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Secret Ingredient Chili

This delicious and easy chili recipe contains a secret ingredient that provides an exciting flavor boost. Toasting the dry spices also unleash their aromatics for a deep flavor profile. Chili is a great recipe to make extras because terrific leftovers taste better the second day.

October 27, 2021

Secret Ingredient Chili in a pot and bowl

Do you have a secret ingredient in your chili recipe?

Many chili recipes claim to have a secret ingredient in the sauce. When you live in Cincinnati, chili is a big deal. There is a chili restaurant on every corner, and we put it on everything: spaghetti, potatoes, hotdogs, fries, and yes, sometimes in a bowl. The secret ingredients in Cincinnati-style chili are cinnamon and chocolate. This recipe, from my good friend Marty, is a more traditional style, and the secret ingredient is a can of beer that adds a significant and surprising flavor boost. 

Easy Make-Ahead Dinner

I kick off the recipe every year on Halloween night. When the kids were little, they would come home from school and only think of the fun night ahead. It is always busy with last-minute costume emergencies or other unexpected details and having dinner ready to go makes the night more enjoyable. Plus, chili is easy to share with neighbors or eat between doorbell rings.

What to Serve with Chili?

Chili makes a great one-pot meal, but you can add easy side dishes such as sweet potato fries or coleslaw (recipes pictured below).

Other items to serve with chili:

  • cornbread cooked in a cast-iron skillet
  • tortilla chips and guacamole
  • favorite beer

Ingredients, Substitutions and Equipment

  • Grass-Fed Beef is my preference for its health benefits, but it costs more. Lean ground beef or ground turkey also work.
  • Red, orange or yellow works well; it does not have to be a green pepper
  • I use a pilsner or lager beer. 
  • I prefer the smaller red beans, but kidney beans can be substituted for red.
  • Equipment needed: Dutch oven or stockpot.
  • Using jalapenos for a garnish adds extra heat and color, but cutting them can be tricky. I recently cut a jalapeno without gloves and rubbed my nose. I did not realize I had some juice on my fingers. Water and soap were not providing any relief. I called daughter #2, and she told me to use rubbing alcohol followed by milk. I did not have any milk in the house, but the yogurt was perfect because it created a cooling mask. Check out these links from @kitchn to help:
  •  How to remove seeds and membranes from a jalapeno 

  • What to do if you feel the pepper burning on your hands 

More Secret Ingredients for Chili - Toasting Spices

Toasting the spices early in the cooking process before adding the liquid will provide more flavor to the stew. This process unleashes the aromatics in the ground spices.

  • The spices will release more flavor by gently heating them in a bit of oil with the meat. 
  • Then add the onion and pepper, toasting the ground spices while the vegetables soften.
  • Don’t let the spices burn, as they will taste bitter.
  • Read more about cooking with aromatics in this recipe: Hearty Black Bean and Plantain Stew with Pepita Pesto.
Chili cooking in a pot

Why is Chili so Popular?

The secret to chili’s popularity is that it checks off  many boxes for the busy family cook:

  • Great make-ahead meal
  • Budget Friendly
  • Quick to prepare
  • Low carb & high fiber
  • Wonderful leftovers dish that tastes better the next day
  • One-Pot meal so clean-up is easy
  • Ingredients are easy to keep on hand for a pantry meal. 
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Secret Ingredient Chili in a mug

Secret Ingredient Chili

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 2 reviews
  • Author: Karen
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 45
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Beef
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Southwest
  • Diet: Gluten Free


This delicious and easy chili recipe contains a secret ingredient that provides an exciting flavor boost. Toasting the dry spices also unleash their aromatics for a deep flavor profile. Chili is a great recipe for extras because terrific leftovers taste better the second day. If you want to make it a special meal, add cornbread and coleslaw, but it is excellent as a one-pot meal.


Units Scale
  • 1.5 pounds of grass-fed ground beef
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 large red or yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 28 oz. diced tomatoes
  • 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 12 oz. of pilsner or lager beer*
  • 12 oz. of beef broth
  • 16 oz. of red beans or kidney beans**


  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, plain or sour cream
  • Cilantro, chopped – optional
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced and seeded, optional. Wash hands after slicing to remove any residual


  1. Cook ground beef in a Dutch oven over medium heat until brown and crumbly. Pour off fat.
  2. Toast Spices – add olive oil to the Dutch oven, keep beef in a pan, and heat for a minute. Add garlic, salt, chili powder, and cumin. Toast the spices for one minute to release their oils and bring out the flavors.
  3. Add onions and green peppers and sauté until soft; careful not to burn the spices. Add some oil if necessary. Sauté for approximately 5 minutes over medium heat.
  4. Stir in canned tomatoes, tomato paste, beer, and broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
  5. Simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  6. Pour rinsed beans during the last 5 minutes.
  7. Serve in bowls and top with grated cheese and sour cream, and garnish with cilantro and jalapeno slices.


Serve with cornbread and coleslaw. If avoiding wheat, use gluten-free cornbread mix;

*GF diet – use gluten-free beer

**SCD – use legally prepped soaked and cooked bean recipe

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Let me know your thoughts on this post!

4 responses to “Secret Ingredient Chili”

  1. I made this “secret recipe chili” this evening and we loved it. My husband enjoyed the richness of the sauce – as if I’d slaved away all day – it actually took 30 minutes. It’s going to be our “go to” chili recipe! Thanks, Karen!

    • I am grinning to learn that it was a hit. We made the recipe this week as well!! I just finished the last bowl for lunch today. I think it tastes even better the second day.

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Karen the Supper Sanity Home Chef

Welcome to Supper Sanity

Hello, I’m Karen, a very passionate meal planner. As a mother of three, I have been planning family menus for years. When I was diagnosed with a digestive condition, I found it necessary to follow an eating regime that eliminated many ingredients. That made meal planning a health necessity. I’ve learned a lot and want to share my resources to simplify meal planning, shop efficiently and cook affordable homemade meals. If you wish to try new recipes, plan healthier meals, and enjoy a great dinner with your friends and family, Supper Sanity can help.

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