What’s The Best Secret Chili Ingredient? A List Of Suggestions…

Secret Chili Ingredients


Winter means chili season.

There’s no dish I start craving more when the temperature drops than a bowl of chili. It’s such a hearty meal during the cold weather months, with no two recipes ever the same: Savory, spicy, tangy. A slow-simmered stew loaded with beans, onion, garlic tomatoes, and meat of your choosing.

It’s also efficient: Make a pot of chili on a Sunday and it’s an easy, affordable meal for dinner and lunch for an entire week.

Everyone has a secret chili ingredient or two that takes their chili con carne to the next level. Sometimes the secret chili ingredient is a store-bought spice, sometimes it’s a out-of-the-norm meat, sometimes it’s a vegetable.

Sometimes it’s something totally out of the blue, like crushed pineapple or pumpkin to thicken.

The common denominator for all secret chili ingredients is that it has to enhances the overall flavor profile of the chili, elevating it to something beyond a tomato and bean stew with ground meat.

During a lazy autumn Sunday, while simmering a pot of chili on the stove, I asked my followers on Twitter what chili secret ingredients they put in their own chili recipes.

The responses blew me away. It included the usual suspects: Chocolate, beer, coffee, peanut butter, and zesty spices to add all kinds of delicious flavor. It also included things I’ve never thought of before for chili: refried beans to thicken, sweet corn, Zatarain’s Shrimp & Crab Boil, crushed pineapple, mustard, etc

I’m a natural-born pepperhead, so most of my secret chili ingredients tend to lean towards things that increase the spiciness of the dish, cranking up the Scoville level of the chili. Any given hot sauce accomplishes this pretty easily – I’m a fan of habanero sauces and Fresno chili sauces for a distinct kind of heat.

That said, once you try a chili made with pumpkin to thicken, there’s no turning back. It’s a great secret ingredient – a perfect blend of sweetness to spiciness.

Without further ado, here’s the list of secret chili ingredients to give you inspiration the next time you’re hankering for chili.

List Of Secret Chili Ingredients

Milk chocolate

Cocoa powder

Crushed pineapple

Half a can of pumpkin puree

Roasted chipotle salsa

Chorizo and poblano peppers.

Beer – Only a stout or dark beer works

Brisket Au Jus

Mashed-to-a-powder tortilla chips to thicken

Crumbled sausage

McCormick Pumpkin Spice seasoning (cinnamon + nutmeg + vanilla)


A can of refried bean to thicken

One can sweet corn.

Embasa Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Honey Mustard – Adds just enjoy tang and sweetness.

Ice cold fresh cut onions on top right before serving.

Smoked pulled pork.

A couple capfuls of Zatarain’s Shrimp & Crab Boil and tasso

Peanut butter – around two heaping tablespoons.

Bourbon – 1/2 cup as stock; typically use a rye with a rich flavor (warning: all the alcohol probably doesn’t cook out).

Leftover coffee from your morning pot, also throw in some dark chocolate for the past 30 minutes.

Bacon – toss it in raw and let it cook with the rest of the chili for a few hours. Usually cut it into bite sized pieces but that’s not necessary.

Instant espresso powder

Unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon

Unsweetened chocolate

Canned green chilies

Ancho / guajillo peppers


Coca cola


Red pepper flakes


Can of pizza sauce

Veggie burgers

Dry red wine

Worcestershire sauce

Lemon juice

Ground chipotle

A few shakes of Maggi

Vanilla bean

Bennett’s Chili sauce

Tony Chachere’s

Smoked paprika

Brown sugar

Mushroom powder

A tiny bit of nutmeg

A bunch of carrots and then put the pulp and the juice into the chili…


Balsamic Vinegar

Pickle Juice

Mexican chocolate

Long hots

Corn bread



Gulden’s Mustard



And that’s that. What secret ingredient takes your chili to the next level?

Let us know in the comments.

Brandon Wenerd avatar
BroBible's publisher and a founding partner, circa 2009. Brandon is based in Los Angeles, where he oversees BroBible's partnership team and other business development activities. He still loves to write and create content, including subjects related to internet culture, food, live music, Phish, the Grateful Dead, Philly sports, and adventures of all kinds. Email: brandon@brobible.com