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How to make thicker chili?

I have a turkey chili recipe that taste-wise, is great, but it's not thick enough! It doesn't have that typical "chili" thickness, it's more soup-like. I don't want to add less liquid that I'm already adding because I don't want to make it dry. Any tips for achieving a heartier turkey chili?

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  1. Add a couple tablespoons of cornmeal and simmer for a few minutes at the end.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Romanmk

      I prefer to add a bit of masa (corn flour for tortillas, available everywhere for real cheap) mixed with water.

      Don't use too much at once, and be sure to give it time to cook up.

    2. Are you cooking it long enough? My chili starts out soupish, but after a couple hours of simmering it thickens. If it doesn't thicken to my liking I make a slurry with cornstarch and add a little at a time until I get the consistency I want. I also add some masa close to the end.

      1 Reply
      1. re: danhole

        This would be my suggestion. Bring it to a boil, reduce the temp. A bit and let it simmer until it reduces to your desired consistency.

      2. I don't know how this recipe compares to yours but I've made it a few times and it's pretty thick, or as the name suggests "chunky turkey chili" (scroll pretty far down on page).


        1. crumble up some tortilla chips (or just throw in a tortilla or two) and let it simmer. The tortillas will dissolve and thicken at the same time.

          1. If you have white kidney beans in it, cook them longer then smash them against the side of the pot. It's a red beans and rice trick. It works great.

            If not, make a paste of white beans. If you're not interested in having them in the chili in the first place.


            6 Replies
            1. re: Davwud

              Smashed beans work great. A tablespoon or so of tomato paste is good, too.

              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                I was thinking tomato paste too but I'm guessing the OP's turkey chili isn't red. So I ruled it out.


                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                  I would agree with the smashed beans, but not with the tomato paste. I find that the paste adds an unpleasant, aggressive raw tomato flavor unless you do some high temperature sauteing.

                2. re: Davwud

                  I second the mashed beans, though I usually thicken bean recipes by ladling a cup or two into a blender, puree-ing, and adding it back to the pot. With red beans and rice, I used to add one of the links of andouille to the blender and puree that too, for flavor rather than thickening. I always use dry beans though - I don't know if it works as well with canned beans, which is what I assume are used in turkey chili.

                  1. re: Davwud

                    I know this is old, but I had to add my +1 on the beans, so long as they're the right ones (more in a moment). I actually put them in my blender and puree them. It's SO freaking good!

                    Note that it works best with white kidney/cannelini beans and not so much with any of the other white beans. The kidneys are very creamy, whereas the others are just... not. lol!

                    I make thick white chicken chili all the time and it's my favorite recipe. I could eat it every single day of my life, until I die. The irony is that I refused to eat it until last year. Being raised in Texas, chicken was for silly Californian types. I steadfastly refused to try it. When I did, I was floored.

                    1. re: magnoliasouth

                      I'm also using masa a lot now. It gives a nice corny taste. Don't use much though. A little goes a long way.


                  2. I cook my chili (with beans) about 3-4 hours and it thickens as it cooks. You can also add masa to thicken.

                    1. Masa is the secret ingredient - mix about a third of a cup with enough cold water to make a runny gruel, and then pour and stir that in.

                      A really good way - the only way, I think - to get the proper chili flavor at the outset is to cook the chili powder with the mostly-cooked meat and a bit of added oil until it's dark and fragrant, and then add the liquid. With turkey chili that's tricky, because not only does ground turkey not really brown, it throws off lots of water. I cook mine in two stages, one half at a time, and drain it through a wire strainer over a bowl. Then I wipe out the skillet, add some oil and then the turkey, and sprinkle the chili powder over that and stir it around for a while. Then when it's nice and fragrant (and smells like CHILI!) I pour the drained moisture back in along with the other liquids.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Will Owen

                        You are spot on with the masa, Will & Janet. And it works in all kind of chilis. Much better than regular cornmeal.

                        1. re: bbqboy

                          The masa harina (corn tortilla flour) is functioning as a typical starch thickener (e.g. flour, corn starch, arrowroot, breadcrumbs). I'm not sure it is noticeably better than a flour roux or slurry, but it fits with the SW roots of chili. And it is easy to use - just mix with some water and add. But you don't have to buy a 5lb bag of masa harina just for this purpose. One of the other starch thickeners will work.

                          Most cornmeal is to coarse to use as a thickener. A fine corn flour would do, though.

                      2. I have added refried beans to my chili and it makes it thicker. You could add the non-fat vegetarian version to your turkey chili. That is what I have used in the past

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Living4fun

                          I second the refried beans suggestion. I started doing this to slip bean nutrition past my daughter (she hated the texture of beans). It doesn't alter the taste greatly and really thickens things up nicely.

                        2. I've used canned pumpkin to thicken black bean or turkey chili.

                          1. For those that recommend masa, pumpkin and beans as thickners, wouldn't take affect the taste of the chili?

                            I find the most neutral is some cornstarch / water mixture. YMMV.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I was taught to use masa when young so it tastes "right" to me with it. :)

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                I've read that the masa adds an 'earthy' taste that complements the chili. I don't think I've added enough to taste the difference. Corn starch is neutral in flavor, but can give the sauce a glossy character (think of the typical Chinese sauce). Masa seems to act more like flour.

                                Starting off with lots of onion, and letting it cook down is another way of adding body and thickening to a stew like this. Many Indian curries depend on onions for thickening.

                                If your chili already includes beans, then using pureed beans of the same type shouldn't change the flavor much.

                                Pumpkin could add some sweetness, which may, or may not fit with the rest of the dish. It might be better in a vegetarian chili, than a pure beef and pepper one.

                                Moles, the complex Mexican sauces, use both ground nuts, and ground bread (cracker or tortillas) as thickening.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  I can't taste the masa in chili--such a small amount is used; no "corn" flavor manages to shine through the chilis, etc. And I always use beans in my chili anyway, so it doesn't change anything.

                                  On the other hand, I detest cornstarch thickened sauces (outside of a few limited chinese applications). The texture imparted by cornstarch is unpleasantly slimy and always reminds me of processed foods. Ick. Isn't taste a grand sense? So many of us, and so many different reactions to the same thing.

                                  1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                    I do taste the masa in mine, because my "teacher" here was the Carroll Shelby Chili kit bag and its contents, and that contains about half a cup of masa to be added to approximately three quarts of chili. I love the flavor; I can't imagine using any other starch, because I add it as much for the taste as for the thickening it provides.

                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                    Masa thickens and affects the taste. Sadly, it makes me gag. Kind of like Fritos take my breath away.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      That is why I use Alton's suggestion of Tortilla Chips (I use the ones I get at my local Mexican Market). That way you get a nice toasty corn flavor... thickening, without that awful masaharina taste...


                                    2. I sometimes add a cooked and mashed sweet potato to my chili, for the slight sweetness, and to sneak a little extra fiber and beta carotene to the family. I'd imagine it would also work with a regular potato, as long as it's starchy.

                                      1. The America's Test Kitchen recipe for white chicken chili resolves this by pureeing half of the beans and leaving the other half whole. They didn't like using masa. The recipe is from the current season so you can access it by registering for free. I have made the recipe and it works quite well.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Super Salad

                                          I've made it too and it's excellent


                                          1. I freeze a lot of chili and when it is thawed there is sometimes excess liquid. I like to add a spoon of ground flax seed. It soaks up the liquid, doesn't affect the taste and is good for you.

                                            1. Mashing a few beans is good and doesn't change the flavour, but I add paprika to thicken mine.
                                              It might not be traditional, but it works well and adds some body to the flavour as well as the texture.
                                              You can also experiment with a bit of smoked paprika too if you fancy a change (or hot paprika if you like like it extra fiery)

                                              1. Add about a quarter to one half cups of grits during the end stage of cooking the chili

                                                  1. I like to use an arrowroot slurry rather than cornstarch. Arrowroot does not leave a starchy taste, thickens better, can be frozen and reheated well and adds a gloss to your gravy. Add slowly until you get the desired consistency.

                                                    1. I like to use quinoa...it thickens and gives you more protein! I really like the resulting texture.

                                                      1. Add a can of tomato paste and some tablespoons of cocoa powder.

                                                        1. I usually use Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru), which is actually not all that spicy in small quantities, and therefore can be used in largish quantities to make a spicy and thicker sauce. I usually toss in about 1/2 cup of it per big pot or crockpot of chili, and it adds a kind of silky deep red richness. I also usually throw in a block or two of mexican chocolate (e.g., the 'abuelita' type), which I think probably also has a little bit of some kind of thickener in it, but not much. The little bit of chocolate probably does make it seem richer, though. And if you are adding beans, the recs above are right on for letting some of the starch from the beans do the thickening once they get very soft.

                                                          1. The cornmeal suggestion works for me when making white or red chili and it's handy to have around so you can make cornbread to go with the chili!

                                                            Our favorite cornbread recipe is from the Complete Book of Breads:
                                                            •¾ cup yellow cornmeal
                                                            •2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
                                                            •¾ cup sugar
                                                            •3 tsp baking powder
                                                            •½ tsp salt
                                                            •1 cup milk
                                                            •½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
                                                            • 3 eggs, beaten

                                                            Preheat oven to 400°F/204°C. Sift together all of the dry ingredients. Whisk milk,
                                                            butter, and eggs together. Stir into dry ingredients. Pour into a 9x11-inch baking dish or
                                                            muffin tins. If using a glass baking dish, you won’t need to grease it, however, greasing
                                                            a metal pan or lining muffin tins with paper cups is recommended. Bake 15 - 20 mins
                                                            until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares.
                                                            Makes approximately 18 squares.

                                                            1. To me, good chili leans more towards the soupy side than the thick side, but a little bit of corn flour is great to give it a bit more mouthfeel.

                                                              I just think that the flavors come through better if it is not over thickened. Maybe it's just me...

                                                              1. I've heated up a small amount of water and whisk in corn starch, when mixed add to chili.

                                                                1. Start with some HOMEMADE stock that contains a lot of collagen. When it cools, the consistency will be thicker and the flavor will be enhanced.

                                                                  1. Some Tex-Mex dishes use flour that's added to the cooked meat, then stirred. After a few minutes, you add broth or water. I've been on a Tex-Mex kick lately, and admit the consistency is a bit different but still good.

                                                                    1. One more thing. While a thick chili is good, I also think its important to make sure you cook the chili at least 90 minutes to 2 hours. I've seen recipes that cook the mix for 20 minutes, That has NO flavor, and adding a mixture to thicken it will not add flavor.

                                                                      1. I make my chili with chil powder, and so there isn't any tomato product fresh or canned in the making of it at all.
                                                                        The chili powder, thickens the chili ( I use a combination but the one that I use the most of is the California Ground chili in a cellobag,not too hot, its nice and dark too) and I also smash a few beans with a potato masher. That works the best. I don't like too thin chili either. I find cooking it for a few hours in a crock pot is best. I used dry beans and like the way pink pinto turn out.

                                                                        1. Use chilis to make a nice thick red paste and ditch the tomato product. The result is a pot of Chili with more flavor and no need for thickening.

                                                                          1. Mine comes out nice and thick because there is almost no liquid added at all, all the gravy comes from the meat juices and slow-cooked onions. The recipe is at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/494801