How to Fast and Easily Thicken Chili

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I realize there are major discussions over whether chili should be cooked with or without beans; therefore, in this video, I will concentrate on how to thicken a chili fast and easily using canned refried beans and several other quick techniques, like tortilla chips.

I sometimes make chili on the stove, particularly when I need it for a quick supper, but I like to use my crockpot most of the time, and no matter how much liquid I add to crockpot chili, it always ends up too watery. I sometimes add beer to chili to keep it watery.

There can never be too many beans in a chili, and although I can understand some of the arguments, chili, like many other things, is highly personal. Really, the biggest benefit of using refried beans as a thickening is that it doesn’t matter whether you prepare chili in a one-pot, a pan, or even the microwave (I know people who do! ), using refried beans thickens a chili rapidly without leaving lumps and adds very little to the flavor of the chili.

While I sometimes cook my own refried beans, I usually have a couple of cans on hand in the kitchen cabinet in case I have unexpected company for supper. Canned refried beans are also my go-to for fast nachos; I simply pour a layer on the bottom of the baking sheet before layering on corn chips, cheese, onions, meat, and so on and bake in the oven.

Refried beans, often cooked with pinto beans, are a wonderful source of protein and fiber and, like kidney beans, may help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and digestive health while also making us feel content for longer.

Beans are also high in antioxidants and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as vitamins like thiamin and folate, so add some to your chili!

In addition to canned refried beans, I give easy techniques to thicken chili using corn, notably corn chips, corn meal, and masa harina, in this video.

Chili as a meal did not originate in Mexico, and in 1959, a Mexican reference (Diccionario de Mejicanismos) classified chili con carne as “detestable cuisine masquerading as Mexican, served in the United States from Texas to New York.”

Throughout the 1700s, a kind of hash would be created with meat and almost as many peppers. A recipe for chili con carne was written down in the 1700s by a nun named Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain, who was known to the Indians of the Southwest United States as La Dama de Azul, or the lady in blue. Despite the fact that historical sources indicate Sister Mary never left Spain, her chili recipe includes antelope or deer meat, onions, tomatoes, and chili peppers!

By 1731, sixteen families had relocated from the Canary Islands to what is now San Antonio, and the women of the family prepared a spicy Spanish stew akin to chili.

Texas cowboys and travelers invented a chili mix as a trip staple in the 1850s. They mashed dry beef, fat, salt, pepper, and chili peppers into rectangular brick chili that could be rehydrated with hot water. Some of these daring travelers may have even planted pepper seeds, onions, and oregano in mesquite patches (away from cattle) along the pathways in order to utilize them later to make chili.

Women who followed the Texan armies around in the nineteenth century made a venison or goat meat stew with chili peppers and wild marjoram, and the Chili Queens of Alamo were Latino women who sold chili made with beef and dried red chilies to soldiers in and around Alamo City in the 1880s from open air stalls. The Chili Queens went out of business by 1937 because they could not meet the hygienic requirements that were being imposed in the city’s eateries at the time. After a temporary reprieve in 1939, soon after the conclusion of World War II, the booths were permanently shuttered.

Moreover, throughout the 1880s and beyond, convicts in Texas prisons were served chili as a cheap meal, and prisoners would score Texas jails based on how tasty their chili was! Texas chili first appeared at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, and by 1895, chili bricks were being sold at a meat market, and by 1921, the owner started canning it under the name Wolf Brand Chili, a brand that is still available today.

Chili makers had successfully pushed the Texas government to have chili declared the official food of Texas by 1977.

Thickening Chili with Canned Refried Beans

  • one sauce pan or one pot of cooked runny chili
  • 1 refried bean can (16 oz) If you have homemade refried beans, use those.
  • If you don’t have any refried beans on hand, you may use a can of kidney beans, black beans, or any other canned beans. When you’ve opened them and rinsed them, you may crush them with a potato masher or use a hand blender to make them as fine as possible.
  • a razor-sharp knife If you are fortunate enough to get refried beans directly from the can, you may just slice the beans.
  • Stirring the beans into the chili with a spatula

If the can does not have a ring top, you will also need a can opener, and if the refried beans do not readily come out of the can, you will also need a tablespoon to extract the beans from the can and a basin to place them in.

Step by Step Instructions

Before thickening the chili in this manner, it should be ready to serve. Since it just takes a minute or two to thicken using canned refried beans, you can turn off the heat. If you must leave the stove on, set it to the lowest setting possible to avoid scorching the chili.

If you make the chili in a single pot, turn it off before thickening.

Step 1:  Open and slice the Refried Beans

Open the can using the can opener or, if it has a ring top, remove the top. Examine the beans; if there is a space between the beans and the side of the can, the beans will most likely come out in a block. If you can pull them out this way, do so since it is simpler than scraping the can and leaving a lot of the refried beans attached to the edges.

Once the beans slip out, turn the can upside down over a chopping board and alternate between gently shaking and hitting the edge of the can. They should be able to slip right out. Next, using your knife, cut a block of refried beans.

If the beans are mushy and will not slip out smoothly, use the spoon to scrape them out into the basin.

Step 2: Add the refried beans to the pan

I just use the knife and my free hand to transfer the refried beans to the pan. If you have to add your beans to a bowl, or if they are handmade, then use a couple of heaping scoops with your tablespoon.

Step 3: Stir in the refried beans

They will dissolve nearly immediately after adding them; only give the chili a brief swirl to ensure they are well mixed throughout.

Add a few more teaspoons and whisk well. Continue to add refried beans until the desired thickness is reached. Look at how thick it has become. If it’s still too thin for you, chop off another block of refried beans.

I used around three-quarters of a can of refried beans to thicken a 10 cup pan of chili for this guide.

Pro Tip: If you leave the chili on the stove while thickening, maintain stirring since the increased starch content increases the chance of it sticking and burning.

Step 4: Serve

The chili is ready to serve after it has thickened.

Pro Tip: If you have any leftover refried beans after thickening the chili, heat them up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and serve with your chili, corn chips, and dips.

If you reheat leftover chili in a sauce pan, constantly stirring since it may begin to adhere to the pan as it warms. If it has thickened while standing, dilute it with a little liquid of your choosing, such as tomatoes, broth, stock, water, or beer.

Thickening Chili with Tortilla Chips

  • a few ounces of tortilla chips The broken ones in the bottom of the package are ideal for this.
  • The rolling pin If you don’t have a pin, an opened can will suffice.
  • A zip-top plastic bag One that has been used previously is good since smashing the chips would ruin the bag.

Step by Step Instructions

Step 1:  Add the tortilla chips to the zip bag

Put the corn chips in the zip bag and zip it up, leaving an inch or more open to enable extra air to escape after crushing.

Step 2: Crush the tortilla chips

Roll the rolling pin firmly over the bag of corn chips. Flip the bag a few times to ensure that they are all crushed equally.

Step 3: Add the tortilla chips to the cooked chili

After the tortilla chips have been smashed, just throw them into the chili and mix thoroughly.

Let the chili to simmer for five minutes on low heat to soften the corn chips. You may now serve.

If it’s still too thin for you, go back to Step 1 and smash another couple of ounces of chips. Avoid adding any more corn unless you have a very big pan of chili, since too much corn will overshadow the other tastes in the chili.

Pro Tip: If you use salted tortilla chips to thicken your chili, you may want to avoid adding salt while it is cooking; instead, add more salt to taste after it has thickened with the tortilla chips.

Thickening Chili Using Corn

You may also add a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal or masa harina (ground dry hominy) straight to the chili. Continue to cook the chili for another five minutes or so to thicken it. Nevertheless, cornmeal or masa harina, like corn crackers, will impart a corn taste to the chili. This may enhance an excellent chili, although others will argue that it changes the taste too much.

If you prefer to use cornstarch, combine a tablespoon with a tablespoon of cold water in a bowl and whisk to eliminate any lumps. This may then be added to the chili, swirled in, and cooked until the chili bubbles and thickens. This should just take a few moments.

While cornstarch is flavorless, if too much is used, it will reduce the heat of the chili, so use with discretion, as with any corn product.

Pro Tip: If your chili has thickened while sitting, dilute it with a little liquid of your choosing, such as tomatoes, broth, stock, water, or beer.

Thickening Chili Naturally, With Flour or Tomato Paste 

While I like to lower liquids naturally wherever possible, doing so increases the danger of burning and occasionally takes too long. A crockpot chili might take up to an hour to naturally decrease. If a chili is on the spicy side, a lengthy natural reduction will raise its heat even more, which may not be a bad thing for some of us!

Similarly, adding flour as a thickening may tone down the chili, but you must ensure that it is well combined with water before being blended into the chili to prevent any lumps of flour remaining in the completed chili.

Flour will take the heat out of a chili, which is why I prefer not to use it, despite the fact that it is a pantry staple that most of us always have on hand.

Depending on the kind of chili, I may sometimes add a 6 oz can of tomato paste to help it thicken, but if I do, I generally add extra chilis since the tomato tends to negate some of the taste.

Pro Tip: Regardless of how you thickened your chili, reheating leftover chili in a sauce pan requires constant stirring since it may begin to adhere to the pan as it warms.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my step-by-step guide on how to thicken chili fast and simply using refried beans, corn chips, cornmeal, and other ingredients, and that the next time you raise the cover on your one pot to find a watery chili, you’ll know you have a variety of alternatives to swiftly thicken it.

I’ve also discussed a few alternative methods for thickening, such as naturally decreasing or adding tomato paste. Do you have another tried-and-true method for thickening chili? Please share it in the comments section below; I’d love to hear your advice. Additionally, if you liked reading this, please leave a comment and feel free to share it with your friends!


How do you thicken too watery chili?

Chili Thickening Method
Slow down….
Include some finely ground cornmeal, polenta, or masa harina.
Instead, add a scoop of cornstarch, all-purpose flour, or oats.
… Pile on the veggies.
Try adding additional tomato paste…
Some beans should be mashed…
Crush some corn chips.
Nov 29, 2022

What is the secret ingredient to thicken chili?

Thickening Chili with Cornmeal

One of our favorite thickening agents for chili is cornmeal. In contrast to all-purpose flour, this Southern pantry staple imparts a mild earthy taste to the chili while also thickening it. You may use fine to medium-grain white or yellow cornmeal.

Does chili thicken faster covered or uncovered?

Boil Your Chili Without Covering

Remove the cover from the pot if you want to keep things easy. Cook the chili, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes to help decrease the liquid and thicken the mixture.

How do you thicken slow cooked chili?

10 Easy Ways to Thicken Chili in the Slow Cooker
Simmer Extra Liquid Slowly. One of the finest ways to thicken chili is to gently simmer it over low to medium heat…. Add flour, arrowroot, or cornstarch.
Add Mashed Beans…. Combine Tomato Paste…. Stir in Shredded Cheese…. Thicken with Vegetables…. Add Additional Meat…. Create a Roux.
More to come…
•Dec 31, 2022

Does simmering chili make it thicker?

Steam is produced by hot chili bubbling in a saucepan. As that steam comes into contact with the lid, it condenses. With the lid on, that liquid can only go back into your chili. Nevertheless, if you reduce the heat to low, remove the cover, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes, it should thicken nicely.

Should chili be thick or soupy?

Chili should be thick and substantial enough to constitute a meal on its own, but there’s occasionally a little too much liquid in the pot. Although you could just keep the chili boiling, this approach risks overcooking softer components like the beans, resulting in mushy monotony.

Does tomato paste make chili thicker?

Tomato paste will not only provide a tangy taste to the meal, but it will also thicken it. You may use either homemade or store-bought tomato paste for this purpose. Add 1 can of the paste to your pot of chili, stir, and simmer for around 30 minutes on medium heat.

Does baking soda thicken chili?

The first is that baking soda may aid in the thickening of the chili. This is due to the fact that baking soda is a base, and when added to chili, it neutralizes the acids in the tomatoes, resulting in a thicker consistency. The second reason is that baking soda might make the chili taste better.

How long should you let chili simmer?

How long should chili be cooked? The chili may be cooked on a high heat with the lid off for 30-45 minutes, or on a low heat with the lid on for up to 2 hours. How can you improve the taste of chili? The longer you boil a chili, the more tasty it will be since the spices and ingredients have time to develop.

Does sour cream make chili thicker?

#12 Include Chili Toppings

To soak up the surplus liquid in chili, we prefer to add chili toppings. Shredded cheese and sour cream will melt into the chili, thickening it. Crushed tortilla chips, crackers, crumbled cornbread, and even potato flakes can absorb liquid and bulk up the dish.

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