Bison Chili Recipe

Nothing beats a big bowl of cozy, warm, spicy chili when the temps get low. From all-day crockpot cooking to bean-heavy vegetarian, chili can be made a dozen different delicious ways. Modern chili is said to have originated in Texas, where it's named as the state's official dish and is typically made with a simple but spicy mix of peppers and meat. Often referred to as chili con carne, chili draws its spicy, saucy inspiration from molés brought from Mexico, according to All Recipes. Even up north where Midwesterners transform chili to a wintery, bean-heavy tomato stew, the spicy, saucy mixture doesn't stray far from its Southwestern origins.

In this recipe, developer Michelle McGlinn shares her method for making hearty bison chili, complete with three different types of beans, lots of sweet stewed tomatoes, and an array of peppers and spices. Her secret to a good chili, everytime? Cinnamon sticks and dried chiles, which add a perfect blend of sweet and spicy to the meaty stewed sauce. This recipe uses sharply spicy chiles de árbol and smoky guajillo peppers to complement the subtly sweet ground bison. Don't have access to dried peppers? Don't worry, we included easy ingredient swaps below.

Gather your bison chili ingredients

This chili starts like any other chili with browned crumbly meat, onion, garlic, beans (black, kidney, and pinto), and crushed tomatoes. Of course, our star ingredient in this recipe is ground bison meat, which is slightly sweeter and leaner than ground beef. If you can't find bison, feel free to swap for ground beef or turkey. If you want a meatier chili, or simply less bison, try adding or swapping half of the bison for beef.

To highlight the subtly unique flavors of bison in this recipe, we add in chili peppers and cinnamon. Chiles de árbol offer a sharp, spicy heat, and guajillo chiles will be slightly sweet and smokey. You can swap either pepper for fresh jalapeños, serrano peppers, or Thai chilies, or omit for a milder chili. We highly recommend stewing the chili with a full cinnamon stick, but you can also use powdered cinnamon.

Finally, you'll also need some beef broth, tomato puree, dried thyme, dried rosemary, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Brown the bison

Start this recipe with a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Coat your pot in oil and brown the bison meat, crumbling while it cooks. Bison is leaner than beef and will cook with much less grease, so oil the pot as needed. Once mostly browned and completely crumbled, add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes longer. Add the trio of drained beans and stir to warm through.

Add the tomatoes to the pot

With the heat still on medium, add the crushed and pureed tomatoes to the pot and bring to a simmer with the beef broth. It'll seem like a lot of tomato, but after simmering for hours, the tomatoes stew down to a thick sauce. This recipe starts with crushed tomatoes for a quick chili, but you can also use diced or whole tomatoes for a thicker texture. If you are using whole tomatoes, plan to cook the chili for the full cooking time or longer to break the tomatoes down into a sauce.

Add the seasonings and chili peppers

Using gloves, remove the stems and seeds from the dried peppers. Add the chiles de árbol, guajillo peppers, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper to the pot and stir to disperse. Fully submerge the peppers and cinnamon in the tomato sauce to ensure the peppers hydrate while stewing. If using fresh jalapeños or serrano peppers, slice the peppers before adding to the pot, removing the seeds for milder flavor.

Simmer for hours

A great, tasty chili simmers for hours to let the flavors melt together and the tomatoes stew down to a thick sauce. That's why chili is so often thrown into a crockpot; the flavors get the whole day to mingle on constant heat! Stovetop chili can be ready in as little as 20 minutes, but trust us, you'll want to simmer this for as long as you have the time for. If you're short on time, cook until the chiles have rehydrated to their soft natural textures, about 30 minutes.

Keep the heat on low and cover the pot to prevent splattering, then let the aromas of sweet tomatoes and spicy chiles fill your kitchen until it's time for dinner. Stir the chili frequently to prevent sticking. Once ready to eat, remove the chiles and cinnamon and serve with chopped cilantro, cornbread, sour cream, or crusty French bread. A glutton for punishment? Top your chili with sliced jalapeños for even more heat.

Store leftovers directly in the covered Dutch oven or in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a week. Reheat gently on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave, stirring to heat evenly.

Bison Chili Recipe
5 from 111 ratings
If you're looking for ways to get creative with chili, this cinnamon- and spicy chile-infused bison chili will definitely do the trick!
Prep Time
Cook Time
bison chili in bowl
Total time: 33 minutes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground bison
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 3 chiles de árbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon pepper, plus more to taste
Optional Ingredients
  • Cilantro, for topping
  • Bread, for serving
  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute longer.
  2. Add the bison meat and crumble into very small pieces while it browns. Cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the pinto, kidney, and black beans to the mixture, then add the tomato puree and crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the beef broth, thyme, rosemary, and chiles, and stir well to combine and submerge the chiles.
  4. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and cover. Cook for at least 20 minutes, but ideally cook for up to 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld.
  5. When ready to serve, remove from the heat and remove peppers and cinnamon stick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve with cilantro, bread, or as desired.
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