How to Thicken Chili 7 Ways (And How to Prevent Thin Chili)

A thin stew or chili is essentially a soup—not exactly what we’re going for. So discover how to thicken chili in a variety of ways.

All-American Chili
Photo: Jason Donnelly

Whether you’re whipping up a blue ribbon-worthy classic chili recipe, a zesty white chili to spice up your tailgate menu, or a slow cooker chili just like mom made on blustery winter days, you and your dining companions are expecting certain qualities from the finished product. A tomato base that’s infused with some spice, beef and/or beans, perhaps some bonus veggies, and a thick and rich consistency. Unlike soups, which are brothy, or even bisques, which are creamy yet thinner, chili is meant to be more stew-like; it’s a definite stick-to-your-ribs creation. 

If your chili looks a little or a lot thinner than you’d like, these tips for how to thicken chili will help you bolster your bowls so they are hearty enough to satisfy. We tapped our Test Kitchen pros for several ideas about how to make chili thicker (aka sturdy enough stand up to copious toppings and dunkers). And since we’re often searching for ideas for how to make a thicker chili after it’s already thin, they also offer tricks to prevent this culinary challenge before it happens.

Why is My Chili Thin?

If you’re seeking quick fixes for how to thicken up chili, your thin recipe is likely related to one of three issues. Essentially, it all boils down to a lack of liquid evaporation. This can be the result of:

  • Adding too much stock, broth, or water. A base of beef or chicken broth or stock, or occasionally water, milk, or cream, sets the tone for most chili recipes. If your chili looks watery, you may have poured in more of these thin ingredients than necessary. The less liquid you add beyond what’s necessary to loosen things up, the less you have to worry about finding a fix for how to thicken up chili.
  • Cooking it for a short time. Ideally, chili would simmer low and slow. This allows some of the liquid to evaporate and result in a thicker consistency and deeper, more complex flavor as the aromatics and spices release their superpowers.
  • Mixing in too many fresh or canned tomatoes. Tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes lend more concentrated flavor and little to no moisture. Fresh or canned tomatoes, which are called for in nearly every red chili recipe, release a fair amount of water into the stew.
Texas Chuck Roast Chili
Jason Donnelly

How to Thicken Chili

As you’ll see in our list of ideas for how to make chili thicker, several of the fixes tie directly back to the causes for thin chili mentioned above. Other tricks for how to thicken up chili call for pantry staple ingredients that can tackle the task quickly—while allowing you to deliver all the classic chili flavor you and your fellow stew-ers are seeking.

Regardless of whether your preferred way to cook chili (in an Instant Pot, slow cooker, skillet, or Dutch oven) these are the best tried-and-true solutions for how to make chili thicker.

  1. Simmer down. The easiest option for how to thicken up chili, is to simply let the problem solve itself. Set the heat to low, take off the lid (if you’re using one) and allow the chili recipe to simmer for an extra 15 minutes, or until the liquid from the chili evaporates enough to reach the consistency you prefer. 
  2. Stir in some finely-ground cornmeal, polenta, or masa harina. As you may have noticed while mixing batter for a cornbread recipe, cornmeal is quite absorbent, and can soak up a good portion of any liquid that comes in its path. As are the other two corn-based products we mentioned. Start by stirring 1 to 2 tablespoons of any of the above into your chili, allow the stew to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more, and it should thicken up a bit. (Avoid coarse-ground cornmeal, which can lend a grainy texture to your chili.) Try masa harina in our Texas Chuck Roast Chili (pictured above).
  3. Or mix in a scoop of cornstarch, all-purpose flour, or oats. If you don’t have cornmeal, polenta or masa harina, you likely have one of these baking staples. Rather than adding it directly to the chili, which can create clumps, make a slurry. In a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water, then stir this into the pot of chili. For 1 tablespoon of flour, use 2 tablespoons of water. No slurry is required for the absorbent oats; simply stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons. In all cases, allow the chili to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more, and you should notice it thicken up.
  4. Pile on the vegetables. Unlike “wet” tomatoes, starchier vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and potatoes can be a boon for thicker chili. Dice up ½ to 1 cup of extra root vegetables to add to the mix. You’ll also need to loop back to tip no. 1 for how to make chili thicker; additional simmer time will be necessary to give these sturdy veggies enough time to release some of their starches and get tender enough to spoon.
  5. Try more tomato paste. Many chili recipes already call for this canned food (or tomato in a tube, if you prefer that style), so you likely already have it on-hand. Add 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup more tomato paste, stir, and cook on medium for 30 minutes more and you should have a richer, tangier-tasting, and a thicker chili.
  6. Mash some beans. Sorry, Texas chili purists, but beans can totally be your BFF when you’re wondering how to thicken chili. In a bowl, use a fork to smash ½ cup to 1 cup of kidney beans, pinto beans, or black beans into a paste. Stir this bean mash into the chili and allow it to simmer for 5 to 10 additional minutes.
  7. Crumble up some corn chips. Normally, the crumbs or tortilla chips or corn chips at the bottom of the bag are a disappointment. But that’s exactly what you’re seeking here. Either find those already-crumbly bits, or grab a handful to pop into a zip-top bag and crush with a rolling pin. Stir the corny crumbs into the chili, and let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more so they can melt into the stew. You may notice a bit more of a chewy consistency, but serve it with extra whole chips for scooping, and it will seem like this was all part of the grand dinner plan!

After trying any of these fixes for how to thicken up chili, take a taste test before you dish it up to share. Since we’re tinkering with the recipe and moisture balance, you’ll want to ensure the seasoning is still dialed in. Sprinkle in more salt, chili powder, onion powder, cumin, paprika, or cayenne pepper, if needed, then ladle it up, and dive in.

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