What style of chili is best? It’s a question without a clear answer.
People have debated recipes, spice levels, and key ingredients, like beans, for over 100 years. The history of this classic American food is just as rich as its sauce.
You can find dozens of versions across the country. Today, we’ve ranked some of the most notable styles.
Let’s eat up!
What Is Chili?
The name comes from chili con carne, meaning “peppers with beef” in Spanish. Just like it sounds, it’s a thick, saucy dish containing stewed meat and a lot of spice. It’s also easy to customize with toppings like cheese, sour cream, onions, and more.
Although conventional recipes call for a tomato-heavy sauce, there are dozens of variations. The verde style calls for a green pepper base, and white chili uses great northern beans. Some versions are knock-your-socks-off spicy, while others are kid friendly. Vegetarian recipes use soy protein or vegetables in place of meat.
Then, of course, there’s the most controversial ingredient: beans. Some cooks claim legumes have no place in the dish, but others say they’re essential. Whatever side of the debate you’re on, one thing’s for sure: it’s a delicious meal!
Where Was Chili Invented?
Although its exact origins are unknown, the first chili was likely cooked in present-day Texas. The first known description of the dish comes from a journal entry dated 1828. On a trip to San Antonio, J.C. Clopper described a stew containing “nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat.”
Some historians believe Mexican cowboys are responsible for early versions of this entree. On long trips, they boiled “chili bricks”–solid chunks of fat, meat, peppers, and seasoning– for a quick, filling meal.
Others assign credit to Mexican washerwomen in the mid-1800s. Their oversized washing pots were perfect for cooking huge batches of stew. Another theory suggests that Canarian cooking was an early influence because of its similar use of spices.
After gaining popularity throughout the Southwest, chili reached the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Soon restaurants sprang up across the rest of the country, inspiring regional riffs on the classic.
Pro Tip: Get the inside scoop on What Is Cincinnati Chili (and Is It Really from Cincinnati?)
7 Styles of Chili from Best to Worst
Jonesing to make this savory stew for the first time? The numerous styles and variations can be overwhelming. To make things easier, we ranked seven versions of this iconic American dish from best to worst.
#1 Texas Style Chili
Since this tasty meal originated in the Lone Star State, many consider Texas Chili the most authentic. Made with chuck roast and savory seasonings, this tomato-based version is typically spicy. And most importantly, it doesn’t include beans!
This recipe from The Seasoned Mom calls for jalapeños, onion, and garlic. Brown the beef before sauteeing the vegetables and spices, then add tomatoes and tomato paste. The stew simmers for nearly four hours, giving it a deep flavor.
Every chili lover should try this variation at least once. After all, this version is where it all began!
#2 Black Bean Chili
Looking for a leaner, healthier dinner? Taste of Home’s Black Bean Chili is an excellent style for those avoiding red meat. This recipe uses ground turkey, corn, and black beans.
Start by browning the ground turkey in a skillet for five to seven minutes. Next, put the meat and other ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker on low heat. After six hours, you’ve got a delicious, easy feast!
Though this version won’t be as rich as its Texas counterpart, it’s certainly healthier. This recipe clocks in at a mere 242 calories per serving. And a convenient crockpot meal can’t be beat.
#3 Chili Con Carne
Are you craving authentic Southwest chili? Purists may call you crazy, but Betty Crocker has a meal for you! Beef and beans team up in this recipe to deliver maximum protein.
This style is very close to The Seasoned Mom’s, but with a few key differences. Betty Crocker’s version calls for ground beef rather than cubed chuck. It also includes a tablespoon of unsweetened baking cocoa, a common ingredient in Southwestern and Mexican cooking.
The chocolate in this dish produces a sweeter, more complex flavor than many other recipes. For that reason alone, we think it’s worth trying.
#4 White Chicken Chili
White Chicken Chili is one of the dozens of riffs on the original meal. It gets its name from its unique color. While many recipes feature a tomato or green pepper base, this variation features a white bean base.
Insanely Good’s slow cooker recipe calls for chicken breast, great northern beans, and canned white corn. Layer the corn and beans on the bottom, place the chicken on top, and pour in the broth, canned chicken soup, green peppers, and taco seasoning. The entrée should be ready after eight hours on low heat.
Although quick and easy, this meal probably won’t satisfy folks looking for something spicy. Using taco seasoning rather than individual spices also means losing some flavor. But if you’re looking to try something new, it’s worth a shot!
#5 Cowboy Style Chili
Insanely Good’s Cowboy Chili is a happy medium between the Texas and Con Carne styles. It retains the beef-and-beans combination but omits the unsweetened cocoa powder. This recipe also calls for a cup of beef broth.
Brown the ground beef for ten minutes with the garlic and onion. After removing any liquid, add the tomatoes, broth, and spices to the pot. Let the mixture simmer for one hour before stirring in canned pinto beans and salt. After 15 more minutes on the stove, it’s ready to eat.
As with any convenient meal, there’s always a trade-off. This version is quicker and simpler than the Texas style and Betty Crocker’s recipe. But the shorter cooking time means less flavor.
#6 McCormick Chili
Insanely Good’s McCormick Chili relies on a pre-made spice mix as another variation on the Cowboy style. Though it may not be complex, it’s convenient: this recipe only contains six ingredients!
Start by browning lean ground beef and onion together in a skillet. After five minutes, drain any liquid and add some McCormick’s chili seasoning, canned tomatoes, beans, and tomato sauce. Bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes before serving.
This recipe is ideal for an uber-fast, comforting meal. It won’t necessarily win your local cookoff, but it’s a fantastic option for a budget entree. And let’s be honest…any dinner that cooks in under 30 minutes is worth a shot.
#7 Skyline Chili
Skyline Chili originated in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was influenced by Mediterranean immigrants. Because it’s thinner than Southwestern recipes, it’s usually served with spaghetti or on a hot dog.
Insanely Good’s recipe says to brown ground beef and onion in a skillet, then add beef stock and cook for ten minutes. Add tomato sauce, vinegar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, unsweetened cocoa, and spices to the pan. Simmer for one hour, then serve the dish over noodles or hot dogs. Popular toppings include cheese, chopped onion, and kidney beans.
The Skyline version won’t be your favorite if the idea of chili on pasta doesn’t appeal to you. However, it’s a legendary meal in the Midwest…why not give it a chance? You might be surprised by how much you like it.
Which Style of Chili Will You Try Next?
Regardless of style, everyone can agree that chili is filling, comforting, and delicious. This hearty entree is an inexpensive, simple option for weeknight dinners or big gatherings.
No matter your stance on the sauce, meat, or beans, there’s a recipe for everyone. This meal’s versatility is one of many things that make it great!
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