Chili is one of those dishes – the longer it cooks, the richer the flavor and the better it tastes. Although the true origins of chili are hotly debated, there seems to be a general consensus that chili was popularized in the South Western United States in the 1800s. The original basic chili was made of beef, chili peppers and a few other spices – not quite resembling the tomato and bean based chili that is popular today. Cooks on long cattle drives used potent spices to make freshly slaughtered beef a bit more palatable.
Over the years, chili has taken on a life of its own as recipes spread from family to family. Today there are any number of chili variations you can make. And by using a slow cooker, you can make deeply flavorful chili with very little work in the kitchen.
Using a Slow Cooker
The general process for making slow cooker chili is to brown your meat, toss the ingredients in a slow cooker and wait several hours while the chili aromas start to fill your house. Waiting for the chili to cook is the hardest part!
As for types of chili, there are a few main variations:
- Chili con carne – This is the most basic of chili and used to only have beef, chili peppers and some additional spices such as oregano and garlic. No tomato, no beans, no sauce. Pure spicy slow cooked beef. Modern chili con carne recipes add in a tomato base, but con carne is still a pretty thick chili. Take a look at a chili con carne recipe here on Tablespoon for inspiration.
- Tomato chili – This is what most people think about when you say "chili." Tomato chili can be made with a number of different types of meat if desired – beef, chicken, ground turkey. Besides tomatoes and tomato sauce, other popular add-ins include kidney beans, and green peppers. Other vegetables like zucchini, corn or carrots can also be added. There are a ton of chili recipes on Tablespoon, so do a search, try out some recipes and post a comment! For starters, here is Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooked Chili recipe.
- White chili – This variation replaces a tomato base with chicken broth and replaces beef for chicken or turkey. White or navy beans and corn are typically used in place of red beans and peppers. If you’re burned out on traditional tomato chili, consider giving white chili a try. Check out the White Chicken Chili recipe for a great take on this variation.
To adjust any of these chili recipes for a slow cooker, the key is to first cook your meat, drain off the fat and then combine everything in the slow cooker. I occasionally brown the meat in the slow cooker/crock pot for a few hours, drain off the fat and then add in the rest of the ingredients. No sense in dirtying another dish. Cook it on a low setting for 6-8 hours or on high for 2-4 hours. Be sure to stir the chili every hour to make sure it’s not drying out – if it is, turn down the cooker to a lower temperature.
For a comprehensive listing of recipes, take a look at Tablespoon’s chili collection
. Be sure to share your favorite recipe with the rest of the Tablespoon community!