The Best Classic Chili Recipe

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a hot bowl of the American classic chili. This hearty stew is packed with rich, meaty, umami taste that makes it perfect to warm you up on a cold winter night.

classic chili recipe with sour cream, chives, and cheddar cheese

I don’t usually say something is the best unless I really believe it, and I think the best classic chili recipe is my own. Now, I’m sure it will be polarizing, as people all have a different take on it, but this is always a hit with the people I make it for. The best thing about this chili recipe is that it is kind of a set it and forget it type of dish. What that really means is, if you want this for dinner plan to start it about 4 hours ahead of time.

A spoon of the best classic chili recipe chili garnished with sour cream, chopped green onion, and a fantastic cheddar cheese.

I’ll say right now I am not a fan of using ground meat to make chili. I think you end up with a less than ideal final consistency, and it is an entirely better decision to use large meat pieces. Don’t worry, after simmering for 4 hours they just completely fall apart. For this, “The Best Classic Chili Recipe” I use a mix of Veal Shank, and Tenderloin. Why such expensive cuts of meat when I’m going to cook it for so long anyway? Because it is worth it.

How To make The Best Classic Chili


  • 400 grams Beef Tenderloin, cubed
  • 400 grams Veal Shank, cut off the bone and cubed, but save the bone for other recipes
  • 800 grams Tomatoes, canned, whole
  • 400 grams White Beans, tinned; sometimes called Navy Beans
  • 250 ml Beer, Leffe Brune
  • 1 bulb Garlic, minced
  • 1 large Yellow Onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Oregano, dried, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp Paprika, Spanish Smoked Paprika preferred
  • 1 tbsp Cayenne Chili Powder
  • 2 tsp Mushroom Powder
  • 1 tsp Ground Fennel
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seed, ground
  • 25 grams Dark Chocolate, grated
  • Black Pepper, to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Sour Cream, optional
  • Green Onion, chopped; optional
  • 200 grams Cheddar Cheese, aged preferred

Other than the two fancy meats, there are two ‘secret ingredients‘ that many people don’t think of adding to chili. These are beer and chocolate. In fact, the main liquid in this recipe is beer. I don’t add any water so the beer is the main liquid, and then the tomatoes provide the rest. Who would have thought of a chili recipe without water. Does this sound odd? Maybe this is more like an American chili with a European twist.

Mix of veal shank and tenderloin

By the way, even thought I cut the meat off of the veal shanks to make the chili, don’t waste the marrowbone. Save them for my Roast Bone Marrow recipe for a dish that will really impress guests.

The first thing you have to do is to brown the meat. You aren’t trying to cook it completely, just brown the edges. Then you can set the meat aside and work on the rest of the ingredients. In this case a simple mix of onion, garlic, and dried oregano, along with some salt and pepper.

Sauteeing onions and garlic with some dried oregano in residual beef meat and olive oil

Place the onions in the pot where you are making the entire dish, and where you previously browned the meat. Add a bit of olive oil to help the translucency along. At this point the pot should be on medium high heat. I am using my Emile Henry Cocotte which is perfect for this recipe. When they begin to soften you can add the chopped garlic and dried oregano. Let everything cook until the garlic just starts to brown. Then add the meat back in and give everything a good stir.

Adding a bottle of Leffe Brune to the best classic chili recipe. This dark beer is the best liquid for this recipe.

Next I add the beer. An entire bottle of Leffe Brune. I know other chili recipes call for a dark beer like a porter or stout, and I have tried many different beers. But, to make the best chili I believe Leffe Brune is the absolute best beer to use. Hmmm, maybe classic doesn’t really belong in this recipe name.

After the beer comes the tomatoes. I use 800 grams of canned whole tomatoes. Just pour the entire contents into the pot and stir it up. At this point you can add the other spices in the recipe like paprika, mushroom powder, cayenne, and ground fennel and mustard seed. Also, about 20 grams of grated dark chocolate. These spices can be left out if you don’t particularly like the flavor one brings to the final dish, but I think they all balance nicely. Add them all, stir everything up, and then lid the pot.

Turn the heat down to the lowest it goes and find something to do for the next 3 hours. I stir the pot once every hour, but you really don’t need to. After 3 hours I add 400 grams of canned white beans and let the chili simmer for another 30 minutes.

Chili after 3.5 hours of simmering
Chili after 3.5 hours of simmering and then being mashed around to combine

The left picture is the chili after the 3.5 hours of simmering, and the right picture is the chili after 3.5 hours of simmering and then being smashed around with a potato masher. Don’t worry, you don’t need strength for this part. The meat and tomatoes just fall apart and everything mixes so well. Now, at this point you can serve the chili with some sour cream, chopped green onion, and cheddar cheese. BUT, just look at the picture down below if you let the chili sit, covered, overnight. Everything just melds together so well.

the best classic chili recipe after 12 hours of resting overnight

What do you add to a classic chili? I like to top it with the traditional stuff. Cheese, sour cream, and chopped green onion. However one thing I do recommend is going for a really good extra mature cheddar. I like something aged at least a few years (I used Wyke Farms in this recipe), but this insane 10 year aged cheddar would be absolutely divine – I’ll have to order it next time I’m in America.

Then just put the chili in a bowl, top with some grated extra mature cheddar, a dollop of sour cream, and some chopped green onions and you are good to go. Let me know what you think of this classic chili recipe.

Want Your Chili Spicy?

Surprisingly the classic American style chili isn’t a spicy dish. It does have chili powder but there’s really nothing to make you sweat. So if you like spicy foods and want to kick your bowl up a notch, feel free to add some hot sauce. I actually make my own hot sauces so I usually put in a few (ok a lot) drops of my Carolina Reaper Hot Sauce or Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce to turn this classic chili into a ‘make-you-sweat’ meat stew.

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classic chili recipe with sour cream, chives, and cheddar cheese

The Best Classic Chili Recipe

This is my take on the best classic chili recipe. It may not be completely true to form, but I did take liberties in upgrading the classic while staying true to the roots
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 4 hours
Course Main Course, Main Dish, Soup, Stew
Cuisine American
Servings 8 people


  • Stew Pot


  • 400 grams Beef Tenderloin cubed
  • 400 grams Veal Shank cut off the bone and cubed, but save the bone for other recipes
  • 800 grams Tomatoes canned, whole
  • 400 grams White Beans tinned; sometimes called Navy Beans
  • 250 ml Beer Leffe Brune
  • 1 bulb Garlic minced
  • 1 large Yellow Onion chopped
  • 2 tbsp Oregano dried, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp Paprika Spanish Smoked Paprika preferred
  • 1 tbsp Cayenne Chili Powder
  • 2 tsp Mushroom Powder
  • 1 tsp Ground Fennel
  • 1 tsp Ground Coriander
  • 1 tsp Mustard Seed ground
  • 25 grams Dark Chocolate grated
  • Black Pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • Sour Cream optional
  • Green Onion chopped; optional
  • 200 grams Cheddar Cheese Wyke Farms Extra Mature preferred; grated.


  • In your stew pot or cocotte build up the heat to medium-high. Add your olive oil and toss in the meat and try to brown all the pieces. Use tongs to remove the meat to a plate while you work on step 2.
  • Add in the chopped onions and let cook until translucent. Then add the garlic and oregano. Once the garlic starts to brown add back in all the meat (including any drippings left on the plate). Mix everything up and pour in the beer.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes along with all the spices. Give everything a good stir and then put the lid on the pot. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and let simmer for 3 hours.
  • After three hours add in the tinned white beans (Navy beans work here) and the 25 grams of grated dark chocolate. Give a stir and put the lid back. Let simmer for another 30 minutes.
  • After the total time check the chili and taste for seasonings. Then adjust and take a potato masher and mash it around. The meat should just fall apart so it won't take long, which will also keep most of the beans intact.
  • At this point you can bowl and serve with the toppings, but I really recommend letting it sit covered on the countertop overnight to really fuse the flavors together. Then you can just heat it up slowly the next day and it will be even more delicious.
  • Into a bowl scoop the chili, sprinkle on the grated cheddar cheese, add a dollop of sour cream and the chopped green onions and serve hot!


This chili will last a week or longer in the fridge. However I don’t really expect it to ever last that long, it’s just that good.
Keyword American Chili, Beef Chili, Chili, Classic Chili Recipe
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