Chili or chili con carne (which literally means chili with meat) is a spicy stew that consists of hot peppers, some type of meat, tomatoes, beans, and other flavorful chili toppings. It’s a hearty and filling dish that feeds a large crowd! It’s also one of the most comforting foods ever invented, which is probably why canned chili is found left and right in grocery stores.
Canned or homemade, this hearty Mexican dish is delicious on its own. Of course, that shouldn’t stop you from customizing it with toppings of your own choosing. Fixings make it personal and much cozier! So, what good toppings can you add to chili? Below are 37 delicious ideas for your chili bar!
Classic Chili Toppings
Personalizing a warm bowl of hearty chili with various toppings makes this dish even more comforting. But if it’s not your comfort food yet, perhaps adding your favorite protein, cheeses, and hot peppers might just convince you! Here’s a list of classic chili fixings to help you get started.
When it comes to both classic and vegan chili toppings (or any style of chili for that matter), you can’t miss beans. You can try pinto, white, and black beans.
White beans are more reserved for white chili recipes. But there’s no denying that red kidney beans are the most preferred especially for traditional red chili recipes because they absorb seasonings and spices quite well. It’s also one of the ingredients that make this Chili’s-inspired Southwestern chicken chili hearty and so filling!
Sour cream keeps your chili con carne interesting and visually appealing! But that’s not their sole purpose. Decorating your bowl with a dollop of sour cream is an effective way to cool down your chili. When it’s added as a topping, you often see it thrown in with shredded or grated cheese, cilantro, green onion, and lime juice for an extra inviting look and additional flavor!
Cilantro is a popular garnish for a lot of dishes because of its delicate, flavorful leaves that impart a citrusy and fresh flavor. Some know it better as one of the popular taco toppings. Well, this flavorful herb is also a favorite flavor booster for chili. It also gives off a very aromatic smell which makes it even more ideal as a garnish! Add it to chili for additional flavor and extra aromatic boost.
Your bowl of chili is incomplete without lime wedges and lime juice. Just like any Mexican dish, it’s added to chili for an extra oomph of freshness and citrus flavor. Basically what it does is balance the flavor of any dish — chili included! So if your spicy stew gets overwhelmingly hot and spicy as you’re eating it, you can also count on lime juice to temper it out.
Some of your favorite Tex Mex dishes are naturally drawn to creamy and refreshing guacamole — and chili is one of those dishes. This is probably because guacamole is one of the toppings that help balance the spiciness of chili.
What’s more, they’re incredible flavor boosters that prevent your bowl of spicy goodness from being too dull and boring. Guacamole adds flavors such as salty, tangy, and creamy! Go all out with this On the Border-inspired guacamole recipe.
Next to sour cream, Greek yogurt is the next best topping to help you temper the spicy flavor of chili. Thick and creamy, this condiment for chili has a velvety texture that’s a great contrast to the hearty bite of meat and beans. It also has a tangy and creamy flavor that helps balance the strong spices, which makes it even better as a topping!
You know corn as a vegetable that provides sweetness to dishes, but it also builds texture that’s even more highlighted when used as a topping! It has a nice firm crunch partnered with a bursting buttery and sweet taste when you bite into it! All in all, corn boasts quite a lot of qualities not just flavor-wise, but also texture-wise in many dishes you add it on.
Besides adding a creamy component like sour cream into your chili, another way you can balance the spiciness is by adding a refreshing topping like this fresh tomato salsa. What we like about this topping is that you can adjust the heat level depending on your salsa recipe. If you’re looking to add heat, try a picante or spicy version. Those who like to keep it fresh can go for a mild! You can get away with alternating both too!
Cheese Chili Toppings
Cheeses have a permanent home in Mexican cuisine. They complete any dish by adding a creamy and savory flavor to earthy spicy dishes alike, giving them a more balanced taste. Check what best cheeses you can use for chili recipes below:
Shredded cheddar cheese is often the number one choice for any chili recipe, especially the average or the homestyle chili. They’re the popular choice because they have a versatile flavor profile with options ranging from mild and sharp to smoked cheddar in grocery stores. Besides their umami flavor, they’re also the perfect topping if you want to build texture to your chili.
Just like cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack is a sort of semi-hard cheese that has a mild but umami and savory flavor good as either shredded or melted. Now, Monterey Jack is not only full of umami flavor but it’s also buttery and adds a rich sweetness to this white chicken chili or any white chili recipe.
Gruyere cheese is another widely popular cheese used to substitute cheddar in many dishes. This Swiss dairy product has a complex and very nuanced flavor profile depending on the length of its aging process. It starts earthy and nutty and then progresses to a full-bodied salty taste as it ages! Generally, it gives a strong taste and creaminess to traditional red chili and homestyle chili.
Queso fresco is a famous Mexican white cheese that resembles soft and crumbly cheeses like feta, ricotta, and cottage cheese. Because of its light and milky taste, this cheese is more suitable for recipes with light or mild flavors like white and green chili. If you can’t spot queso fresco in the grocery store, you may substitute it with another Mexican crumbly cheese: Cotija!
If you want to play a little and explore a few toppings that are, well, unusual, nacho cheese definitely fits the bill! This cheese topping is neither shredded nor crumbled. It has a thick and saucy consistency that you can slather on top of your chili. You can add homemade nacho cheese on its own. But if you want to be a little more adventurous, pair it with salsa, guacamole, and jalapeño.
Pepper Jack Cheese
Most cheeses are either mild or very salty with an earthy and creamy flavor that pairs well with almost any dish. Now, with those flavors, it can get quite boring after some time. But you don’t have to go cheese-less on your chili when things get boring. You can switch it up with cheeses like pepper jack (a variant of Monterey Jack). It has a spicy and herby flavor as it’s studded with peppers and herbs. To be exact, you can find sweet peppers, rosemary, habañero chilies, garlic, and spicy jalapeños in it.
READ ALSO: 12 Best Cheese Graters For Cheese Lovers
Chips and Crackers Chili Toppings
Enough with the cheesy, creamy topping. How about we build texture and crunch to your favorite dish? Here are some chips and crackers to keep your spicy bowl of stew thick, saucy, and interesting!
When it comes to crunchy toppings, you can’t forget tortilla chips. Chili and tortilla chips go together like peanut butter and jelly. They add crunch and also add a salty flavor. You can mix it while it’s cooking to build the body of the stew or you can actually eat it as a topping. Or maybe do both!
Can you actually use soft corn tortillas to make crispy tortilla strips? Yes, of course! Cut tortillas into thin strips and deep fry or bake them until lightly browned. That’s it! Now, just like tortilla chips, this topping thickens the stew, making it even heartier and filling. Make a batch and divide it into two. Mix the first half with the stew and use the other half as a topping.
Undeniably, saltine crackers are way healthier than flour or corn tortillas. Still, feel free to swap regular saltine with unsalted crackers! You can use this instead of tortilla chips if you’re looking for healthy chili toppings. You can serve it as you would serve tortillas with vegetable chili.
- Pour a spoonful of chili on the cracker and eat it like the stew is a sauce!
It’s no secret that oyster crackers are a crowd favorite when it comes to adding crunch and bulk to stews and chowder. They’re also commonly served alongside stews in restaurants in the United States. Now, that’s exactly how you’re going to use this topping for your chili. They taste very similar to saltine crackers, only less salty! Use this instead if you want to cut down on sodium.
Ritz Crackers take your chili to another level! Ritz has a distinct buttery and salty taste. Since they are seasoned throughout, you will taste the buttery flavor throughout the whole cracker. Adding it as a topping will definitely benefit your chili in terms of flavor as well as texture!
Spicy Chili Toppings
Spicy food gives you a two-fold feel-good taste that’s really addicting! If you can’t shake off the spicy craving, feel free to add these spicy toppings to your chili.
A simple hot sauce can elevate your bowl of chili by adding a spicy component and other flavors. All in all, hot sauce has a citrusy, slightly smoky, slightly sweet, and sometimes nutty taste that works for stews and soups. Depending on the brand, though, hot sauces also have varying spiciness. Cholula, for example, has a mild flavor. Meanwhile, Tabasco is considered very hot.
Dried Ancho Chili Peppers
If you want to add a smoky and slightly spicy taste that won’t overpower your dish, then ancho chili peppers are a perfect choice. They only sit between 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units (SHU). In terms of spice level, that’s only mild! Since they’re common in Mexican cooking, they will also fit in nicely with any chili recipe except white chili recipes because of their deep red color. Feel free to add more if you want more heat.
If you’re planning to whip up a batch of Texas red chili, you can’t forget jalapeños. Texas goes big on them since they are considered the state peppers since 1995. This popular chili measures 2,000 to 8,000 SHU. In other words, they are noticeably spicy but not very overwhelming. They pair nicely with other Texas favorite toppings such as nacho cheese, diced onions, and avocado slices.
When it comes to hot sauces, Sriracha doesn’t trail too far behind Tabasco. In fact, Sriracha is the number one choice if you don’t want an overpowering spicy taste. They have a prominent tangy flavor and a subtly sweet taste that blend nicely with the traditional red chili.
READ ALSO: 15 Best Sriracha Substitutes You Must Try
Bell peppers in all of their forms (red, green, and yellow bell peppers) are great chili toppings if you want to add a spicy taste that won’t drown the chili’s prominent beefy taste. Generally, they are sweet, mild, and tangy which will brighten the flavor of your chili without taking away its original flavors.
Meat Chili Toppings
Finally, meat toppings! Any traditional red and green chili recipe needs some sort of meat. Or sometimes, a combination of it perhaps like ground chuck with Mexican chorizo or turkey with bacon. Check what else you can use besides beef, turkey, and cured meats below!
Ground beef chuck and diced beef chuck are popular choices for chili con carne because of their beefy flavor. They’re the ingredient responsible for the intensely savory flavor you love. However, it can be quite a challenge to cook and prepare beef chuck because it’s tough. It needs to be stewed for at least 90 minutes if you want to enjoy tender bites.
If you don’t have time on your hands, you can swap it for ground beef chuck because it is the quickest to cook. It’s also less expensive than beef chuck.
Turkey is a Thanksgiving favorite for a reason. They have a richer, darker, and more savory taste than chicken which makes them a very decadent treat! They are also wonderful flavor enhancers for stews and soups.
Still, they have a milder flavor than beef which suits white chili recipes more than the traditional red chili. White turkey chili pairs well with white beans and soups that are dairy-based and creamy. Other toppings that work well with turkey are sour cream and cheddar!
Just like turkey, chicken has a very mild flavor that takes well to mild-flavored toppings and dairy-based stews. When you make white chicken chili, you can count on lime wedges, white beans, and mild chili peppers such as jalapeños to boost its flavor even more. Besides these flavor boosters, you can also try pairing it with another meat topping like bacon to add a savory, umami flavor that lacks in chicken.
As mentioned above, bacon can also be added to chili recipes to add a savory and smoky flavor, especially to white chili dishes. Unlike chicken and beef though, you can’t use bacon as one of the main ingredients. It’s mainly used as a topping beside creamy chili fixings like sour cream and cheese. It also complements dairy-based stews nicely!
Meat chili is not limited to beef chuck and turkey. As a matter of fact, you can use less expensive meats like ground pork. It’s unusual but it’s just as flavorful! It tends to have a sweeter flavor and a salty, savory undertone when you season it right. It has a bit of fat compared to ground beef but that’s what makes it umami. With its well-balanced taste, this ingredient is more versatile and suits red chili and white chili recipes alike!
Like bacon, Mexican chorizo adds a smoky flavor to chilis. Besides the smoky flavor though, chorizo is also a little spicy because of the spices and seasonings. What we like about this topping is its versatility. It has a very malleable taste that goes well with other meat toppings such as chicken, beef, and pork. Still, it pairs better with more Mexican toppings like nacho cheese and diced onions.
Healthy Chili Toppings
Besides turkey and chicken, there are nutrient powerhouses you can add to your chili. They add not only a nutritional punch but also flavors that make your chili infinitely better!
When you think about it, chili and olives don’t make sense because their flavors are so different. However, that difference is what makes things work. Olives are tangy, sweet, and salty. It can also be a little bitter. Combined, olives effectively cut through the overwhelming richness of chili.
Loaded with healthy nutrients that help rejuvenate skin and overall health, mangoes are one of the unique chili toppings you can try. The bright yellow color on top of your deep red stew might seem odd but it adds a sweet and sour flavor that helps balance the richness and spicy heat of the chili. Basically, it works like salsa in traditional red, homestyle, and veggie chili. Try this easy mango salsa for a sweet and refreshing take on chili.
Besides mango, syrups such as honey and maple syrup make unique and healthy condiments for chili. These flavorful additions transform your typical stew into sweet and spicy chili by rounding out the harsh spices and introducing a sweet flavor component. However, it might be a little tricky to pair it with other toppings. You can start with quinoa and pumpkin seeds. Or you can go bold and partner it with Sriracha!
Avocados have good fat that helps lower bad cholesterol provided you eat them in moderation. Overall, adding avocado slices to your chili elevates the earthiness and adds a buttery and creamy flavor that cuts through harsh spices. You can put simple avocado slices to every style of chili: traditional red, white, and even chili verde!
Other Toppings for Chili
Onions can be a sweet, bright, zippy, and tangy addition to a mouthwatering chili (just like Potbelly’s version!). Depending on the variety and its freshness, it can also have a very sharp taste accompanied by a very pungent smell. The most common types used for chili are white and red onions that are diced. Whichever the variety though, onions add a subtle sweetness when they’re cooked and a sharp, tangy flavor when they are added raw.
You know croutons as one of the popular chicken caesar salad toppings. But basic fried croutons are also one of the major contenders if you want to add a crunchy and filling topping. Of course, nothing beats tortillas, but variation is never a bad thing especially when the substitute is as flavorful as garlic-flavored croutons!
Don’t underestimate the flavor of dried fruits especially dried cranberries. These chili toppings have a tart taste and a slightly sweet and bright flavor that goes nicely with savory and spicy chili. You can add it in while it’s cooking to savor them better in every bite. Or you can actually use it as a garnish!
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