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I've often heard that the key to a great chili is letting the ingredients soak and/or simmer for a really long time. However, all the recipes that I'm finding suggest about a 30 minute simmer once the chili is brought to a boil.

Can I get a better flavor if I let it simmer longer? Can I stick it in the crock pot all day? How do I adjust the recipe (for example, simmering it all day will probably take more water--should I add extra water initially, or intermittently throughout the day)? Or should I just forget about it and follow the recipe?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

You'll find approximately as many recipes for chili as you will chili cooks.

I find that I can make a great chili by simmering it for a minimal amount of time, no more than a couple of hours, letting the hot peppers do most of the work of flavoring it. (Here's my current chili recipe. I used to take three days to make chili.) Soaking and simmering for a long time just isn't the taste I'm going for. You may find you prefer a chili with a longer cook time. (Many people seem to.) Experiment and find what works for you.

Chili needs a good amount of liquid both to keep heat circulating freely and to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Sticking is less of a problem in a crock pot than on a stove, but you still need to scrape the bottom of a crock pot periodically. Water will evaporate as chili cooks. If you added the water all at once, the chili would start out watery and end up dry. I add the water as it's needed, to maintain the consistency I want.

In the end, experiment, tinker, and make that chili your own! There are hundreds if not thousands of chili recipes, and there's no single correct way to make it.

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Great comments in general, but one note. Don't open the lid of a crock pot more often than absolutely necessary, since it will significantly reduce the heat of the dish and make it take longer to cook. If you're going to use a crock pot, you can add a bit of liquid, but very little will escape from the pot. The reason you need to add liquid to stovetop chili is because of the loss of steam. – Martha F. Feb 18 '11 at 5:47
@Martha F - I keep suggesting we make crockpot chili! Maybe next week. – Neil Fein Feb 18 '11 at 5:51
Shh! You'll give away that we're married! ;-) – Martha F. Feb 18 '11 at 6:04
@Martha F - Don't worry, it's not as if I put it on the internet or anything. – Neil Fein Feb 18 '11 at 6:07

Like Neil, I figure I make a pretty decent chili, and can do it from a standing start in about a hour, or an hour and fifteen minutes if I have to roast some chilies.


...sometimes the day-old left overs really are better than the fresh pot. The best description I've got is "the flavors have melded better", and it seems to happen most if I got the pot a little on the spicy side. (My better half and I grew up in South Texas, and spent some time in New Mexico, so we can tolerate a fair amount of heat, but neither of us is a fiend for it.)

I don't have a chili recipe, but a method.

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This is exactly how we do it at my house, and since the chili won the office chili cook-off I feel no need to change it. – justkt Feb 18 '11 at 13:25

I find with chili that the pot is best used for initially opening up the flavors at higher heats. The majority of the work should be done in a crock pot or dutch oven, stirred every 20-30 minutes (but as @Martha commented, keep the lid on as much as possible to ensure even cooking).

For opening up the flavors, you will need a pot for carmelizing onions, browning meat, and blooming spices. The purpose of boiling the chili altogether is to cause the fats and osmazome (the compound that "gives flavour and perfume to the stock") to dissipate throughout the chili altogether.

The purpose of simmering/heating in the crock-pot is to keep the fats and flavor compounds rolling. The low heat and agitation allows more flavor penetration without overcooking the ingredients. Although the exact times vary per experimentation with different meats and peppers and other ingredients, ensuring the chemical reactions is key. One piece of advice I encountered was that (for soups), "for each pound of meat, let there be one pint of water."

And yes, chili is always better the next day.

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