Chili comes in all shapes, tastes, sizes, textures and colors among many other attributes that make it so popular.
Everyone, including us at Reviewed, has their own chili recipes that we all swear by. A pinch of this and a dash of that and it all tastes good. But it can all come apart if you don’t cook it correctly — and we wanted to know the best way to do so.
We pulled out our slow cooker, Instant Pot and a stove top saucepan to see which made the best chili. For the sake of the test and taste, we used virtually the same Betty Crocker recipe across the board to see if the was any difference. We timed each chili to be done at the same time and served up a blind taste test, asking our tasters to rank the samples against each other on taste and overall consistency from 1-3. We half expected everything to come out exactly the same, but the results were surprising as were the methods themselves.
So be it spicy, savory or slathered on hot dogs, the next time you make chili, make sure you’re cooking it the right way.
Chili No. 1: The Instant Pot
We used one of our top-ranked Instant Pots for the project. The prep itself was one of the easiest as you could cook the beef in the pot with the sauté feature, then add in all the ingredients for a five minute cook plus pressure release time. All-in-all, it took about 20 minutes from start to finish, but that may have impacted its ranking as the least favorite chili.
It was clearly the bottom of the barrel — or pot — for the testers. The chili came out with more liquid than others, the beef was not soft and the spices clearly hadn’t melded together as five minutes of cooking didn’t give them time to combine. It was watery, less colorful, bland tasting and simply less appetizing than the other two, though it was totally edible and not too bad.
Chili No. 2: The slow cooker
The slow cooker, true to its name, is the most time consuming method we tried. It was the only method where we had to use more than one piece of cookware, as the beef had to be cooked in a pan prior to going into the crock pot adding to the time and the cleanup. Then, the recipe called for a 6-to-8 hour cook time. We went with six because of time constraints.
But patience pays off. The slow cooker lost by only a couple of votes. In terms of flavor, this was clearly the second favorite with only a couple of testers picking it as their first choice, but all testers enjoyed it, especially the tender beef and tomatoes which had cooked for hours. Where it the stove top really beat it, though, was the consistency. The slow cooker chili had more liquid in it than the winner due likely to condensation on the lid and potentially cooking on lower heat, though most testers would eagerly eat it again.
The best way to make chili: The stove top
The stove top combined the best of both worlds with the ease of the one-pot Instant Pot and the low and slow cook of the slow cooker. You can brown the beef in a sauce pan on the stove then add in the ingredients and leave it to simmer covered for an hour before removing the lid for 20 more minutes. What results is a thick, flavorful chili followed by an easy cleanup.
Our testers really liked the stove top because of its consistency. Being on the stove allowed for it to really thicken and for the spices and flavors to meld together well. Almost all of our testers thought it was the best tasting chili of the bunch and combined with its marks in ease, it was clearly the best chili served.
The proof is in the pudding, or the chili. If you want to make a thick, tasty chili in a somewhat quick manner (about an hour and a half), stove top is right for you. It’s one pan for the whole show, providing an easy prep, cook and cleanup for a delicious meal.
If you have a bit more patience and prefer the slow cooker, you can’t go wrong either. If you can prevent condensation on the lid or can even wait a few more hours, your chili might rival a stove top batch. It’s also easy to clean after, but does require a pan to pre-cook the ground beef, though if you’re waiting at least six hours for the chili to cook, you can probably find time to wash the pan at some point.
And lastly, if you need something quick and edible, the Instant Pot can get it done. Maybe you can figure out a way to avoid the liquid style of it or have a tip or trick to liven up the taste, because if you can, it’ll be a quick 20-minute cooking session before it’s chili time. But if you have time and patience, the other two options are better choices.