11 Canned Chili Brands, Ranked Worst To Best

Chili is the ultimate American comfort food. It's so popular, in fact, that canned food makers long ago jumped on the chili bandwagon hoping to make a little money off the fact that a good pot of chili requires hours of chopping, frying, and simmering. Why do all that work when you can just pop open a can? Well, because canned chili is always going to be a poor facsimile of the real thing. If you are a chili fan, you've probably been endlessly frustrated by your inability to find something that satisfies your chili craving that isn't just a scoop of disappointment on a baked potato.

If you feel overwhelmed by all of the canned chili options but you'd still like to find something that comes close to the chili you make from scratch, start here. We've ranked some of the most popular brands from worst to best. A couple of notes — we know some of you don't think real chili includes beans, but chili with beans is wildly popular and we tried to include a mix of both beaned and non-beaned varieties in this review. We also stuck with traditional red meat chilis — chicken chili, chili verde, and vegetarian chili can also be delicious, but it's kind of like comparing apples to mangoes. Also, keep in mind that not everyone has the same favorites, so while we feel pretty confident in our choices, you may disagree. Hopefully, we won't let our differences come between us.

11. Skyline Original Chili

This is the canned version of the chili sold at Skyline restaurants, and it's really not the same. Granted, it's pretty hard to make a canned version of something a chef usually makes fresh every day, but the difference here is pretty stark. Skyline Restaurant chili is a fan favorite, the canned version is a disaster. It's super watery, and the beef seems like it's just been pureed into the sauce, so it's kind of a gritty, tomato-y slosh. A quick look at the ingredients makes it clear why it's like this — the first ingredient is beef, but the second is water. And that's not all, the third ingredient is "tomato sauce," which is evidently just ... wait for it ... tomato paste and water. So basically, water, water, and more water.

Unsurprisingly, the sauce is thin, almost like a poor-quality pasta sauce, and the whole thing just kind of lays on the plate in an unappetizing puddle. You could probably put this on your spaghetti and not really know that it's not spaghetti sauce. We'd love to say you could maybe pour Skyline Chili over a hot dog but that's exactly what you'd be doing ... pouring it over the hotdog and then scraping it out of the puddle on your plate and eating a soggy hotdog without any chili on it. There's no way anything this watery is going to stick to a hotdog.

10. Steak N Shake Chili with Beans

This is another example of a restaurant favorite that doesn't translate well into a can. Unfortunately, though, even the restaurant version of this chili isn't that great — which makes sense because the company headquarters are in Indiana. We're not trying to disparage Indiana cuisine or anything (they make a great pork tenderloin sandwich), but when have you ever heard anyone say the words, "A delicious Indiana-style chili!"

Steak 'n Shake chili is basically just beef and beans in sauce. And, the very first ingredient is water. To be fair, the tomato sauce doesn't have any water in it and that's because there is literally no tomato sauce in this product, like at all. No tomatoes, no tomato paste, just water, beef, and beans followed by ... modified corn starch. You know, to thicken up the water a bit so you'll think you're actually eating something with tomatoes in it. To be fair, a traditional Texas chili doesn't have tomatoes in it either, but this one's from Indiana so we don't think that's especially relevant.

Now, this chili does have more interesting spices than the Skyline chili, which is why we ranked it slightly higher — it has actual chili peppers, plus paprika and cumin. Also, soy lecithin. Still, it's not enough to make up for what this chili lacks. But at least you'll be well hydrated after you finish your bowl.

9. Dennison's Chili Con Carne with Beans

Dennison's is a pretty popular brand of chili in that it dominates the store shelves and usually has a pretty low price point, and for good reason. It's just not really a very good tasting chili.

It goes above some of the other brands mostly because it has a much better consistency. It is at least chili-like, compared to the watery weirdness of the first two brands on our list. But Dennison's also has a strange flavor, a spice profile that is reminiscent of nothing you've ever eaten in a fresh pot of chili ever and yet is still bizarrely unidentifiable. This makes the experience of cracking open one of these cans kind of like an exercise in "dear god am I really going to eat this?"

Dennison's Chili Con Carne with Beans is more beans with chili con carne than the other way around — beans are the first ingredient, followed by water, then "meat ingredients" which is evidently just pork and beef but does sound pretty weird when you put it like that. It also contains tomato puree, which again is just tomato paste and water, with some corn starch to thicken it all up and make you feel like you're eating something that's simmered for hours on the stove, except that it doesn't work. At no time while eating a can of Dennison's are you fooled into believing that it's simmered for hours on a stove.

8. Nalley Original Chili Con Carne with Beans

Nalley's Chili Con Carne with Beans tastes better than some of the others, but we're kind of starting to suspect that maybe it's because of a certain three-letter ingredient, and that's MSG. Now we do know that MSG is not the devil people used to think it was but it is kind of a cop-out. It's what people dump into their food when it tastes bland and boring and there's really no other way to save it.

Once again, we've got a chili that proudly lists its first ingredient as water. Sigh. Next up, beef and beans, followed by textured vegetable proteins, which is basically just fake meat that makes you feel like you're eating more meat than you actually are. There's some other weird stuff in this chili, too, like "food starch-modified" and "mononitrate," whatever those are.

Nalley's is sweeter than we generally like our chili to be, too, and it lacks any really interesting flavors. Besides the usual generic "spices" on the label and another one entitled "seasoning" (we're really not sure what the difference is), the only other identifiable spice is paprika. So this really is just another generic chili, only with more weird ingredients that do absolutely nothing for the flavor.

7. Chilli Man Chili with Beans

Chilli Man Chili with Beans has "2-Time World Champion" written right there on the label, so it has to be good, right? One of Chilli Man's victories was at the Terlingua Chili Cookoff in Texas, the other was at a chili cookoff in Tropico, California. So that's pretty impressive until you check out their website and discover that it got those championships almost 50 years ago, back in the 1970s when people put shrimp in Jell-O and thought creamed tuna peas on toast was delicious. So we're not sure Chilli Man's 50-year-old championships really count. Come back when you've won a couple of 21st-century championships, okay?

Anyway, this chili is kind of what you would expect from a 1970s chili cook-off. First ingredient water. The next ingredients are pork, beef, and beans, followed by all the same boring stuff in all the other canned chilis, including MSG, soy, and textured vegetable protein. This chili does have some cayenne pepper, but not enough to actually give it any kick, and it's the second chili on our list that contains no trace of tomatoes. Now, again, if you're a Texan you think chili should be made without beans or tomatoes, but it does seem a bit weird to follow one of those rules but not the other. Overall, you get a chili that looks pretty decent on your plate (or potato, or cornbread, or whatever) but really just tastes like every other canned chili out there.

6. Campbell's Chunky Hot and Spicy Chili with Beans

It's probably a safe bet that anything made by Campbell's, even if it has the words "Hot & Spicy" in the name, probably isn't going to be all that hot and spicy. After all, Campbell's is the maker of some of the world's most bland foods, including chicken noodle soup, which is what you eat when you have a cold and therefore can't taste anything anyway.

Well, we were not disappointed. Campbell's Chunky Hot and Spicy Chili with Beans, unsurprisingly, does not live up to all eight words in its unnecessarily long name, except maybe for the first one. It's very heavy on the ground beef and it's watery like a soup. There is zero hot and zero spicy.

This is another one of those chilis that has water as the first ingredient, which still leaves us scratching our heads even though we're a long way into this list now. Have you ever seen a recipe for chili that calls for any water, like at all, let alone as the first ingredient? It does not seem possible to make a good chili if you're going to water it down.

Still, this chili is better than some of the others. The spices you can taste include a couple of different kinds of peppers, garlic, and chipotles, so it does have a kind of smoky flavor that's worth an extra point or two.

5. Trader Joe's Beef Chili With Beans

Trader Joe's Beef Chili With Beans is really tomato-y, maybe a bit too tomato-y. It's almost approaching pasta sauce territory, but it does at least have some of the kick you expect from chili. It's got two different kinds of beans, but not like two really different kinds of beans. The two varieties featured here are red beans and kidney beans, which are a little more appetizing than say, kidney beans and pinto beans would be. Still, that at least gives this chili a little more mouth-interest than some of the others. Plus, the label is refreshing — it's one of the few chilis on this list that doesn't have water as the very first ingredient. Granted, the very first ingredient isn't beef or beans, either, it's tomatoes, which explains why the flavor of this particular chili is so tomato-forward. You can also taste the jalapenos, and that's a bonus we didn't get in any of the first chilis on our list. Unfortunately, this chili is also really sweet, bordering on too sweet.

The spices in Trader Joe's chili include dehydrated onions, chili "seasonings," vinegar, plus bell peppers, and, weirdly, "butter flavor." Butter is not really a traditional chili flavor, and "butter flavor" is especially weird because you literally would only add that to something if you want it to actually taste like butter. But given that it's the last item on the list and this chili tastes acceptable, we're willing to forgive.

4. Hormel Angus Beef Chili

There are two versions of this chili, one with beans and one without. The with-beans version is watery and bleh, because it is once again a chili with H20 as the very first ingredient. The no-beans version, though, made our list. Because the first ingredient in this can of Hormel Angus Beef Chili is ... beef! Need we say more? We kind of have to, but at this point, we just find it super impressive when a manufacturer manages to make chili without water as the first ingredient, you know, the way every home cook in America does it. And though we're grateful that Trader Joe's was able to put tomatoes first in their canned chili, Hormel put beef in the number one spot and didn't even water it down later on by adding a bunch of watery follow-up ingredients.

The meat-forward recipe pays off, because this chili is hearty and meaty and has a lot of flavor. It's not watery, so you don't feel like you're eating tomato soup. It's not too tomato-y, either, so you don't feel like you're eating a hamburger that someone spilled a whole bottle of ketchup on.

And it's not all about the meat, either — there are also a bunch of different peppers in this chili, including bell peppers, green chilies, and a green chili puree. It's also got a ton of different spices, vinegar, and chili powder so you know Hormel at least put some thought into this chili.

3. Stagg Classic Chili No Beans

All this time we've been laboring under the fantasy that Stagg Chili is its own thing, a notch above the Dennisons, Campbells, and Hormels of the world. Well, it's not. Stagg Chili is, evidently, just another can of Hormel Chili. Granted, we did like Hormel's Angus Beef Chili, but most of their other offerings are pretty meh. So learning that Stagg is just Hormel with a different label was kind of a disappointment.

We will say though that it was a short lived disappointment, because like its Hormel Angus Beef Chili cousin, beef is the first ingredient on the label and the very first thing you taste when you take a bite, too. In fact, water does not even appear on this label, although beef broth is the second ingredient and that's really just water with some beef flavoring in it, but whatever. We also get tomatoes, pork, tomato paste, and some peppery goodness in the form of jalapenos, bell peppers, and chile de Arbol. This chili has a lot of flavor and decent consistency. It's not quite spicy enough for our tastes, but it's a decent choice.

The beef in this chili isn't just ground up flecks of hamburger. There are some decent sized chunks and no question about whether you're biting into meat or some weird texturized vegetable something or other. Happily, nothing texturized appears on the label at all, and the rest of the ingredients are pretty easy reading, too.

2. Kettle & Fire Beef Chili with Beans

This is kind of an obscure brand but if you can find it, it's absolutely worth a try. Kettle & Fire is known for their bone broth, in fact, the label puts "Bone Broth Soup" in big letters and "beef chili with beans" in much smaller letters, which kind of makes you do a double-take at first. Is it chili, or is it soup?

It's chili, as it turns out. We love the ingredient list on this product: beef comes first, tomatoes second, kidney beans third. And many of the ingredients are organic — if that's something that appeals to you. The bone broth used to make this chili is steeped with celery, carrots, parsley, and a bunch of different spices to give it a complex flavor profile. And this chili also has plenty of peppers and standard chili spices like cumin, chili powder, and paprika — all organic.

We will also add that this chili comes in a box so if you want to get picky about semantics, it's not technically a canned chili.

Taste-wise the Kettle & Fire chili is hearty and mildly sweet, though the sweetness doesn't come from sugar or corn syrup or anything weird like that, it comes from honey. If you prefer food made with simple ingredients, this could be your go-to chili ... if you can find it. The scarcity of this product is the main reason why we didn't put it in spot number one.

1. Wolf Brand Homestyle Chili with Beans

Wolf Homestyle Chili with Beans also has meat as the first ingredient. Sure, technically it's that whole "meat ingredients" thing again, but "meat ingredients" are just beef and pork so the strange name is not too off-putting. Next up on the label, prepared pinto beans (with water, but we're going to pretend we didn't see that) followed by tomatoes, green bell pepper, tomato puree, beef broth, onions, and then water. Hallelujah.

This chili is also made with some weird stuff like rolled oats and soy lecithin, but who cares. It's hearty and meaty, has a chunky consistency, and it tastes great for something that comes out of a can. Wolf's big brag on this chili is that the recipe was developed in Texas in 1895, so if you close your eyes and imagine cowboys eating this stuff around a campfire you might not be too far from this chili's origin story. Although beans don't traditionally go in Texas chili, and neither do tomatoes so ... maybe it was cowboys visiting Texas from California or something? Whatever. 

What matters is that this is a decent can of chili, and you can probably find it at your local supermarket. So if it's a chilly autumn evening and you'd really love a bowl of homemade chili but you lack the time or energy to make a pot, well, no canned chili is really going to come very close. This one, though, makes for a pretty decent substitute.