Classic Slow Cooker Chili

This no-fuss classic slow cooker chili is perfect any time of the year! Flavorful, EASY, and straightforward, it’s good enough to win any chili cookoff!

ladle of classic slow cooker chili

This slow cooker chili could not be easier.

A quick little session in the skillet to cook the meat and develop awesome flavor and into the slow cooker it goes…while you do heel kicks in anticipation of getting a million things done while dinner cooks.

There are no secret ingredients or crazy extra steps. The warm spices and hearty beef and beans cook into the most perfect chili ever.

top down view of classic slow cooker chili in white bowl with cheese and sour cream

Layers of Flavor

This recipe is a testament that simple ingredients, given time and a little boost, can combine into something completely delicious.

If you haven’t gotten the memo about chili yet: it tastes amazing the 2nd or 3rd day. So it makes a great make-ahead meal. And it freezes great. 

assembling slow cooker chili in white slow cooker

What kind of beans are best for chili?

I’m not going to lecture you here. Because chili is super adaptable. 

This recipe calls for canned light or dark kidney beans. But it is easy to sub in other kinds of beans. Pinto beans, black beans, etc. 

If you want to use dry beans, you’ll need to soak and cook them first. 

assembling and cooking slow cooker chili

Pressure Cooker Variation

In this day and age where electric pressure cooking has become all the rage, it’s just a matter of time before someone asks about converting this recipe over. 

The good news is, it’s pretty straightforward! 

Make the recipe up to step #3 and combine all the ingredients in an electric pressure cooker (like an Instant Pot), secure the lid, and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release. 

classic slow cooker chili in white bowl with spoon

Make it meatless

You can also make this recipe meatless by omitting the ground beef and adding another can of beans. A variety of beans would be yummy (and quite pretty). 

Over the years, my kids have resisted fully embracing classic red chilis. My tactic? Let them smother their bowls of chili with chips and cheese and sour cream. I mean, how could anyone resist? 

It’s now a family favorite. Which is a good thing because apparently, I really like chili

taking spoonful of classic slow cooker chili out of white bowl

What To ServeCornbread or Cornbread Muffins
Sour cream
Shredded cheese

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Classic Slow Cooker Chili

Yield: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 9 hours
Total Time: 9 hours 20 minutes
ladle of classic slow cooker chili

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced small
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, but delicious)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (16-ounce) tomato sauce
  • 2 cans (15-ounces each) light or dark kidney beans, rinsed and drained (see note)

For serving:

  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream

Instructions

  1. In a large, 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions, bell peppers and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes. Add the chili powder and cumin and stir to combine. Cook for another minute or so.
  2. Add the ground beef or turkey, salt and pepper to the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces, until the ground beef or turkey is no longer pink, 5-6 minutes. Drain any excess grease.
  3. Scoop the mixture into a round 6-quart (or similar size) slow cooker. Stir in the brown sugar, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and beans.
  4. Cover and cook 8-9 hours on low or 5-6 hours on high. (The chili will thicken slightly the longer it stands after cooking.) Add additional salt and pepper to taste if needed.
  5. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and any other chili toppings you like.

Notes

Beef: this chili is also delicious with beef cubes (a chuck roast cut into 1-inch pieces or prepackaged stew meat). If doing so, you don't need to cook it in the skillet first.

Heat: also, if you want to increase the heat (as is, the chili isn't overly spicy), consider adding chopped jalapeños (fresh or from the jar) or additional chili powder.

Beans: you can sub in just about any other kind of canned bean that you like (black, pinto, etc)

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Follow @melskitchencafe on Instagram and show me the recipes you are making from my blog using the hashtag #melskitchencafe. I love seeing all the goodness you are whipping up in your kitchens!

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from here after Erin G. (a lovely blog reader) forwarded it to me earlier this year

Recipe originally published Sept 2014; updated May 2020 with new photos, recipe notes, etc

Slow Cooker Chili

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