Bacon Is The Savory Ingredient Your Chili Needs

The list of secret ingredients you can use in chili ranges from beer to maple syrup to cocoa powder — but if you want to dabble with something a little closer to a classic chili recipe, try starting with bacon. It's probably the most unsurprising revelation ever that bacon will make your dish yummier, as it makes practically everything taste better. In fact, there's a scientific reason why: Bacon contains copious amounts of glutamate, which produces a delicious umami (aka savory) flavor.

So, it makes sense that the meat works well in chili, which is already a blend of so many different savory ingredients. In particular, bacon can bring smokiness and saltiness to the dish, and can even help thicken the soup. Cooking it to a crisp beforehand can also add a yummy bite amidst softer ingredients like ground meat and beans. But if you really want to extract the most out of your bacon's flavor, use the grease as the chili's base; you'll get a cohesive flavor of the delicious meat throughout your bowl.

Use bacon and its grease to make your chili

If you've been convinced to add bacon to your chili (aka bumping up the umami flavors), here's what to do. First, cook your strips separately from everything else, either on the stove or in the oven – and feel free to make it how you like it, although as we covered, the crispiest bacon will yield the biggest textural contrast against the other chili ingredients. Once it's drained and cooled, chop it up and add it into your pot when you pour in most of the other ingredients, including the beans, broth, spices, tomato paste and sauce, and any other meat you're including. You can also leave a little out and use it to garnish your bowls at the end.

As noted, the real secret ingredient involving bacon is the grease and using it as the base of your chili. When you're draining your strips, don't discard the drippings. Save some of the grease, throw it in an empty pot, and then deploy it as the fat to cook your meat and onion in. You should only need a few tablespoons of grease, just like any other oil you'd use in its place. If you prefer, you can leave the actual meat out of your chili entirely, and just cook it for its grease — but for maximum bacon flavor, dump the chopped bits in your pot and use them as garnish at the end as well.