Perfect Red Bean Chili

After relocating from Southern California to a much colder climate a few years ago, every winter when the temperature would dip below my comfort level I would find myself developing the most inexplicable craving for chili.  Despite having attended several chili cook-offs during my childhood (yes, I am actually admitting to that), I never developed much of a taste for chili.  It was either too spicy, too bland, too meaty, too tomato-y.  Now, I’m a fan of tomatoes, meat, spices and beans but it was always too something and I was never happy with the result.  Plus, it inevitably called for hours of cooking and loads of specialty ingredients which felt horribly wasted when the result was such a let down.

garlic red bean duo

These predicable disappointments aside, every winter I would bravely ventured into chili recipe territory in the hopes that some new recipe would set my chili streak straight and each year I was again sorely disappointed . . . until this year.  I came across this gorgeous photo at Smitten Kitchen and was suddenly optimistic that this might be the chili recipe to cure my years of bad chili luck.  When my boyfriend informed me that he is a major chili fan, that was all the encouragement I needed.


If I said that I’ve made this chili at least a dozen times in the past three months I wouldn’t be exaggerating.  The beautiful thing about this recipe is that it can be done in 30 minutes.  Yes, the flavors intensify and it gets better and better the longer you let it simmer, it is still pretty close to perfect at the 30 minute mark.  This takes away the day-long preparation that was usually called for by my old chili recipes.  Also, not gunna lie, this reheats beautifully the next day . . . or two days later even!



Perfect Red Bean Chili


2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey*
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup canned beef broth
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes**
2 15 1/2-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar which works well)
To taste: Tabasco, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne or 1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle en adobo puree***


- Place a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the beef or turkey and cook until browned, about 5 minutes.
- Add the onion, stirring well, and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.
- Gradually add the broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven.
- Stir in the chili powder, cumin, cocoa and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the beans, salt, and vinegar, stirring well. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes more.
- Adjust flavor with your spices of choice.
- Garnish with the Cheddar, sour cream, and jalapeno, if desired. Serve hot, with cheese, onions or any toppings of your choice.

* I've also used a mix of half turkey and half lean beef which worked great. Frankly, with all the spices you can't really tell the different between the beef and the turkey.

** Both of the original recipes call for diced tomatoes, however I have substituted crushed tomatoes and tomato puree. This reduces the amount of actual, chunky tomato bites you get but maintains the tomato flavor. If you like chunky tomatoes in your chili, just leave the diced tomatoes. If you prefer fewer tomato chunks, go with the crushed or pureed tomatoes.

*** I always add 1 tsp of cayenne and 1 tsp of paprika to increase the smokiness of the chili, but feel free to substitute to suit your tastes. I'm dying to try one with some chipotle but haven't gotten around to it just yet.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's adaption from Real Simple Magazine

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11 Responses to “Perfect Red Bean Chili”

  1. 1
    caitlyn — February 16, 2009 10:35 pm

    I just found Smitten Kitchen’s chili recipe as well, and am going to try it out this week. Your version looks delicious too! When substituting the diced tomatoes with crushed tomatoes and tomato puree, did you just use a 14.5 oz can?

  2. 2
    kate — February 17, 2009 10:36 am

    Caitlyn — I’ve used a 14.5 oz can of crushed tomatoes with puree and I’ve used a 14.5 oz can of each. If you use more tomatoes it will be a bit runnier but it will cook down if you let it simmer longer. It’s really just a personal preference as to how thick or soupy you like your chili.

    Enjoy! This is really a fantastic, go-to recipe that can really be adjusted to suit your personal taste.

  3. 3
    Mary Lynne — March 9, 2009 5:52 pm

    Well, it was a cold & rainy late winter Sunday. What a perfect day to try your Perfect Red Bean Chili! It turned out great and I’m looking forward to the leftovers for tomorrows lunch!

    • kate replied: — March 10th, 2009 4:08 pm

      I’m so glad you liked it!! And, yes, the leftovers are fantastic! I plan on making a couple big batches next year and freezing portions in freezer bags to defrost for a fast dinner.

  4. 4
    choccycake — July 1, 2009 5:47 am

    Wow, your photos are fantastic, looks so tasty – think that’s dinner sorted!

  5. 5
    TheWoman — September 15, 2009 6:06 am

    This looks great – and great blog too! I just discovered it from a post on Tastespotting.

    • kate replied: — September 15th, 2009 9:45 am

      TheWoman — Thanks! I’m glad you found me. The weather is getting just about right to start whipping up batches of this truly perfect chili.

  6. 6
    angel — January 30, 2010 5:12 pm

    this sounds and looks so delicious. usaully i just stick to changing up the types of tomatoes i use from canned to pureed to crushed so on and so forth. i hate to say but im the one who cheats and buys chilli flavored seasoning in the package. you have given courage to step out of the box when it comes to chilli. thank you. my question is, is it ok to use different textures of tomatoes in the chilli dish. like use a can of crused a can pureed and a can of stewed whole tomatoes?

  7. 7
    Roberta Miller — June 18, 2010 7:27 pm

    Interesting enough! I use 2 large cans diced tomatoes, 1 medium bell pepper, 1 large white onion, as much chili powder as I deem to fit my taste, 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, 3 pounds ground chuck (browned, of course), 3 cans dark red kidney beans, salt & pepper to taste. Then I let it slow cook on top of the stove for hours. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. days is fantastic – if it lasts that long!

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  9. 8
    mk — January 8, 2012 2:58 pm

    While I am sure this is great chili it is actually chili made with kidney beans, not red beans. While kidney beans are a red bean, “red beans” are a completely different smaller red bean used traditionally in New Orleans for red beans and rice. They will cook much faster than kidney beans and have a buttery taste and texture. Just a small culinary clarification.

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