The Best Way To Thicken Up Chili

One of the great mysteries of the culinary universe surrounds the true inventor of chili, and National Chili Day has some thoughts about this. One possible theory is that the people of the Canary Islands stewed meats, peppers, and onions together in the 1700s. A more outlandish origin story is that the spirit of a Spanish nun named Sister Mary of Agreda often traveled to spread the word about Christianity during the 1600s. The spirit might have gotten the recipe from one of these listeners, as she jotted down notes of chili peppers, vegetables, and venison, which make up a variation of chili con carne.

Tales aside, historians can confidently trace back these "bowls o' red" to the 1880s in San Antonio, per National Chili Day. "Chili queens" would sell their famous bowls of chili con carne, along with water and bread, for just ten cents, and their chili stands quickly grew in popularity.

Nowadays, chili is whipped up by many home cooks who are longing for spicy, smoky, and hearty flavors. Wonderopolis also states that you can find different kinds of ingredients in a chili mixture, such as pasta, tomato sauce, and beans, depending on what state you visit. And while it's fairly easy to make, some folks run into a problem with thin, watery chili. You could certainly dump out excess liquids, but there's another method to thickening up chili that Alton Brown would approve of.

Open a bag of tortilla chips

Taste of Home explains that you can add crushed-up corn chips or tortilla chips to thicken your chili mixture. This is because chips will act as a sponge, helping to soak up liquids from the meat, tomatoes, beans, and so forth. Taste of Home also states that it's a great textural contrast to the softness of the chili mixture.

Alton Brown more than agrees with this idea (per Kitchn), as he loves to use this grocery store staple as a substitute for masa harina (a common thickening agent). He provides one note of caution though. Since many brands of tortilla chips contain salt, it might make your chili mixture a little salty depending on how many chips you add to your chili, and how much salt you've already added. But don't worry, there are a few strategies around this, such as opting for tortilla chips that have little to no sodium, going easy on the salt when seasoning your chili, or incorporating crushed-up, salty chips a little bit at a time. And be sure to keep the mixture simmering for 10 minutes so the chips have enough time to marry with the other flavors and soak up those liquids, per Taste of Home.

So next time you need a thickening agent for your chili, reach for a good ol' fashioned bag of tortilla chips, corn chips, or Doritos. This creative decision is ultimately up to you.