I love chili. It’s one of my absolute favorite go-to meals in fall and winter. A well-constructed chili is healthy, filling, and freezes beautifully for later meals. But cooking good chili takes all day; the longer it cooks, the more delicious and blended the flavors will be.
So while I definitely make my own chili from time to time, sometimes the right answer for my family is to pick up a few cans of chili that I can heat up at work or for a quick meal at home. Here’s how I decide what chili to buy.
What are my favorite kinds of chili? I’ll break down each brand below, but here’s a quick chart with some details of each brand, and a link to where you can purchase them on Amazon.
Table of Contents
- What Matters Most When It Comes To Chili
- The Best Canned Chili Options
- What’s the best canned chili out there?
What Matters Most When It Comes To Chili
For such an important American dish, there’s an awful lot of argument about what chili should taste like. How spicy should it be? How tomato-y? How thick? What vegetables go in chili? Meat or vegetarian?
Let’s break this down a little bit more.
Depending on what kinds of peppers are used in a chili, the spice profile can go anywhere from mild and flavorful to scald the roof of your mouth hot. My family has a few picky eaters, so I tend to stick to mild or medium chili and pass out Frank’s Red Hots sauce to those of us who want some more kick.
While I absolutely concede that tomatoes are a necessary element of chili, I have no patience for chili that is thin and tastes kind of like tomato soup. I will admit that white chili is a thing, but I don’t cook it myself, and there are only a few store brands I like.
As far as I’m concerned, your spoon should stand up in chili. You should be able to dunk a hunk of bread in chili, and come up with chunks. Thin chili is stew, and when I want stew, I’ll have stew. Chili should be cooked down for hours until it’s thick and gooey and delicious. (which is why it takes so long to cook!)
Some people get really…excited with their chili vegetable choices. I’m a purist. Onions, peppers, corn, tomatoes, beans, all great. Some people start adding in all kinds of green beans and broccoli in an attempt to add more phytonutrients. No thank you. If you want to serve it on the side, fine, but do not put it in the chili where I can see.
Vegetarian or Meat Based?
For a long time, all of my canned chili choices were vegetarian; anything that had meat in it just tasted greasy and oily to me. I’ve recently found a few meat-added canned chili brands that were actually quite good.
It’s important to understand that my basic approach to any canned food product is that what comes out of the can is a starting place. I have to heat it up anyway, and I have a fairly well stocked spice cabinet, so I don’t have any problem adding some extra flavor and taste to my chili to bring it up to the flavor I want. For doctoring chili, you’ll probably want cumin, chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano.
The Best Canned Chili Options
1. Amy’s Organic – Vegetarian Chili
In my opinion, Amy’s Organic makes the best line of vegetarian and vegan soups out there. Their chili is no exception. I like the medium variety (with vegetables) the best. This does have some tofu in it, to give it a meaty weight, but without the yucky mouth feel of lower quality canned meat products. If you’re sensitive to soy, however, this would not be a good option for you.
Otherwise, everything Amy’s makes is vegan, and completely delicious. I highly recommend this. The flavor is delicious, but you can definitely add plenty of heat to bring this up to a sinus-clearing standard.
2. Nalley Original – Meat Chili
This meat-including chili brand is easy to find in the Pacific Northwest, and difficult to find on the East Coast. Chili Con Carne with Beans is the most basic version of chili, which to my mind, also makes it the most delicious. Tomato paste, beef, beans, some spices, and lots and lots of cooking time. Perfect.
I usually try to fit a small salad to the side of this chili, just to balance out the more starchy vegetables, but when I want a meat-based chili without needing to cook it, this is absolutely my go-to.
3. Mountain House – White Chili
I know I said I was skeptical of white chili, and I still am, but a friend served me this Mountain House Chicken & White Bean Chili and I was shocked at how much Iiked it. It’s a freeze-dried product, designed for trail food for hikers and outdoors enthusiasts, but it’s also super convenient if you live in a dorm or don’t have a lot of access to cooking gear in your home. All it needs to cook is 1 cup of boil water, and 10 minutes.
This has chicken, instead of beef, which is better for some folks’ dietary preferences. If you can’t have tomatoes because of nightshade allergies, this might also help you get some good solid protein in a chili format. It’s also lower sodium than other varieties, though it was a little bit salty. I definitely added a bunch of heat.
4. Campbell’s Firehouse – Spicy Chili
When I want a chili that’s going to kick up the heat, Campbell’s Chunky Hot & Spicy Bean Firehouse chili is incredible. Loaded with kidney beans, pork and beef, and both red and green peppers, this chili is rich, filling, and delicious. I love to spoon it over cornbread or biscuits, both of which cut the spice a little bit, while still leaving the flavor intact. This soup is easy to heat, doesn’t require anything special in the pan, though as usual adding some extra spices and some cheese can help you customize the flavor.
5. Hormel Chunky – Cooking Chili
Sometimes I want some loaded nachos, or some chili to toss in with mac and cheese for an easy dinner with more protein. When I’m in that mood, I don’t need an expensive can of chili, but I do want good flavor and texture. Hormel’s Chunky With Beans Chili fits all of my criteria. This chili is heavier on beans and lighter on beef, which works well if you’re looking for something to put on nachos, or to fill out a pasta dish. If you’re going to serve this on its own, I’d brown up some beef in chili spices and then add this in, just to make everything better.
When I want a truly amazing chili without needing to cook it myself, Stagg Steakhouse Reserve Chili is one of my all-time favorites. With a perfect balance of beef and beans, this chili is just delicious. It’s medium to hot spicy, but with a lot of flavor. One of my favorite details about this chili is that it’s not just ground beef, it’s also chunks of steak. Absolutely delicious, and great for a night when you want a hearty, delicious dinner without all the work of putting chili on the back burner for days. I like to have a cheesy baked potato or some hearty bread along with this, just to keep things delicious. This is one of the chilis I don’t have to add much to at all.
7. Dennison’s Chunky – Runner Up Favorite
Another great canned chili is Dennison’s Chunky Chili con Carne. With just the right amount of spice, this chili is loaded up with beans and beef and makes another great addition to the pantry cabinet. It is slightly heavier in sodium than some of the other options here, but still not unreasonable. Like some of the other canned chili options, I particularly like using this one to enhance other foods. Load up a chili dog, make some nachos, or dump into potato skins for a yummy chili boat. You can add cheese and customized your spices, but I’ve found that this chili in particular doesn’t need much in the way of treatment.
What’s the best canned chili out there?
Of all the chili brands I’ve tried, my go-to chili to have in the cabinet to just eat when I’m hungry is Amy’s Organic Medium. It’s delicious, it doesn’t seem like it’s meat-free, and I can toss a can in my bag and heat it up at work.
While I like to make my own meat based chili at home, I just like the veggie based protein of Amy’s. If I liked white chili more, I’d probably pick the Mountain House, but I just prefer my chili tomato based.
If I were heading out on a hike, however, the Mountain House would be a lot easier to bring with me, and I’d get over myself. And when I’m looking for something to use in other cooking projects, Hormel’s is inexpensive and convenient.
What’s your favorite brand of canned chili?