Fragrantly spicy with tomatoes, beef, and a golden scatter of cheddar cheese, chili gently simmered all day on the stove is so satisfying. Is there any better dinner in winter?
Luckily for those times when we don’t have all day, there are great canned chili varieties out there. Here are five of the best:
Choosing the Best Canned Chili
A savory fusion of American stews with Mexican seasonings, chili probably first originated in Texas, where it was colorfully known as “bowl o’ red.” Debuting on the international stage at 1863 World’s Fair, chili has remained a flavorful staple of American cuisine ever since.
- A hearty chili loaded with beans, seasoned beef and pork and red and green peppers
- 14 grams of protein per serving
- Perfect to grab when you're hungry and crunched for time
Because the seasonings, meat, and tomato-based red sauce make chili an ideal choice for canning, its popularity spread around the country. For a great source of info about picking that perfect bowl o’ red, check out the Canned Chili Challenge video here:
Meat, Beans, Tomatoes: The Big Three
Let’s face it: Choosing a great canned chili is a great excuse to try a lot of tasty samples. Some qualities differentiating a great canned chili from the also-rans on the grocery shelf include hearty, fork-tender meat, richly creamy beans, and the bright, fresh flavor of tomatoes in a robust red sauce, but there are other important factors to look for:
Turn Up the Heat — But Not Too Much
Some chili enthusiasts love a delicate touch of piquant pepper. Others want their tongues to turn into molten lava. Basically, chili spice levels are a personal choice, but your chili needs that zing to complement the bright bite of the tomato.
Look for pleasant smokiness, but watch that the heat doesn’t bully other flavors into submission. The meat, tomatoes, beans (if any) and spices should work harmoniously. If your chili choices have a helpful “spice thermometer” on the label, choose mild or medium heat to start with.
Thick and Rich
The ideal chili exists between the spoon-friendliness of a stew and the pick-em-up solidity of a Sloppy Joe, but it should never be runny. After all, one of the best ways to use canned chili is as a savory pour-over for nachos and hot dogs, which can’t withstand a watery chili the consistency of tomato soup.
Ground or Cubed?
Chili purists will often argue for the superiority of cubed meat to ground. While there’s no denying the meaty richness of browned slow-cooked cubes, ground fans wouldn’t have their chili any other way.
One advantage for them is that ground meat is used often in canned chili, especially because it can be easily mixed with other meats such as pork for extra richness. If you have a meat-restricted diet, check the labels carefully. Regardless of your preference, the meat should be savor and tender without any rubbery or metallic off-flavors.
Beans or No Beans?
One of the most heated controversies in the world of chili is whether true chili includes beans. If you’re a meat-only chili fan, most canned chilis make both versions of their popular flavors. If you love the smooth heartiness beans bring to chili, as many do, look for beans that are tender but not overcooked and mushy.
Is It Really Chili? Controversy in Chililand
When is chili not chili? Controversies about meat type and bean status aside, classic chili can’t always work with all diets and health needs. Two of the most popular kinds of nontraditional varieties out there are vegetarian chili and white chili.
With some outstanding veggie meat substitutes out there, vegetarian chili doesn’t have to be a contradiction in terms. In fact, many soy or textured vegetable protein-based “meats” are hard to differentiate from the real thing, so give some veggie-friendly canned chili a try — you may be pleasantly surprised at the quality of “bite” in the meatless variety.
Another distinctive twist on traditional chili is white chili, a stew-like variety mostly made from white beans and roasted chicken in a creamy sauce without classic chili’s distinctive tomato chunks or paste.
With milder Hatch and Anaheim chiles, white chili can be kinder to acid-sensitive digestive systems that react poorly to tomatoes or ground beef. If you’re throwing a fall fiesta, a chili buffet that includes classic, beanless, veggie, and white varieties be a fun treat for your guests.
Top Five Reviews
1. Hormel Chunky Chili with Beans
A popular brand by an iconic chili maker, Hormel Chunky Chili with Beans is a hearty variety rich in tender beans and red sauce which is great for a satisfying family meal or potluck.
Deliciously thick — great eaten as chili but also can be used as a topping for pasta
Meat is in generous chunks that kept their distinctive texture and flavor
A lot of beans dominate the flavors and overshadow the meat.
A slightly sweet flavor here makes it taste a bit like ketchup.
2. Wolf Brand Chili Homestyle With Beans
Complementing the traditional chili flavors, Wolf Brand Chili adds green peppers, onions, and chunky tomatoes for a more complex and balanced flavor profile which will definitely please chili connoisseurs.
Very versatile — great on its own or with chili fries or tacos
Spicier than most brands for those who like extra zing
Sauce runs a little thin on this brand and some may find it watery.
Spiciness needs to be taken into account when buying this brand.
3. Amy’s Organic Medium Chili
Made with organic tofu, Amy’s Organic Medium Chili is a vegan-friendly, gluten-free option with no GMOs, which is perfect for vegetarians or vegans as well as health-conscious chili fans.
The tofu-based meat substitute had a convincing bite and texture.
Thick without being overwhelming
Healthy choice for chili enthusiasts on a vegan or vegetarian diet
The flavor profile was very mild.
4. Dennison’s No Bean Chili Con Carne
Dennison’s promises a chili so thick your fork will stand up in the bowl. Tender meaty chunks in a rich red sauce with chunks of tomatoes and onions, and no beans. The focus on premium beef in the Dennison’s chili will definitely make classic chili lovers very happy.
Large, satisfying chunks of beef for chili purists who like a meatless option
Rich flavors in a classic “bowl o’ red” chili con carne style
Despite the claim of standing forks, the chili was on the watery side.
5. Campbell’s Chunky Chili With Bean (Roadhouse)
Containing both beef and pork for a rich meatiness, Campbell’s chili delivers on its promise of a filling, chunky meal. Kidney beans, corn, and other vegetables make this a complexly-flavored chili that’s a treat on a winter’s day.
Nice, big pieces of flavorful steak
Pleasingly thick textures for a satisfying chew
Spice profile was very mild and needed more zing.
Recent changes to the recipe have lost some one-time fans.
And the Winner Is…
For most chili enthusiasts, the clear winner is the brand that dominates the canned chili market in the U.S., and that’s Hormel. In an outstanding canned chili, we’re looking for a thick, satisfying blend of meat that falls tenderly apart at the touch of a fork, a robust and zesty red sauce that has a zing without being dominated by too much spice, and buttery beans that keep their shape, and Hormel was the clear winner.
If you’re looking for a quick, satisfying family meal to dress it up with a generous handful of freshly-grated cheddar cheese or a cooling scoop of sour cream for extra richness, the Hormel Chunky is even better. The Hormel Chunky’s thickness makes it effective as a pour-over ingredient in potluck suppers such as Frito pie, chili dogs, or loaded nachos.
As a beanless chili option, the Dennison’s No Bean Chili Con Carne was the winner, though Dennison’s promise that their chili was so thick that a fork could stand up by itself was somewhat unevenly realized in practice.
If you’re serving Dennison’s as a meal by itself, a bit of wateriness is less significant than if you were using it as a pour-over ingredient for chili dogs, burgers, or nachos, which need to remain crisp. For sheer taste, the Dennison’s No Bean chili is a strong contender.