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.
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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.
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.
|Amy’s Organic Chili||Vegan||14.7oz||Medium||25%|
|Nalley Original||Meat, Low Fat||14 oz||Medium||47%|
The Best Canned Chili Options
Best Vegetarian Chili – Amy’s Organic
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.
Best Meat Chili – Nalley Original
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.
Best White Chili – Mountain House
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.
What’s the best canned chili out there?
My favorite canned chili 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. 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.
What’s your favorite brand of canned chili?