How to Thicken Chili: 6 Simple Steps to an Effective Strategy

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Nothing beats the taste of a thick, hearty bowl of chili on a cold day. Chili is the ultimate comfort food.

Each spoon is packed with flavor, the heat from the different peppers, the tanginess from the tomatoes, the additional savory taste from the beans. The idea of disliking chili is crazy, right?

On the other hand, there are times when chili can disappoint us. Yes, you’ve guessed correctly!

We’re talking about thin, watered-down chili. Chili that’s more like soup than actual chili. The kind of chili that’s universally despised.

Are you in your kitchen panicking over a pot of thin, soupy chili? We’re here to tell you: relax! We’ve got your back.

We’ll tell you exactly how to thicken chili in 6 different ways. Our methods are fail-proof and our strategies are backed with science.

This article explains all the best and easiest ways to thicken your chili. This means you’ll be able to thicken chili without dramatically changing its taste or appearance.

If you still have questions, don’t worry! Keep reading and we’ll answer them at the end of the article.

Thickening Chili? What’s That?

how to thicken chili

Chili is a stew-like dish that is traditionally made by cooking tomatoes, a variety of chili peppers and meat over a long time. Some recipes add beans and mushrooms. Certain recipes even add a little dark chocolate to their chili.

However, one thing is for certain. Nobody likes thin and watery chili. If you’ve accidentally added too much liquid, it will look more like soup instead of a stew. As a result, you have to thicken it.

If you’re wondering how to make chili thicker, there are 3 main ways to do it-

Adding a Thickening Agent While Cooking:

The simplest way to thicken chili is to add a thickening agent as the chili cooks. This method involves dissolving a thickening agent like cornstarch or flour into a small amount of water and adding it to the chili.

These thickening agents contain starch. The starch works by absorbing the excess liquid in the chili and causes it to congeal.

Mashing the beans or tomatoes in the chili releases the starch in them. This will thicken the chili as well!

Thickening after Serving:

If your chili is just a little on the soupy side, you can thicken it after serving. This is helpful when you have guests or are feeding a large crowd. Each person can decide how thick they want their chili.

If you want to thicken chili after it has been served, simply add crushed tortilla chips or crumbled cornbread as a topping.

If you want to keep things low-carb, add a fistful of shredded cheese instead. Your chili will be cheesy, thick and delicious!

Letting It Thicken Naturally:

This is perhaps the simplest way to thicken chili. All you have to do is cook the chili down until the extra liquid evaporates. However, this method takes a longer time than the others.

You may also like: How to Thicken Alfredo Sauce

6 Simple and Effective Steps to Thicken Chili

 It’s showtime!

01. Thickening with Flour, Cornstarch or Arrowroot

This method is one of the easiest ways to thicken chili because we always have some flour or cornstarch at home.

To thicken chili with flour or cornstarch, you first have to make a slurry with water. To do this, mix all-purpose flour and water in a 1:2 ratio. If you’re using cornstarch, mix it with an equal amount of water. Adding flour or cornstarch directly to the hot chili will result in large lumps.

After adding the slurry to the chili, stir it very well and make sure it is completely combined with the chili. Bring it up to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Let the flour cook completely, otherwise, you will be able to taste the raw flour.

If your chili isn’t thick enough, repeat the process. It is important to remember that this method will give those veggies a glossy appearance.

Arrowroot acts similar to cornstarch and is flavorless. Add equal amounts of arrowroot powder and water to make a slurry. Then, add it to the chili until it thickens.

If you’re looking for arrowroot, we recommend Sena’s Premium Arrowroot Powder. It is fresh, high quality and comes with excellent packaging.

02. Using Cornmeal as a Thickener

Cornmeal acts similarly to flour. It makes chili thicker by absorbing the extra liquid. However, you don’t need to mix it with water beforehand.

Adding a tablespoon of cornmeal is perhaps the best way to thicken chili. You can even use polenta or masa harina if you’re feeling particularly fancy.

All you need to do is add a tablespoon of any of these cornmeal powders to your chili while it’s cooking and stir it in. Next, let the chili simmer and thicken for an additional 10 minutes.

The downside?

Using cornmeal to thicken chili will give it a grainy mouthfeel. While that may not be a problem for most people, some might not enjoy the texture.

Looking for good quality masa harina? Alma Semillera Masa Harina is finely milled and gluten-free and is also great for making tortillas, tamales, and cornbread.

03. Mashing Beans into the Chili

If you don’t usually include beans in your chili, now is a good time to start. Add a cup of kidney or pinto beans and use a potato masher to mash the beans into the chili. If you don’t have a potato masher, you can use a large wooden spoon or the back of your ladle to do the mashing.

If you already use beans in your chili and it’s still too watery, here is how to make the chili thicker.

Strain out a cup of the beans and blend them into a thick paste. After that, add the paste back into your chili and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer until it reaches your desired thickness.

Mashing or blending the beans releases the starch naturally present in the beans. The starch will absorb the extra liquid in the chili and make it dense. This is the best way to thicken chili without changing the flavor of the dish.

04. Adding Tomato Paste

Using tomato paste to thicken chili is great because it adds an excellent tangy flavor to the chili.

Mix in one small 60 oz can of tomato paste into your chili during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Let it simmer until thickened.

Since many chili dishes are tomato-based this won’t alter the flavor much. It will, however, add some zest and tangy notes to the chili.

On the other hand, tomato paste also has some bitter notes so adding a small spoon of sugar to those chilis will balance things out.

05. Simmer the Chili

Do you want to know how to make chili thicker without adding anything to it at all? This is the best way to thicken chili without changing its flavor, texture or appearance.

All you have to do is let your chili simmer on low heat. Make sure your pot is uncovered as this will let the excess liquid evaporate.

It is important to simmer your chili on low heat. Simmering at a high temperature will boil and might dry it out instead.

Also, make sure to keep an eye on the chili and give it a stir once in a while to make sure it doesn’t burn or scorch.

This method takes a very long time. You will have to simmer your chili for at least an hour to get your chili to thicken up properly.

06. Adding Shredded Cheese

If you want to thicken those little, red vegetables after cooking or while serving it, adding shredded cheese is the simplest way to get the job done.

Add a big fistful of shredded cheese on top of your bowl of chili as a topping. Alternatively, you can scoop a large dollop of cheese sauce over them as well.

This works because shredded cheese and cheese sauces contain citric acid which acts as an emulsifier. It works by binding the liquid to the cheese which thus thickens the chili.

Once the cheese is placed in contact with the hot chili, it starts to melt and bind with the liquid. It even absorbs some of the liquid as it melts.

Cheese also adds flavor, richness, and creaminess to any dish; which is why it is one of our favorite ways to thicken chili!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

We promised to answer some of the burning questions about thickening chilli. Here they are!

How Do I Thicken Chili In A Slow Cooker?

The easiest way to thicken chili if you’re using a slow cooker is to add cornmeal.

All you need to do is mix in one tablespoon of cornmeal or polenta to the chili and let it continue to cook for another 10 minutes. If the chili hasn’t thickened enough to your liking, add another spoon of cornmeal and let it cook for an additional 10 minutes.

If you don’t like the texture of cornmeal in the chili, you can add a small can of tomato paste instead. Stir in the tomato paste and make sure it is well mixed with the rest of the chili. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes before tasting for salt and adjusting the seasonings.

How Should I Thicken White Chicken Chili?

White chicken chili is a more delicate version of traditional chili. It is light in texture and has a creamy taste.

The easiest way to thicken this kind of chili is with a cornstarch, flour or arrowroot slurry. You can even use potato starch instead.

Mix the flour or cornstarch with cold water and whisk it carefully, making sure there are no lumps. Stir it into the chili.

Next, bring the chili up to a boil and let it simmer for a few more minutes. Your white chicken chili will be nice and thick with a glossy sheen.

If you don’t like your chili glossy, you can use a potato masher to mash or crush some of the white beans in the chili.

How Should I Thicken Green Chili?

Green chili is also known as chili Verde in many places. The easiest way to make this type of chili thicker is to puree 3 green chilis in a spice grinder or blender. Add the mixture to the chili and let it thicken.

If you’re worried about your chili Verde being too spicy, you can thicken it with a roux instead. Melt some butter in a pan and add an equal amount of flour. Cook the flour in the butter, stirring constantly until you can smell the flour. It should have a warm, nutty smell.

Add the mixture to your chili and stir very well, bringing it to a boil. Let it simmer for a few more minutes and your green chili will be thicker.

Can I Thicken Chili With Flour?

To thicken chili with flour, take two tablespoons of flour. Mix it into a quarter cup (four tablespoons) of cold or room temperature water. Whisk the flour very well to make sure there are no lumps. This mixture is called a slurry.

Next, add the slurry to your chili. Stir it very well and bring the chili up to a boil. Allow it to simmer for 12-15 minutes. This makes sure the flour in the slurry is completely cooked and you won’t taste it in your finished chili. After the chili has simmered, it should be significantly thicker.

How Should I Use Masa Or Cornmeal To Thicken Chili?

Masa harina is a specialty cornmeal. It is essentially cornmeal that is finer and looks a lot like wheat. Both Masa and plain cornmeal can be used to thicken chili.

Just add a tablespoon or two of Masa Harina or cornmeal to your chili and mix them. The cornmeal needs to be mixed very well so that it absorbs the excess liquid.

Then, let it continue to cook for 5 more minutes. The chili should thicken up nicely.

If you think the chili is still too thin, add another tablespoon of cornmeal or Masa and repeat the above steps.

How Do I Thicken Chili In A Crockpot?

Since a crockpot cooks food at a constant lower temperature, you can’t use flour or cornstarch. This is because you won’t be able to bring the chili to a boil in a crockpot.

Instead, you should use cornmeal, Masa Harina or polenta. All you need to do is add two tablespoons of the cornmeal of your choice to the chili.

Let the chili cook in your crockpot for a couple of minutes. If it doesn’t thicken enough, add an extra spoon of cornmeal and wait a little longer. The chili should thicken significantly after adding the cornmeal.

How Can I Thicken Chili With Corn Starch?

Thickening chili with cornstarch is similar to thickening it with flour. First, make a slurry with equal amounts of cornstarch and water. Make sure you whisk the cornstarch and water thoroughly so that there are no lumps.

Then, bring your chili up to a boil. Slowly drizzle in the slurry and mix it into the chili. Next, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally as the chili starts to thicken.

It is important to stir the slurry in very well so that it is fully incorporated into the chili.

How Do I Thicken Watery Chili?

The best way to thicken watery chili is to just keep cooking on low heat until all the excess liquid has evaporated. This method is ideal because it won’t change the taste or texture of the chili.

However, it can take anywhere from one hour to three hours to simmer off the extra water. Also, you need to keep an eye on the chili for the whole time to make sure nothing is burnt or scorched.

If you want to know how to thicken chili faster, then using a flour or cornstarch slurry is your best option. Just add the slurry and simmer for 10 more minutes and your chili will be nice and thick!

How Can I Thicken Chili Without Using Tomato Paste?

If you’re making white chili, or are allergic to tomatoes, you might want to avoid using tomato paste to thicken chili.

In that case, there are several other options open for you. For starters, you can use a slurry made from cornstarch, flour or arrowroot. If you don’t like the glossy look that flour or cornstarch, you can use cornmeal, polenta or Masa Harina instead.

Furthermore, if you dislike grainy textures in your food, you can mash or blend the beans into the chili. On the other hand, you can just simmer and reduce the chili until all the extra liquid evaporates.

You can also thicken chili by adding shredded cheese or cheese sauce after serving. All you need to do is top off your bowl of chili with the cheese of your choice. The cheese will melt and thicken the chili.

How Should I Thicken Chili Verde Sauce?

The best way to thicken any sauce is to add starch. Chili Verde sauce is no different.

Make a slurry out of flour or cornstarch and water. Then, add it to your chili Verde sauce, stirring constantly.

Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce the heat, letting it simmer for a few more minutes.

If you’re worried about the slurry diluting the taste of your sauce, crush or blend any kind of green chili (jalapenos are preferred) and add it to your sauce as it simmers.


By now, you know there is no right way to thicken chili. It all depends on your personal preferences.

You also need to factor in the ingredients you have on hand, as well as how much time you have before serving.

Knowing how to thicken chili is crucial because you can plan ahead. If the chili does end up too watery, you won’t feel alarmed since you already know how to fix it.

So, go ahead and make that pot of chili. You’ve got nothing to worry about!

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