Like most chili recipes, Classic Beef Chili improves in flavor the longer it cooks, so it’s a perfect recipe for the slow cooker or crockpot. This unique version includes sausage along with the classic beef, beans, spices, and aromatics for maximum flavor.
I love everything about fall, but few things highlight the season like the aroma of soup or stew simmering on the stove or in the slow cooker. And when the weather cools off, chili is my absolute favorite way to embrace the season. This is a twist on the chili that I’ve been making and adapting for nearly 15 years (ever since my mom introduced me to the idea of adding sausage that came from this All-American Chili). Last year I played with this recipe in the pressure cooker to create Instant Pot All-American Chili.
This year, I wanted to adapt my go-to recipe so it is just right for the slow cooker. Thick and rich, with maximum flavor and ready to be held on the warm setting all through a fall evening to enjoy whenever you’re ready.
Let’s make Slow Cooker Classic Beef Chili!
- Cooking Oil – The recipe starts by sautéing ingredients at the stovetop so you’ll need a good cooking oil. I use avocado oil or grapeseed oil for almost everything.
- Sausage – This is my not-so-secret “secret” to adding flavor to chili. Almost any type of sausage will work, so look for flavors you prefer. I like the subtle sweetness and flavor of Chicken Apple Italian Sausage (chop it into small pieces before using). Any type of loose / bulk Italian Sausage also works really well and doesn’t require any prep. Use spicy Italian Sausage if you want more spice!
- Ground Beef – Use 90% lean beef so that the finished chili is rich but not heavy / oily.
- Yellow Onion, Red Bell Pepper, Garlic – Like many classic chili recipes, this one starts with aromatics that are cooked to very tender. These practically melt into the chili over the long cook time and give it layers of flavor.
- Diced and Crushed Tomatoes – These add small pieces of tomatoes and create a smooth tomato base. It’s really helpful to find fire-roasted diced tomatoes because these have tons of that smoky flavor.
- Kidney Beans – Can’t have classic chili without beans!
- Water or Stock – You’ll need a small amount of liquid to add to the tomato base. Store-bought or homemade chicken or vegetable stock work well. Beef stock is great too, though it usually includes a lot of fake ingredients to give it that beef flavor, so there’s no reason to seek it out if you have another type of stock on hand. Water works just fine too, but you may need to add some extra salt (since most varieties of stock have salt added).
- Dried Spices – Just the classics – chili powder, ground cumin, and dried oregano. Plus bay leaves. See my note in the recipe below about using a more mild chili powder. I like to start mild, but you can always add a pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes if you want spice.
- Salt and Pepper – Don’t forget to taste the finished chili and add some more S&P if you need it!
How to Make Slow Cooker Chili
- Sauté Aromatics and Meat – Working with one element at a time, sauté the aromatics, then the sausage, and then the beef. Add them all to the slow cooker. This takes some time upfront, but cooking each of these elements on their own seriously pays off with the best flavor and texture.
- Combine – Combine the aromatics, meat, and all remaining ingredients in the bowl of a 6-quart slow cooker. (The KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker has long been my favorite for even cooking.)
- Slow Cook – Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours.
- Keep Warm – If you want to keep the chili ready to serve at any time, leave it in the “warm” setting, giving it a good stir every once in awhile to keep the ingredients evenly combined.
- Serve with your favorite toppings!
Favorite Chili Toppings
- Green Onions
- Sour Cream
- Shredded Cheese
- Raw Onions
- Cilantro Leaves
- Lime Wedges
- Fresh Tomatoes
- Black Olives
- Chips (corn tortillas or corn chips)
To Freeze Chili
You can freeze chili before or after cooking. If freezing before cooking, saute the meat and aromatics and allow to cool completely. Combine with other ingredients and transfer to freezer-safe containers. If freezing cooked chili, let it cool completely before transferring to freezer-safe containers. In both cases, remove as much air from the container as possible. Freeze for up to 6 months.
To reheat, defrost chili in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. If the chili has not been cooked, transfer it to the slow cooker and cook according to recipe instructions. Check out the recipe below for a printable label you can attach to the top of the chili.
More Slow Cooker Soups, Stews, and Chilis
- Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
- Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili
- Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Soup
- Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup
Slow Cooker Classic Beef Chili
- 6-quart Slow Cooker
- Dutch Oven, Saute Pan, or Skillet
- 3 Tbsp Cooking Oil, divided
- 1 Yellow Onion, diced
- 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
- 8 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 12 oz Sausage (see note)
- 1 lb Ground Beef (use 90% lean beef)
- 2 Tbsp Chili Powder (see note)
- 1 Tbsp Ground Cumin
- 1 tsp Dried Oregano
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 4 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar (light or dark)
- 1 cup Water or Stock (any type of stock will work - beef, chicken, or vegetable)
- 1 28 oz can Diced Tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
- 1 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
- 2 15 oz cans Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 Bay Leaves
Optional Chili Toppings:
- Green Onions, chopped
- Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
- Sour Cream
- Chips (corn tortilla chips or Fritos are always great)
- Place a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1 Tablespoon oil and then add onion, bell pepper, and garlic with a pinch of salt. Saute until very tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl of a 6-quart slow cooker.
- Return pan to heat and add 1 Tablespoon oil. When oil is shimmering, add sausage and saute until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add to bowl of slow cooker.
- Return pan to heat and add 1 Tablespoon oil. When oil is shimmering, add beef and saute until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and salt. Saute for 2 minutes more. Add to bowl of slow cooker.
- To ingredients in slow cooker, add tomato paste, brown sugar, water / stock, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, beans, and bay leaves. Stir everything to combine.
- Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours. (After cooking, the slow cooker can switch to “warm” until you are ready to serve the chili.)
- Taste and season with some salt and black pepper, if needed.
- Serve chili with your favorite toppings.
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