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How to Thicken Chili Like a Pro (13 Different Ways)

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

Chili should be thick and rich enough to stand alone as a dinner, but sometimes there’s too much liquid in the pot — it happens to the best of us.

Did you take it off the heat too fast? Or maybe you added too much stock or too many tomatoes? All these factors can make your dish watery.

Whatever the situation, you may be able to thicken your meal by simmering it or adding other ingredients, including beans, vegetables, cornstarch, flour, and a few others.

The most common ways to make chili thicker:

  • Simmer
  • Cornstarch or Arrowroot
  • Flour
  • Beans
  • Tomato paste
  • Quick Oats
  • Masa Harina
  • Cornmeal or Polenta
  • Cheese
  • Oats
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Veggies
  • Arrowroot

1. Simmer the Chili

Let’s begin with simmering the chili, which involves the least amount of work.

You simply remove the pot’s lid and set it on low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. The surplus liquid will evaporate, and your dish will thicken.

The low temperature is important here. If it’s too hot, you’ll have a burnt meal. Make sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 212 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) for a delicious, perfectly cooked meal.

2. Add Cornstarch & Arrowroot

Cornstarch and arrowroot are the best thickening agents you can use when you’re in a hurry. They work instantaneously.

Cornstarch & Arrowroot
Cornstarch & Arrowroot

To use this technique, combine two teaspoons of either cornstarch or arrowroot with equal parts cold water before adding it to the stew. Stir it in thoroughly to avoid lumps and let it simmer for an additional 10 minutes at medium heat.

Are you concerned about the flavor? Cornstarch and arrowroot have no impact on the flavor of your dish. Enjoy!

3. Add Flour

Flour is a popular thickener that everyone has in their cupboards.

Flour
Flour

However, mixing raw flour right into the dish will result in lumps. A better approach would be to create a slurry by combining two teaspoons of cold water with one tablespoon of flour. Add the flour slurry to the pan, stirring to distribute it evenly throughout the dish. Keep stirring and let the mixture simmer for ten minutes.

4. Add Beans

Beans
Beans

Mashed, pureed, refried — beans are another easy way to thicken your dish. You may choose red, black, and pinto beans since they all contain a lot of starch.

Add one cup of mashed, pureed, or refined beans to your chili, stir, and let it cook without a lid. You can add more beans until you get the desired consistency. Before serving, let it rest for 30 minutes. Taste your dish and make necessary spice adjustments to maintain flavor balance.

5. Add Tomato Paste

Tomato Paste
Tomato Paste

Adding tomato paste or sauce is a wonderful way to fix a runny chili — it improves the texture, it’s easy to make, and adds flavor to the dish.

You will need 6 oz of ketchup or tomato paste to try this method. Add around 2 oz to the dish about every 20 minutes and cook for an hour in total. That way, it can blend very easily with the dish.

6. Add Quick Oats

Oats are a common ingredient in most of our kitchens — they are healthy, cheap, and thicken chili fast.

Quick Oats
Quick Oats

Start with a scoop of quick oats. Cook the chili with the oats in a skillet over medium heat. Stir the oats often to stimulate the release of extra starch.

Cook quick oats for at least 3 minutes in an uncovered pan. Results should be immediately visible. If still watery, whisk in a little more until your dish fully thickens.

7. Add Masa Harina

Masa harina is a kind of corn flour used as a thickening agent that has been pre-cooked and holds more water than regular corn flour.

Masa Harina
Masa Harina

People often assume that masa harina and cornmeal are interchangeable; however, they are not. Masa harina is whiter in color and has a texture comparable to flour.

Masa harina also has a corn-like flavor, so if you’re not a fan, use it sparingly. Begin by incorporating 2 teaspoons of masa harina into your dish. Check the consistency after 5-10 minutes. If necessary, add more.

8. Add Cornmeal or Polenta

A spoonful of cornmeal or polenta (see where to buy polenta) will thicken the finished chili by absorbing excess moisture.

Cornmeal or Polenta
Cornmeal or Polenta

You can use white or yellow cornmeal powder to make this paste.

Combine equal amounts of cornmeal or polenta and water (start with 1 tbsp of each). After adding one of the two thickeners, let the food simmer for about 10 minutes.

Cornmeal and polenta give a grainy texture to the chili. Plus, they may clump if you add it all at once. It’s better to do it gradually until the dish reaches the desired thickness.

9. Add Cheese

Adding shredded cheese is another simple way to fix a watery chili. You can use parmesan, a parmesan alternative, or other melting cheeses.

Cheese
Cheese

Cheese adds flavor, richness, and creaminess to a dish, so it’s one of our favorite methods to thicken a meal.

This method is applied post-cooking. All it takes is to add a huge mouthful of shredded cheese as garnish. The cheese begins to melt as soon as it touches the hot food, with mouth-watering results.

10. Add Veggies

Finally, you can add vegetables with a high starch content, such as onions, celery, potatoes, and carrots to thicken your chili. When you add these vegetables to the dish, they release starch and improve the consistency. Broccoli and mushrooms are also great thickeners since they absorb liquids.

Veggies
Veggies

This method does take more time compared to other methods since you must simmer the dish over medium heat for an hour to get it done. But, the results are unquestionably delicious.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Thicken Chili Post Cooking?

Yes, just top it with crackers. This method also works great with potato flakes, cornmeal, and shredded cheese. Just be sure to give it a minute or two to settle before serving.

Can Chili Thicken While It Cooks?

As the cooking liquid simmers, many chili recipes — especially those that call for beans will thicken up on their own in the pot. You can add a second ingredient like cornstarch or flour to give it more body.

How to Thicken White Chicken Chili?

A slurry of cornstarch, flour, or arrowroot is the best way to thicken white chicken chili. The lazier method is to let it simmer until all of the excess liquid has evaporated. You may also thicken the dish by adding shredded cheese. Avoid using tomato paste since it can alter the color of your meal.

Can I Thicken Chili in a Crockpot?

If you cooked your chili in a crockpot, simply remove the cover and let it simmer over high heat. Other options include adding shredded cheese, cornstarch, or tomato paste to the dish while it’s cooking on medium heat.

How to Thicken Green Chili?

Green chili, also known as chili verde, can be thickened by pureeing three green chilies in a spice grinder or blender, then adding the puree to the pan and simmering until thickened.

If you’re worried that your green chili will be too hot, thicken it using a roux. Combine equal parts flour and butter in a mixing bowl. Stir until the mixture becomes a paste, then add it to your dish. Bring everything to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat to fully thicken the dish.

Conclusion

There you go — 13 thickening hacks that will do wonders to your chili.

Some can make the dish thick without interfering with the taste, like cornstarch, arrowroot, flour, and masa harina. Others like cheese, beans, tomato paste, and veggies can make it thicker and tastier. Quick oats are also a healthy and fast solution. Don’t have the ingredients? Just let it simmer in an uncovered pan, and you’ll have a thick chili in no time.

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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