Classic chili for a crowd lets you throw a dinner party, or make a family meal, in no time. Find out what the secret is to robust, rich flavor.

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Throwing a chili bash, or just making a delicious dinner, has never been easier. A big warm bowl of soup, with a ton of fun toppings, is one of the most comforting meals. I made mine with ground beef, but I’ve included a vegetarian option as well!

Classic Chili For A Crowd is easy

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The secret to a delicious, classic chili is a mix of flavorful ground beef, tomatoes, tons of spices and beans. No need to stray too far from the real deal. I didn’t try to spruce this up with cubes of steak, or spicy salsa or make it Japanese or anything. Simple ingredients in the right amounts are all you need for a good bowl of chili.

Make sure to click over to my awesome chili topper recipes too!

You may be surprised to find out what my secret ingredient is to robust, classic chili for a crowd.

My friend Melissa and I developed this recipe for a magazine years ago. We had a great pot of chili going, but for one of the versions she added brewed coffee (to add a little depth of flavo). I thought it would add an off-taste, but to my surprise you don’t taste coffee at all, just a pleasant savory, robust layer. Genius!

the best chili toppers cilantro cream

Simply swap some of the tomato juice for coffee–this change will blow your mind. Yes! You need the liquid, and this simple swap adds such a fun layer to the flavor. Of course you don’t need to use it and this classic chili will be just that, delicious, classic tomatoey chili. It’s just a fun option.

Coffee! It adds a depth of flavor to classic chili for a crowd that you can’t achieve with any other ingredient.

Now, I don’t actually drink coffee, so I rarely have it in the house. However, I have started to keep it on hand for this chili. I call for regular brewed coffee, but I use instant decaf coffee. It still adds the amazing flavor.

This classic chili for a crowd freezes really well. So, if you’re not feeding a crowd, make the entire recipe and freeze portions in ziptop bags (these are reusable!) or plastic containers.

Top it off right! Check out the gourmet topper options for a chili change-up!

Now this is a good chili, but what would classic chili be without the toppings? With a variety of tasty toppings like cornbread croutons, avocados, corn salsa, pickled jalapeños and more, each person at the table can customize their bowl just the way they like it. Link over to my recipes:

The Best Chili Toppers for unique chili change-ups like:

  • Cornbread Croutons
  • Crispy Cheese Bits
  • Cilantro Cream
  • Corn Relish
  • Spiced Roasted Pepitas

Serve these chili toppers alongside your basic, tried and true toppings like onion, shredded cheese, avocado and sliced radishes and cilantro. Throw a chili bash, and don’t forget to include some new, fun and gourmet toppers. Your plain old bowl will never be the same!

You won’t want to stop with classic chili and toppings. Why not mix it up with one of these cool ideas. My South-of-the-Border Cobbler is great if you happen to have leftovers (this recipe makes a lot and leftovers freeze well!).

  • With leftover chili, make a South-of-the-Border Cobbler. Spread chili in a baking dish, top with biscuit dough and bake at 375ºF until biscuits are cooked and chili is bubbling.

Also try these quick variations for a different version of classic chili.

  • Try black beans in place of kidney beans
  • Use ground turkey for a low-fat option.
  • Sautè diced bell pepper with the onion
  • Top with pickled jalapeños, salsa verde, tortilla chips or crisp diced jicama.
Classic Chili For A Crowd

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Yield: Serves 12 (Makes 18 cups)

Classic Chili For A Crowd

For a kick, replace some ground beef with spicy sausage. Using coffee instead of tomato juice gives chili a richer flavor.


  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 3 lbs lean ground beef
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 jalapeños, seeded if desired, finely diced
  • 5 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup tomato juice or brewed coffee
  • 3 15-oz cans diced tomatoes with juices
  • 3 15-oz cans kidney beans, drained
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Vegetarian Variation Prepare classic chili, omitting the meat, and sauté 3 diced carrots with the onion, garlic and jalapeño. Cover and cook until carrots are soft, stirring occasionally, about 15 min. Add 2 15-oz cans rinsed and drained lentils along with the kidney beans. Add 2 cups thawed frozen corn during the last 5 min.


  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in an 8-qt pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned, about 7 min. With a slotted spoon transfer browned meat to a bowl and discard any juices in a pot.
  2. Add remaining 1 tbsp oil to the pot with the onion, garlic and jalapeño.nCook, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 min. Stir in tomato paste, all the spices and salt and continue to cook until the vegetables are well coated and mixture darkens a bit and becomes fragrant. Stir in tomato juice or coffee, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pot, and then add tomatoes with their juices, beans, browned meat and 1½ cups water.
  3. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili has thickened, about 30 min. Remove from heat, stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt.
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Classic Chili For a Crowd is easy to freeze and save for later

Recipes by Tara Bench & Melissa Gamen. Photography Ty Mecham. Food Styling Tara Teaspoon. Prop Styling Veronica Olson. Recipe originally published LHJ 03/12.

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