of acidity, and the chili powder filled in the gaps with spicy flavors. We expected to have to add a little salt and pepper in the end, but we were surprised that the flavors turned out surprisingly balanced. No extra salt was required for our taste buds.

The chili turned out great as a stand-alone bowl, and it was even better when we added Fritos to turn it into Frito pie. It makes about four servings, so we had enough for dinner and lunch the next day. If you ended up with more chili than you expected (or you doubled the recipe to have leftovers on purpose), don't fret; there are tons of ways to use up leftover chili. Use it to make stuffed baked potatoes, add it to pasta for chili mac and cheese, or serve it over rice. It also makes a great filling for enchiladas or shepherds pie.

5-ingredient chili recipe directions
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Our 5-ingredient chili recipe proves chili can be filled with complex flavors without including complicated ingredients or spending a lot of time.
Prep Time
Cook Time
5-ingredient chili recipe directions
Total time: 35 minutes
  • 1 pound 80/20 ground beef (or lean ground turkey)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 (10-ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans beans (kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, etc.), drained and rinsed
Optional Ingredients
  • Garnishes: Sour cream, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, thinly sliced jalapenos, shredded cheddar cheese. lime wedges, sour cream, avocado, Fritos or tortilla chips
  1. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, cook the ground beef and diced onion over medium high heat until the beef is browned and the onion is softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir frequently to break up the chunks of beef.
  2. Drain and discard any excess grease. If you're using lean beef (90/10) or ground turkey, you can skip this step.
  3. Add the chili powder to the pan. Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
  4. Stir in the undrained tomatoes and drained and rinsed beans. Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, covered, until the beans are heated through and the flavors have come together.
  5. If the chili is too thin, remove the lid and simmer for a few minutes to cook off the additional liquid, stirring frequently.
  6. Season the chili to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot with the garnishes of your choice.
  7. Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Calories per Serving 587
Total Fat 24.4 g
Saturated Fat 8.9 g
Trans Fat 1.3 g
Cholesterol 80.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 57.0 g
Dietary Fiber 16.1 g
Total Sugars 7.5 g
Sodium 222.5 mg
Protein 37.4 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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