How To Thicken Chili

Any The Office fan knows that the trick to delicious chili is to undercook the onions. But while we’ve never seen how Kevin’s famous chili tasted on screen, we did see his full pot of chili land on the Dunder Mifflin’s office floor.

Notice anything special about Kevin’s chili? It’s thick and chunky, just like any chili should be. That, however, might not always be the case.

Sometimes, your chili might end up watery and thin. And if there’s anything that can ruin your whole hot-bowl-chili experience (besides the taste), it’s when it leaves your pot watery.

Sounds familiar? If so, is there a way to thicken watery chili?

The answer is yes. Moreover, there are several ways to do that, ensuring your chili always turns out chunky and thick, just as you love it.

How to Thicken Up Chili: The Kitchen Community Method(s)

Okay, let’s get straight to the point and discuss some of the easiest, fastest, and best ways to thicken chili, starting with the simplest.

#1 Remove Your Pot Lid

chili in iron pot

Yes, it’s that simple. Often, all it takes to thicken your delicious chili is to remove the lid of the pot while your chili is cooking to let it simmer.

As your chili is almost ready, take off the lid, put it on low heat, stir it a couple of times, and let your chili simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Doing that will allow the excess liquid to evaporate, thickening your chili in the process.

Remember that the vital thing here is to let the chili cook on lower heat. Turning it too high might burn it, resulting in a burnt (duh!) and bitter taste. What’s the best temperature? Anything below but close to 212 degrees should do the trick.

#2 Throw In More Veggies

If your chili looks too soupy for the liquid evaporation method, you can throw in more vegetables while cooking.

Throwing in more veggies, such as carrots, beans, onions, corn, etc., is an excellent technique as vegetables, when cooked, release natural starches, which absorb the excess liquid. Vegetables will also add nutritional value to your hot chili and enhance its earthy taste.

#3 Add More Beans

Bowl of chili con carne

Call us old-fashioned, but chili without beans is not chili (although we’ve seen several chili recipes without them). And if your chili still looks too watery, you can thicken it by adding even more beans (use red kidney or pinto beans).

Yes, beans work as an excellent chili thickener, absorbing the surrounding liquid. And if you believe your chili has enough beans, you can mash the beans and then add the pulp to the pot (using a potato masher worked just fine for us).

#4 Add Tomato Paste

Tomato sauce in a glass jar

Tomato paste might not sound like an obvious choice for thickening chili, but it can work wonders. It will improve the texture and enhance the flavor of your chili recipe – a classic win-win scenario.

6 ounces should do the trick to thicken chili with tomato paste. To make it work, add two ounces every few minutes as your chili enters the last 60 minutes of cooking.

#5 Add Thickener

Potato starch as thickener,

If adding in veggies, beans, tomato paste, or letting your chili simmer fails, it might be the time to call in the big guns – namely, thickeners.

Oh yes, if nothing else thickens your soupy chili, adding a thickener will get the job done. But what do we have in mind? Well, there are several thickeners you can use, such as masa harina, cornstarch, traditional flour, potato starch, arrowroot powder, or tapioca flour.

For us, cornstarch and flour work best when thickening chili. However, the question is, how to thicken chili with flour or cornstarch to avoid lumps?

The best way to do that is to add flour or cornstarch slurry to the cooking chili. You can do that by mixing raw flour or cornstarch with cold water and then pouring it into the pot to thicken the chili. You can also add raw cornstarch or flour directly to the cooking chili.

Then, boil it for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will allow the flour to thicken your chili without affecting its taste.

#6 Thicken Your Chili with the Right Toppings

Mexican hot chili con carne

If you fail to do so while cooking, you can make your chili thicker after serving. How? For instance, by serving chili with crushed tortilla chips or corn chips. They will thicken your chili brilliantly while adding that extra crunch.

Another excellent method is to serve your chili with shredded cheese (preferably cheddar) or cheese sauce. Sour cream should also contribute to a more hearty chili. Some chili recipes also recommend adding guacamole as a recipe for runny chili. We’ve also encountered people serving chili with oyster crackers or crumbled cornbread.

They will all work brilliantly when thickening your chili while adding something unique to your favorite food.

Causes of Thin and Watery Chili

Now, while all these solutions for soupy chili should resolve your problem, it would be nice to know what causes it. This should help you nip the issue in the bud, ensuring your bowl of chili is always hot and thick.

So, what causes thin chili? Essentially, the lack of liquid evaporation, which typically happens because of the three following reasons:

  • Short cooking time. Traditional chili needs to be cooked slowly at lower to medium heat. It’s not a dish you should hurry with. If you cook it for too short, your chili won’t lose its excess liquid as it won’t evaporate. The result will be watery and tasteless chili as longer simmering allows it to thicken and enhance its flavor.
  • Too much stock. Whether you prefer chicken or beef stock, adding it to chili can significantly enhance its taste. However, it can result in too much liquid thinning your chili. To battle this, add more solid ingredients, such as meat and vegetables (beans, onions, etc.). If you add stock, you should also remember to simmer it for longer than usual. Adding a thickening agent, such as cornstarch, mashed beans, or flour, will also help you reach your desired thickness.
  • Too many fresh tomatoes. Many chili recipes include fresh tomatoes. And while diced tomatoes work magnificently with chili, adding extra color and flavor to the dish, they also contribute to the amount of extra liquid. That’s because, when heated, fresh tomatoes release water.
Traditional chili soup with meat and red beans

Key Takeaways

There aren’t many better remedies for cold weather than a hearty bowl of hot chili. It’s a warming and delicious dish that has become an integral part of our American culture.

However, for chili to truly work its magic, it has to be thick. And as you know very well, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Indeed, chili is a dish that, while not complicated to prepare, requires time and some effort to reach the thick texture we all love.

As you can see, there are multiple ways to thicken your chili. And what’s even better, all these recipes won’t alter the taste, ensuring your chili always turns out just the way you like it.

The simplest way to thicken chili is by letting it simmer in an open pot. Doing that will allow the liquid to evaporate, resulting in a chunky texture. If that doesn’t work, you can always add more solid ingredients, such as chopped vegetables or meat (e.g., ground beef or chicken).

Another solution is to use a thickening agent, such as cornstarch, flour, or, if you have it, masa harina. Mashed beans or tomato paste will also work brilliantly when thickening your chili.

And that’s a wrap! Follow our tips the next time you make chili, and make it as thick and hearty as you love. You can even bring it to your office for everyone to get to know each other in the pot. Just be sure to hold the pot tight.

And if you’re interested in more awesome cooking tips and recipes, The Kitchen Community is always at your service.

Until next time!

Traditional chili soup with meat and red beans

How To Thicken Chili

Use our easy guide to thicken your chili
5 from 9 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 144 kcal


  • Veggies
  • Beans
  • Tomato Paste
  • Thickener
  • Toppings


  • Remove Your Pot Lid
  • Throw In More Veggies
  • Add More Beans
  • Add Tomato Paste
  • Add Thickener
  • Thicken Your Chili with the Right Toppings


Calories: 144kcal
Keyword how to thicken chili
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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