Slow Cooker Chili

two bowls of beef chili with sour cream, corn chips, cheese, and lime wedges

Sunday is my new favorite day of the week. Whether you consider it the end of the weekend or the beginning of the week, during the fall and through the winter it’s all about one thing — comfort food. Sure, there’s football playing in the background, but I’m more interested in the buffalo wings crisping in the oven, the spinach-artichoke dip bubbling under the broiler, and this year, my best Slow Cooker Chili recipe warming in the crockpot. 

Loaded with beef, veggies, spices, and beans, the best crockpot chili recipe is the real winner on game day. Complete with a toppings bar (preferably cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, and corn chips), it’s more of a dinner than game day finger food, but it’s just as easy to eat while sitting on the couch, shouting for your team. 

Plus, this slow cooker game day chili recipe is easy to make. Just brown the meat, cook the peppers and onions, and throw everything in the crockpot either the night before (my preference) or the morning of your team’s big day. The slow cooker not only makes this recipe easy and hands-off, it also develops a rich, robust flavor that simply cannot be achieved in less time. After 8 hours in the slow cooker, the meat absorbs all of the spices and sauces and turns incredibly tender. The tomatoes caramelize against the edges of the slow cooker and turn from bright to dark brick red. The beans mellow out and become creamy, their starches providing heft and body to the thick, hearty chili.

When researching chili for this post, I found a lot of questions floating around the web. Apparently, chili can be a big cause for confusion. So let’s clear some things up:

Can you put raw beef in crockpot for chili?

Technically, yes. According to the USDA, there is no food safety risk to cooking beef entirely in the slow cooker, so long as it has been thawed. However, cooking the meat in a skillet before putting it in the slow cooker helps develop flavor and cooks off some of the fat. Skipping this step results in a more mildly beefy, slightly greasy chili. So in this recipe, I suggest cooking the beef first. 

Can I overcook chili in a slow cooker?

Yes, but it would take a while. I have cooked this chili for 9 hours on low and it was delicious but ever-so-slightly burnt on the top. The tomatoes contain sugar, which caramelizes in the slow cooker, and will eventually burn if it cookes for too long. Anything longer than 10 hours on low is risky. 

Can I leave crockpot on low overnight?

Yes! This is my preference. I like to assemble the chili the night before, put it in the crockpot, then turn it on just before I go to bed. It’ll be easy to remember to turn it off in the morning because your house will smell like fragrant, delicious chili.

How long should you cook chili?

8 hours on low heat yields the best results. Of course, if you’re pressed for time, 5-6 hours on high heat works too, but the meat won’t be as tender. 

What is the best secret ingredient for chili?

In my recipe, there are two “secret” ingredients that put this chili above the rest. A pinch of cinnamon adds subtle sweetness and warming spice to contrast all the savory flavors. And perhaps more importantly, a splash of red wine vinegar stirred into the chili after it’s cooked brightens the whole thing up, and makes it impossible to turn down seconds.

What kind of beef can I use for chili?

I like to use 80% lean ground chuck, which has enough fat that it delivers tons of flavor but not so much that it will turn your chili greasy. I also think ground beef is the easiest to work with, whereas cubed chuck can be a little more fussy during the browning process. That said, if you prefer chunks of meat rather than ground in your chili, I’m not going to stop you. Just be sure to use the same amount and look for something with plenty of marbling.

What are the best beans to use for chili?

Kidney beans and pinto beans can be cooked for hours without losing their texture, so I think they are best for chili. Black beans work too, but are more likely to break down. It’s more important to use beans you actually like, preferably a combination of a few different types for the best flavor and texture.

Let’s make slow cooker chili

ground beef cooking in a skillet

Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and smash it into large pieces that cover the pan, so that one side of the beef can get nice and browned. Cook without stirring for about 8 minutes, until well-browned on one side.

cooked ground beef in a skillet

Season the meat with about 1 ½ tsp salt, then continue to cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces until cooked through, 1-2 minutes more. Taste and add more salt if needed. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a 6-qt slow cooker, leaving the fat behind in the skillet.

onions and peppers in a skillet

Turn heat down to medium. Add garlic, onion and poblano pepper to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, 4-6 minutes. Season with salt.

onions, peppers, and spices in a skillet

Add chili powder, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon to the skillet. Toast spices for about 1 minute, then turn off heat. Place the vegetables into the slow cooker with the beef.

beans, tomatoes, and beef in a crockpot

Stir kidney beans, black beans, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and beef stock into the slow cooker; season with salt to taste. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours.

beef chili in a slow cooker with a ladle

When done, stir in the red wine vinegar and taste again to adjust seasonings.

bowl of beef chili with sour cream, corn chips, cheese, and lime wedges

Serve with desired toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, cilantro, cubed avocado, corn chips, and hot sauce, if desired.

More cozy comfort food recipes:

Slow Cooker Chili

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (8 votes, average: 4.38 out of 5)
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Dinner American
By Samantha Serves: 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes Cooking Time: 8 hours Total Time: 8 hours 30 minutes

Loaded with ridiculously tender beef, spiced veggies, and hearty, creamy beans, this is the best chili for anything from game days to snow days.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • Salt
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 poblano peppers (or 1 green bell pepper), diced
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 (15-oz) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-oz) can pinto or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • Suggested toppings: Shredded cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, corn chips, and hot sauce

Instructions

1

Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and smash it into large pieces that cover the pan, so that one side of the beef can get nice and browned. Cook without stirring for about 8 minutes, until well-browned on one side. Season the meat with salt, then continue to cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces until cooked through, 1-2 minutes more. Taste and add more salt if needed. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a 6-quart slow cooker, leaving the fat behind in the skillet.

2

Turn heat down to medium. Add garlic, onion and poblano pepper to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, 4-6 minutes. Season with salt.

3

Add chili powder, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon to the skillet. Toast spices for about 1 minute, then turn off heat. Place the vegetables into the slow cooker with the beef.

4

Stir kidney beans, black beans, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and beef stock into the slow cooker; season with salt to taste. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours. When done, stir in the red wine vinegar and taste again to adjust seasonings.

5

Serve with desired toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, cilantro, cubed avocado, corn chips, and hot sauce, if desired.

Notes

Low heat yields a tastier result— the meat is perfectly tender, the tomatoes get a little caramelized around the edges, and the whole thing is crazy flavorful. If you’re in more of a time crunch, you can cook it on high heat for 5-6 hours instead. Make Ahead Tip: The night before you’d like to serve the chili, chop the onions, peppers, and garlic. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Make the chili the next morning, allowing it to cook all day so that it’s ready by dinnertime.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Patricia
    February 19, 2022 at 1:31 am

    This is very much like the wonderful chili my husband used to make, except he used ground beef and stew meat. He browned them separately, then put everything together in the slow cooker He also used a can of chili beans. Soooo good!

    • Reply
      Samantha
      February 20, 2022 at 8:20 am

      That sounds delicious!

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