So, what type of beans are best for chili?
It’s a question chili aficionados are happy to argue over for hours.
And then, of course, you always have that guy who insists beans don’t belong in chili at all. (You know who you are.)
I’m firmly in the chili with beans camp, but what type of beans are best for chili?
A few years ago, I would have said kidney beans, hands down, no question.
But the more I’ve experimented, the more I see they aren’t the only good choice.
(They’re still an excellent option, though.)
Let’s discuss kidney beans and four others that are all great for chili.
How to Use Chili
To find the best beans for chili, you first need to determine how you’ll use the chili.
For example, chili you’re eating by itself may call for different beans than chili dog chili.
The following are five of my favorite ways to use chili.
1. By itself or with a sandwich. Let’s be honest. When the weather turns cool, there’s nothing like a hot bowl of hearty chili. I love to put some green onions and cheese on top and go nuts.
Sometimes, I’ll pair it with a grilled cheese or pimento cheese sandwich. Those are my favorite chili/sandwich combinations. I’m sure you have your favorite combo, too.
By itself or with a sandwich are both classic ways to enjoy good chili.
2. Chili (cheese) dogs. Whether you like chili dogs or chili cheese dogs doesn’t matter. Putting chili on a hot dog, with or without cheese, is another terrific way to use it.
I always chop some onions to top my chili cheese dogs, too.
3. Chili cheese dip. Sometimes, I use regular chili as a dip for my cheese sandwiches. However, making actual chili cheese dip is another great idea.
It’s simple to make, full of flavor, and always a hit at parties.
4. Chili cheese fries or tots. Hotdogs aren’t the only foods that benefit from toppings of chili and cheese. You can also load down your fries or tater tots! It’s a great way to spice them up a little.
5. Loaded baked potato. When you think of loaded baked potatoes, what do you picture? Butter, sour cream, cheese, chives, and bacon? Fair enough. I love those things, too.
But have you ever tried adding chili and cheese instead? It definitely makes a messier potato, but it tastes incredible.
And those are just five of the many, many ways you can use chili. Here are several more:
- Chili burgers
- Chili sloppy Joes
- Various casseroles
- Tamale pie
- Shepherd’s pie
- Stuffed peppers
- Chili burritos, enchiladas, or empanadas
- Chili mac-n-cheese
First, decide how you want to use your chili. Then, select the best beans for that situation.
The Best Beans For Chili
The best beans for chili are the ones you like the most.
If you want to add baked, lima, or even green beans, you do you! It’s your chili, after all!
However, my friends’ and family’s consensus is that the following are the best beans for chili.
1. Kidney Beans
As I mentioned, I’ve grown and now use a variety of beans in chili.
However, that said, red kidney beans are still my all-time favorite. They’re perfect for chili.
You can buy ready-to-eat kidney beans or raw ones.
Just remember that you’ll have to soak and cook the raw ones before adding them to your recipe.
I typically go with ready-to-eat instead.
I love the robust flavor they add to chili, and the rich red color is nice, too.
Plus, they’re easy to work with, provide plenty of health benefits, and taste phenomenal.
I’d say kidney beans are probably most people’s go-to chili beans. But then again, I could be wrong about that.
Still, if you’re eating chili with beans, you’re almost sure to find a kidney bean in the mix.
2. Pinto Beans
Pinto beans are another common bean for chili. They’re inexpensive, come in various forms, and are full of fiber and protein.
You can buy uncooked, bagged pintos, canned, ready-to-eat pintos, or flavored pintos.
The Tex-Mex pinto variety is a popular option among chili lovers.
As with kidney beans, uncooked pintos must be soaked and cooked. You can’t add them raw to your chili.
For that reason, many people opt for canned pintos instead. They’re just easier and take less time.
Pintos are smaller than kidney beans. So if you enjoy the large, fat beans in your chili, they may not be the best option.
However, nutritionally, they’re pretty on par with kidney beans. And they’re certainly just as filling!
You can typically find vegan, non-GMO, and other dietary-specific pintos, too.
Remember, if you opt for flavored pintos, they’ll alter the taste of your chili somewhat.
That’s the point of the flavoring, after all.
As long as your chili is already leaning towards a Tex-Mex meal, Tex-Mex pintos will fit right in.
3. Black Beans
Are you someone who really loves the taste of beans in chili? If so, black beans may be the best option for you.
Black beans are wonderfully rich in flavor. They’re bold, earthy, and delicious.
However, it’s also easy to overdo it with black beans. Add too many, and they’ll overpower the other flavors in your recipe.
For that reason, most people only add a handful of black beans.
They supplement with another variety of less potent beans, such as kidney beans.
That way, they still get plenty of beans in their chili but don’t have an overwhelming bean flavor.
Black beans are also a given if you’re making three-bean chili.
The other two beans may change, but black beans are nearly always one of the three.
Typically, I use black beans along with red kidney beans.
And I don’t usually add them to chili that I’m going to use on something else.
Black beans can be tougher than other beans. So I don’t love them in my chili cheese fries or on my hot dogs.
They taste (and feel) best in stand-alone chili.
4. Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans)
The last several years have seen a rise in white chilis and for good reason!
White chicken chili is one of my all-time favorite winter recipes.
If you’re making white chili, white kidney beans, or cannellini beans are your best bet.
However, you don’t have to use them solely in white chili.
They also make a nice substitute for red kidney beans in red chilis.
They’re somewhat milder and absorb the other flavors, so kids often prefer them to red beans.
Adding them to three-bean chili is another great idea.
Trust me, though they may look funny in red chili, you can’t go wrong with cannellini beans.
5. Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
People often overlook chickpeas (garbanzo beans) when making chili.
Their odd, lumpy appearance isn’t something most people picture when imagining chili.
But they really are phenomenal chili beans.
They have an insane amount of protein and fiber, so nutritionally, they’re awesome.
Plus, they don’t taste remarkably different from kidney beans.
Like cannellini beans, chickpeas are slightly milder than red kidney beans.
However, the basic flavor profile is the same. Give chickpeas a try the next time you make homemade chili.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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