Best Classic Chili

Updated from the archives (from waaaay back in 2009), this chili recipe is a classic. Simple, comforting, perfect, it’s my mom’s tried-and-true recipe and it’s the only chili I ate from birth to age 18 (plus, it’s been known to win a chili cook-off or two).

My mom will insist until she is blue in the face that she doesn’t like to cook and she is undoubtedly rolling her eyes right now if she knows I’m talking about this and her and cooking and all the facts. Some of my favorite recipes (like this lasagna) come from my momma. Growing up she always had dinner on the table for our family – a homemade dinner – and even though I took those dinners completely for granted (ah, childhood), now I am even more grateful for all those home cooked meals knowing that cooking is probably her least favorite thing to do ever.

Perfectly warm without being too spicy (although you can up the heat to your heart’s content), the flavors of this chili are delicious. I’ve made a few changes over the years to suit our tastes and ingredient preferences but it’s still pretty darn close to my mom’s original. This is one of my favorite chili recipes. It speaks of home and good memories, and I can’t help but love how simple and uncomplicated it is.

Best Classic Chili

P.S. Thank you so much for your sweetness and sincerity on last week’s post. Thank you, thank you; you have no idea how much it means to me! I hope the last remaining days of 2015 are treating you very, very well.

My Mom’s Classic Chili

Yield: Makes about 12 servings

My Mom’s Classic Chili

For a slow cooker version, brown the meat and onions in the first step but instead of a pot, combine the rest of the ingredients in a large slow cooker. Stir in the meat and cook on low for 5-7 hours. I've also subbed in stew meat for the ground beef and it is delicious also (I don't precook it, I throw in the meat cubes and onions with the other ingredients and cook it on low for about 8 hours).

This recipe can be easily scaled down.


  • 2 medium (or 1 large) yellow onions, diced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds ground beef or lean ground turkey
  • 3 large cans (29 ounces each) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 46 ounces tomato juice
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) ketchup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if you want the chili spicier)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar


  1. In a large 12-inch nonstick skillet, brown the ground beef (or turkey) with the onion and salt until the meat is cooked through. Drain excess grease, if needed.
  2. In a large pot, combine the pinto beans, tomato juice, tomato sauce, and ketchup. Stir in the bay leaves, water, garlic salt, pepper, chili powder, cayenne, cumin and brown sugar.
  3. Add the cooked meat/onion mixture.
  4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, over medium-low heat for an hour (or up to 4-5 hours), stirring occasionally. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed, before serving.

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from my mom, Michel W.

91 Responses to My Mom’s Classic Chili {Stovetop or Slow Cooker}

  1. Jessica G says:

    Hi Mel,
    Have you made this in the IP yet? I have some white cheddar pimento cheese in the fridge that I plan to top it with:)

  2. kt says:

    Yum. Makes a ton though. I now halve the recipe for my family of three.

  3. Beth says:

    This is my family’s favorite chili! Hoping you may add some directions to make in the Instant Pot as well. Ever since reading your post on pressure cookers, I’ve been addicted to cooking in the IP! I’m planning on trying the chicken chili you posted recently, but doubt it can compete with this one! 😉

    Family can’t get enough of applesauce in the IP as well, so it was fun to read your post on that today!

    Thanks so much! You are my go-to food blog! 🙂

  4. Rebecca says:

    recipe sounds good and If it’s good I will use it like it is to bring somewhere but can you scale it down to half? I’m not good with that

  5. Palladini says:

    I cook My meat, right after throwing the meat in the pan, I throw all the spices on top and cook them with the meat, it adds a very deep flavour to the chilli.

    I make my own chilli powder, i grow a variety of pepper plants, from Hatch chillis to habanero peppers. smoke them, dry them in my Dehydrator and then turn them to dust, then add a few other spices and that is my chilli powder

  6. Jennifer says:

    I made a half batch of this today. I put everything in the slow cooker on low at noon and it was perfectly ready at 6: 30 when I got home. It is such a good basic chili! No chunks of tomato or other unusual items to scare off picky eaters. The touch of sweetness from the ketchup was better than expected! I may double the cayenne next time. Certainly keeping this in my files. I’m already looking forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

  7. Heather says:

    I made this for my husband’s work party last week and it was a huge hit. We all loved it. Thanks for sharing such wonderful recipes. I’m a huge fan.

  8. Liz says:

    I’ve made a small batch of this several times since this recent post. I LOVE the sweet heat – very good.

  9. Nisha says:

    This chili is awesome! My family loves it and my husband says it’s the best he’s ever had. This is the only chili I ever make now btw 🙂
    Very easy as well.

  10. Stacey says:

    This was great! I was worried about the texture being strange without chunks of tomato in it, but it was perfect. Will definitely make again.

  11. Terri says:

    I have this on the stove right now…I had to sample it, just to be sure it was “good” and let me say…it is!
    My family LOVES chili, I make it year round, yep, even during the summer, so I’m always looking for any good recipes I can make, so I knew I had to make this.

    Mel, your white chicken chili is a family favorite, my youngest son often requests it for his birthday 🙂

    Now, can anyone tell me what’s the cornbread recipe that several people have commented on??

  12. Andrea says:

    My mom always uses tomato juice in her chili too. I’ve been looking for a recipe that uses it too as my mom never writes down her recipes and says – just a pinch of this and a handful of that. I do know that sometimes she uses spicy V-8 juice and it adds a great spicy dimension to the chili. Thanks Mel!

  13. Ellen says:

    Mel, my mom is the exact same way! And I’ve felt the same as you, knowing it was a chore. I feel even more thankful (as an adult) that she had a homemade dinner on our table every night.

  14. Jen T says:

    Perfect meal tonight while we endure an ice/snow storm! Thanks Mel!

  15. Paige says:

    This looks so delicious! There really is nothing better than a good classic family meal!


  16. Nanci says:

    So glad she didn’t use kidney beans which to me are so mealy and not at all good in chili. I prefer pintos or red beans…which I grew up on. I also like chopped canned tomatoes in mine and use Williams chili seasoning…Never fails. I made chili on Christmas day….easy and relaxing meal to make.

  17. Bri says:

    Mel, you would be so proud. I won the chili cook off tonight at our ward party! There were so many fancy Chilis I thought I didn’t stand a chance. I guess the classic chili is just classic enough! Thanks again for making me look like a rock star! I’m frequently told what a great cook I am….bwahahaha. 5 years ago I would have never imagined hearing those words. You rock!

  18. Nicole says:

    This was really good. My only problem was it not turning out as thick as yours. Is there something I can do to change that? Thanks!

  19. Tara says:

    I made this the other night for my husband and he said it was the best Chili he’s ever had! I’m a vegetarian and just put 3 can of black beans instead of the meat and it was delicious! Thanks for the easy and yummy dinner!

  20. Amanda says:

    Loved this! I took it to a ward activity and there was none left, everyone loved it. I told everyone where to find the recipe also.

  21. Amy says:

    So I did some research 🙂 and found out that you would want a little more than 8 cups of cooked beans. To make the math easier I’m just rounding it to 9 cups. By doing that you would want to cook 3 cups of dried beans to get the 9 cups. I hope this helps someone else.

    I hope my math is right. Don’t judge if it isn’t. 😉

  22. Amy says:

    I’m wanting to used dried pinto beans. Do you know how many cups of dried beans I would need to use?

  23. Amanda Z says:

    I made this for dinner today and it was the best homemade chili I’ve had!! It was so flavorful, a hint of sweetness from the brown sugar and ketchup, and a hint of spice from the cayenne. I served mine with cheddar cheese and since I didn’t have corn chips, we used crushed tortilla chips. I halved the recipe and had enough for me and my hubs to each have a big bowl for dinner and fill two containers with leftovers for us both to take to work for lunch tomorrow. Thanks to your mother for a great recipe!

  24. Peggy Sue says:

    I just heard tonight about your wonderful recipies. I can’t wait to try some. Thank you so much for sharing them. I need some new ideas.

  25. Renee says:

    This recipe has become a family favorite at our house, too…thanks so much for sharing it will us!

  26. Amy says:

    Just made this for dinner and it was awesome!!! I doubled the spices but halved the beans. It was spicy but delicious! We had it with cheddar cheese. Yum!!

  27. Matylee says:

    Made this today for a church party. I was told later that someone wanted to know who made this one because it was the best one there. He said he’d been looking for a recipe this good for years. Thought I’d pass the compliment along.

  28. Jen says:

    Thank you for this wonderful recipe! My picky children ate every bite and my husband and I loved it. The flavors are delicious and it was super easy to make. I’m adding this to my list of favorites.

  29. Joe says:

    I’m the cook in the family, and while I’ve done so ably for 30 years, I have never tackled homemade chili…even though I love it (when it’s good). After grabbing a few other recipes from your site, I stumbled upon this one. Quite frankly, I can’t wait to try it. I already know your recipe will be a home base, from which I will venture to “taste destinations” as yet unknown in my quest for the perfect chili. But very shortly (and the hot weather won’t slow me down) I will try this!

    And thanks for the Smothered Pork Chops and Island Chicken recipes (to name two).

  30. I’m so sorry, Mel, I made this back in December and forgot to report! YES, thank you to you and your Mom, I have my go-to recipe now! I think this is my favorite chili ever. Posting it with my crockpot version today!

  31. Beth says:

    So, I made this last weekend and had enough to freeze for my husband to take to work for lunch. He texted me today “That is really good chili!!!” A new favorite is now in my recipe file!

  32. Beth says:

    I can’t wait to try this recipe – and a lot of your other recipes too! Found you on Pinterest and am now browsing through your recipes and pinning like crazy!

  33. Jen says:

    Can I just tell you how INSANELY happy I was to read this was a chili recipe without chunks of tomatoes in it?? My husband is a WEIRDO and, although he loves pizza sauce, won’t eat *anything* with chunks of tomatoes in it (or mushrooms, or celery, or onion, or visible garlic… but I’ve figured ways around those!) I’ve been wanting some chili *so bad* and hope, FINALLY!, that we can both share in the joy of chili on a cold, Buffalo, NY evening… (oh, and thanks again for the notes about freezing it and reheating in the comments— that makes a BIG difference for me when deciding on a recipe— if I can just cook double the amount one time and save a whole bunch of cooking time another day!)

  34. Dani says:

    I’m so knowledgeable when it comes to what is ok to freeze and whats not. I was wondering if this is a freezable meal? P.S. This is my favorite go to chili recipe! Super yummy!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Dani – yes, I’ve frozen this chili before with good results. Sometimes I even pull it out of the freezer, unmold it from the container into the crockpot and heat it on low for the day to reheat.

  35. Fantastic! Made it tonight for the Trunk-or-Treat. Everyone loved it. The only thing left in my crock pot at the end of the night were the two bay leaves!! LOL I accidentally bought tomato sauce rather than tomato juice so I did 24-oz sauce + 24-oz water to = the 46 (48) oz of juice. Turned out wonderful! Thanks for a great, classic chili.

  36. Rachel says:

    I’m way excited to try this recipe…but I was wondering if I could bring to boil, reduce heat, then simmer in a crockpot for a couple hours…I would feel better about that then just leaving the stove on while I’m not there…just a thought…just trying to manage my time effectively. Thanks!

  37. Megan says:

    This is so yummy….simple, tasty and easy. Thanks! I will definitely make this again.

  38. Teresa says:

    Hi Mel,
    Just had to tell ya , I came across this recipe lookin for another one. Chili was on the menu at the school so I adapted the recipe to serve 100, thank goodness for #10 cans, left out the cayenne. You are right about the flavors being classic. I love trying and creating different chili recipes and this is certainly going into my repertoire. Everyone at school loved it, served it with cheese slices and saltines and fresh fruit. Here in Kentucky a lot of people eat peanut butter crackers with their chili, i always thought it was kinda wierd, well they finally convinced me to try it and it really was good with this particular recipe. I sent the leftovers home with my oldest daughter and her family loooved it.

  39. Kristyn says:

    I live in Malaysia and can’t seem to locate pinto beans. Do you think I could use canned kidney beans instead? I’m craving chili and can’t seem to find a recipe that includes stuff I can find at the markets here. Thanks!

  40. Tammy says:

    FYI, I have no idea why this randomly posted twice. Thanks for your response!

  41. Tammy says:

    This may be a dumb question but when you use dried beans do you cook them separately with no seasonings?

  42. Tammy says:

    This may be a dumb question but when you use dried beans do you cook them plain with no seasoning and then add them to the rest?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Tammy – I’ve never used dry beans in this recipe but if you wanted to, you would need to soak the beans in water overnight and then add them to the mixture with the other ingredients, following the recipe. You may need to add more salt to taste, also.

    • Nanci says:

      I grew up on chili made with dry beans. Yes, follow directions on bean package, then drain and add to your recipe. Do not add salt to the beans as they cook. easy!

  43. RuthAnn says:

    Funny our ward Chili cook off last night, my chili (your “classic red chili” recipe) won best tasting recipe. Shocker for me because I’ve never made chili before last night. It was obviously fabulous! My friend made a white chili that everyone raved about as well. When I asked her for the recipe she directed me to your site and said it was the white chili under the “best” recipe category. Who knew!…you have many fans in NY! Keep the deliciousness coming! Your recipes are wonderful!

  44. Amy M says:

    Made this again but reduced ketchup to 3/4c and added a couple cans of drained diced tomatoes. Also bought V8 instead of tomato juice by accident. It turned out awesome with the V8! Loved it and can’t wait to eat the leftovers 🙂

  45. Nicole says:

    Made this last Saturday and ate it off and on all week – I know who wants to eat chili all week, but it worked for us and our circumstances in this instance – it was great. I’m super wimpy about spice in my food, so I might lessen the cayenne a bit next time, but we really enjoyed it, thanks!

  46. Hollie Wood says:

    I made this tonight for my family and also took it to my niece who just had a baby. Bravo, Mel! Bravo! 😀 It was all sorts of amazing!

  47. Jenni says:

    I just made this wonderful chili and I think it is a new favorite!!!!! Taking it to a Girl Scout concession stand later this afternoon but wish I could keep it here at home!!

  48. I made this chili this past weekend and it’s SO good! I froze a bunch of it and have a feeling it’s going to reheat SO well. Thanks so much for all of the great recipes – I hope to make your white chili this week!!

  49. Dani says:

    This is the best chili I have ever had! Its finally cooling down a little bit here so I’m glad I got to make it. Thank you for sharing!

  50. Amy M says:

    I made this last week for guests. I served it over fritos corn chips with shredded cheese, sour cream and avacados. Everyone loved it although I think I will cut down on the sweetness of it by reducing the amount of ketchup next time. This is an excellent quick chili. Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      Amy M – that’s exactly how my mom served it growing up, over the fritos and with cheese and sour cream. I’m glad you liked it!

  51. Mel says:

    Melody – sorry about the error. You were right to put it in with the meat/onions. I’ll edit the recipe!

  52. Melody says:

    I was making this and couldn’t see where I was supposed to add the 2 t. salt, so I just put it in when I was browning the meat/onions…?

  53. Mrs. P says:

    exactly what i was looking for! thank you 🙂

  54. Melanie says:

    Hi I’m Apryl – so glad you liked this recipe and the cornbread…sounds like a delicious meal for the chilly weather we are having. Thanks so much for letting me know it got rave reviews!

  55. Hi I'm Apryl says:

    I made this chili with the cornbread and honey butter tonight and I’ve got to tell you that it was the greatest meal we’ve ever had! Thank you and your mom! It was just spicy enough and the cornbread was so chewy and just plain yummy!! I love it when a recipe works out 🙂

  56. Melanie says:

    Melanie A. – I know, isn’t it funny how many Melanies there are out there! Thanks for using your last initial so I can differentiate – I really do remember each and every comment but it helps when there are similar names! I’m really, really glad you liked this chili. Thanks for letting me know!

  57. Anonymous says:

    This chili is the perfect “classic” chili! I’ve been searching for a good recipe, and this one turned out great! Thanks. -Melanie A. (P.S. you have so many followers with your same name that we are now having to sign off with our last initial too!)

  58. Erin says:

    We had a chili cookoff for our Ward’s Halloween party and I told Jed that his mom’s chili was about, oh, one million times better than any of the chilis in the contest! I just love her recipe!

  59. Melanie says:

    Jill – glad you liked this! Thanks for letting me know.

  60. Jill says:

    I made this recipe and it was wonderful. I did a few less beans, but other than that I didn’t make any changes. Super delicious. We’ll be making it again for sure!!!

  61. Melanie says:

    Hi Valerie – thanks for letting me know the chili and cornbread turned out for you! I’m going to make it with dried beans next time since I have a bunch in my food storage.

  62. Valerie says:

    I made your chili recipe along with your wonderful corn bread. I used a 1/2 of the meat – and made my own beans. My husband and I both love it – and the corn bread is the best – by far – I’ve ever made. Yum!

  63. Melanie says:

    anissa ferguson – thanks for letting me know you made this! I think the addition of green chiles is brilliant. I hope you liked the end result!

  64. LC David says:

    Great chili recipe Thank you for sharing i really enjoyed
    Kitchen Hood Cleaning

  65. Sarah says:

    Just found your blog googling for caramel dipped pretzels…I’m in love! LOVE IT ALL!

  66. anissa ferguson says:

    Thanks for posting this great recipe, I made it a few hours ago and added green chilies, It will be a wonderful addition to our Halloween Night:)

  67. Garrison Family says:

    so making it for the elders quorum tomorrow.

  68. Anonymous says:

    I have been making the same chili recipe for awhile but lately I feel like I need to try something new. This looks like the perfect recipe to switch things up a bit. -Liz K.

  69. Valerie says:

    Mmmmm! It is definitely good weather for chili.

  70. Tori says:

    so funny you are posting chili…..we must be in the same mood. I am making green chili tonight for dinner. lol.

  71. Molly says:

    I’ve been looking for a good chili recipe…we’ve just been using the seasoning packets you buy at the store, I look forward to trying this one!

  72. Sook says:

    Mmmmmm chili sounds so good right now!

  73. grace says:

    if you ask me, true chili is red and beany. i’d say your mom has a winner on her hands here–i know i’d love it!

  74. BECKY and DAVID says:

    I love chili with pinto beans… I’m going to be trying this soon (along with your corn bread recipe). I can’t wait! Thanks for all the great recipes!

  75. Queen B. says:

    ooooooooooo i’m in a chili mood again 🙂

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