Skip to content

16 Genius Chili Hacks From Pro Cook-Off Winners

Say sayonara to boring, bland, and mushy chili. Perfect your next pot with these expert tips.
PIN Print

With chillier weather upon us, we're fully embracing fall foliage, all things pumpkin spice, and comfort food. And what better way to warm up than with a bowl of hearty chili? To ensure your pot is cooked to perfection, we consulted the winners of the 2018 ICS World Championship Chili Cook-Off on how to make chili. Because honestly: who knows chili better than world champions?

Below, you'll find the top hacks from three of the winning chefs, including Nicole Moody, who won first place in the Salsa chili category; Tana Harter, who won first place for her Traditional Red chili, and AmberLynn Willis, who represents Emily Donnelly, the first-place winner for the Homestyle chili in the Youth category. Next time you crave this fall staple, review these pro tips for a truly crowd-pleasing chili.

Choose the Right Cookware

Cooking pots

"I like to use a thick-walled pot with copper diffuser rings in the base, which help distribute the heat evenly. Even heat makes a smooth pot of chili. At high altitudes, I like to use a double boiler to crank the heat on the stove and prevent sticking in the cook pot." — AmberLynn Willis

Opt For Fresh

Fresh vegetables

"Fresh produce! Wegmans has the best produce section in the area. Only the freshest will do." — Willis

Use High-Quality Meats

Soup ingredients

"The most important part of making anything including chili is to use high-quality ingredients. This means making sure that all of your produce is nice and fresh, and that you are using high-quality meat." — Nicole Moody

The Type of Meat is Key

Beef tri tip

"For great-tasting chili, select chili grind at your local supermarket or butcher. You can also use tri-tip cut into bite-sized cubes. These meats will provide texture and ensure a generous spoonful of meat with every bite!" — Tana Harter

Choose a Meat That Will Stand Up to Heat

Pork tenderloin

"Chili takes a long time to cook and develop the right flavor, so you need a meat that will stand up to extensive cook times. Lots of fat marbling is important. A quality cut of tri-tip steak and pork butt does really well with long cooking times without becoming bullets in the pot." — Willis

Cut Meats Evenly

Beef tenderloin sliced

"Whatever meat you decide to use should be cut as evenly as possible. If you have meat that is of varying sizes, the different size pieces will not cook evenly." — Moody

Experiment With Spice Blends


"Play around with different spice blends to find a few you like that work well together. I order most of my spices from Mild Bill's Spices. The Champion Chili blend is a good place to start!" — Willis

Grind Spices The Old-School Way


"Proper equipment makes the difference! Use a mortar and pestle to bring out the flavor of your spices! Before adding spices to your chili, be sure to grind them, and then fold them in gently to create a savory taste. Don't forget the cumin—it's a key spice when preparing terrific-tasting chili." — Harter

Prevent Grittiness

Spices coffee grinder

"To make sure that the sauce of the chili is not gritty, you can put all of your dry spices in a spice grinder or a coffee grinder. This will help to make sure the spices are broken down so when you add them to your chili, the sauce will be nice and smooth." — Moody

Space Out Your Spices


"Using fresh spices is crucial to ensuring a hearty chili taste. Do you like your chili mild, hot, or somewhere in between? Don't be afraid to experiment with fresh spices from your grocery market, or online at Pendery's or Mild Bill Spices. There are plenty of great options to choose from to help make your chili exactly the way you like it! Be sure to give your spices plenty of time to cook, and try adding them in at various stages in the cooking process (at one hour, two hours, etc.). Don't put all your spices in at once. Instead, give them the opportunity to express themselves by breaking it up a bit." — Harter

Prevent Your Spices From Clumping

Dissolve spice in hot water

"When you need to add any dry spices to your chili, take some of the hot liquid out of your pot and mix in the dry spices so that they don't clump." — Moody

Never Scrape The Pot

Chili in pot

"If you burn your chili to the bottom of the pot, do not scrape the bottom! Let the burnt bits stay stuck and continue to stir above the scorched chili. You don't want those smoky burnt bits floating around the pot." — Willis

Keep An Eye on The Clock


"Adding salt and cumin too early can distort the flavor of the chili. Adjust for salt and heat at the end of the cooking cycle. Adding veggies at the right intervals ensures you get broken down flavor infused in the gravy, and some bits stay whole for visual effect and good flavor." — Willis

Salvage An Over-Salted Pot With Potato

White potao
Eiliv Aceron/Unsplash

"Oh, no—I added too much salt! I float a peeled potato around the pot for a few minutes to absorb some of that salt (but not for too long, as the starch from the potato could affect the flavor and color of the chili)." — Willis

Don't Overcook Beans

Navy beans

"Don't cook your beans too long! Beans provide a great texture and complement your gravy. When adding beans to your chili, be sure to add them in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking time. If you add them in too soon, they will become mushy and limit the texture of your chili." — Harter

Practice Patience

Steam cooking

"Don't rush. When you are making chili, you want to give it time to allow all of the flavors to meld together. You don't want any particular spice or flavor to be overpowering." — Moody

5/5 (1 Review)
April Benshosan
April is a born-and-raised Brooklynite who has a passion for all things health, wellness, and tastebud-related. Read more about April
Filed Under