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Best Beans for Chili

Beans in chili is a hot topic, depending on who you ask. But if you decide to include them, what are the best beans for chili? Let’s look at a few types of beans to discover the best beans for your chili recipe.

A picture with three types of beans in spoons.
Photo Credit: Tijana Drndarski

What are Chili Beans?

Beans are a type of legume and a staple in many cultures. Beans grow in pods and are available in different shapes, sizes, and colors. The most common types of beans are black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and Lima beans. 

Beans are an excellent addition to many meals. Add them to a salad like Persian piyaz or stir them into soup and stew, including Moroccan beef and chickpea stew

Use beans, such as chickpeas, edamame, and butter beans, and make creamy hummus. Speaking of, try my butter bean hummus with air fryer pita chips. Many casserole recipes include beans. And although it’s controversial (I am looking at you, Texas), beans have a place in chili.

Nutritional Benefits of Beans

Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein. They also contain fiber, which helps promote digestive health, regulate blood sugar, and are packed with folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium to support a healthy, well-balanced diet.

What are the Best Beans for Chili?

When making a delicious pot of chili, the type of beans you use can enhance the flavor and nutrition of the dish. Classic options like pinto, kidney, and black beans are popular for a good reason. But also consider cannellini, great northern, chickpeas, or a combination of several beans. With so many excellent beans to choose from, let us help you decide what’s the best bean for chili.

1. Kidney Beans

A close up of dried kidney beans.
Photo Credit: Arina Krasnikova

Kidney beans are one of the most common and best beans for chili. In fact, they are sometimes labeled ‘chili beans’ in mainstream grocery stores, so you can’t go wrong using them in your chili recipes.

How to Use Kidney Beans for Chili

Dutch Oven Chili
Our easy dutch oven chili is a hearty and delicious dump and go recipe that's perfect for camping, potlucks, or a comforting meal at home.
Dutch Oven Chili
A bowl of dutch oven chili topped with shredded cheddar, onions, and chilies.
Three Bean Chili
Easy Three Bean Chili combines a few pantry ingredients like pinto, kidney, and white beans into one delicious pot of chili.
Three Bean Chili
A serving bowl of chili surrounded by bowls of toppings.
Chili Cheese Nachos
Chili Cheese Nachos are piled high with flavorful chili cheese deliciousness and canned kidney beans for the perfect appetizer.
Chili Cheese Nachos
A tray of chili nachos topped with cheese, jalapeños, and onion.
Turkey Chili Taco Soup
Healthy low fat, high protein, and packed with kidney beans; this chili is so delicious you'd never know it's so good for you!
Turkey Chili Taco Soup
Two bowls of chili topped with shredded cheese, sour cream, and cilantro.

2. Black Beans

Dried black beans on a serving bowl.

Black beans have a rich, earthy flavor making them perfect for chili. They are high in protein, so they’re ideal for vegetarian chilies and the perfect complement to hearty beef chili.

How to Use Black Beans for Chili

Chili Con Carne with Beans
Authentic chili con carne with beans is made with tender beef, black beans, and chilies for maximum flavor.
Chili Con Carne with Beans
Chili in a small bowl garnished with cheddar cheese, onions, and jalapenos.
Pineapple Black Bean Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
A healthy, hearty, and comforting bowl of sweet heat and black beans with simmered-all-day flavor.
Pineapple Black Bean Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
A close up of a bowl of chili topped with shredded cheese and sour cream.
Black Bean Quinoa Chili
Packed with protein and healthy veggies, this vegan Black Bean Quinoa Chili is a hearty and satisfying one pot meal!
Black Bean Quinoa Chili
A bowl of chili topped with cilantro and lime wedges.

3. Pinto Beans

A close up of dried pinto beans on a serving bowl.

Pinto beans are the most popular bean for chili, and because of their mild flavor, creaminess, and tenderness as they simmer, it makes sense!

And since it can be hard to decide between black beans and pinto beans, check out this article comparing black beans vs. pinto beans.

How to Use Pinto Beans for Chili

Baked Beans with Hamburger
Southern-style baked beans with hamburger aren't just a tasty side; transform the side dish into a complete meal by adding ground beef and bacon.
Baked Beans with Hamburger
Baked beans in a serving bowl.
Four Bean Beef and Beer Chili
Nothing says delicious like a big bowl of flavorful Four Bean Beef and Beer Chili; this recipe contains kidney beans, black beans, cannellini beans, and pinto beans.
Four Bean Beef and Beer Chili
A stockpot full of four bean chili.
Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili
A smooth and delicious chili with pumpkin, pinto beans, and a touch of pumpkin spice.
Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili
A crockpot of chili surrounded by bowls of toppings.

4. White Beans

A close up of dry white beans.
Photo Credit: Łukasz Rawa

White beans have a mild flavor and a creamy texture that’s perfect for chili, especially if your chosen protein is chicken or something other than beef. I use them in my leftover turkey white chili, and it’s delicious. White beans come in three varieties, and Cannellini, Northern beans, and navy beans are often used interchangeably in chili.

How to Use White Beans for Chili

Instant Pot White Chicken Chili
Instant Pot White Chicken Chili is layered with Northern white beans and rich flavors to make a hearty and filling meal that's ready in under an hour.
Instant Pot White Chicken Chili
Instant pot white chicken chili in a small bowl.
White Corn Chicken Chili
White Corn Chicken Chili is made with white corn, Northern white beans, shredded chicken, fresh cilantro, and warm spices.
White Corn Chicken Chili
A overview of white chili topped with cheese, lime, and tortilla strips.

5. Garbanzo Beans

A close up of chickpeas in a bowl.
Photo Credit: Karyna Panchenko

Garbanzo beans or chickpeas are a great addition to chili, and since they’re a good source of protein and fiber, they bulk up the chili to make it more filling.

How to Use Garbanzo Beans for Chili

Vegetarian White Bean Chili
Chickpeas, cannellini beans, and navy beans add interest to this simple and fast Vegetarian White Bean Chili recipe.
Vegetarian White Bean Chili
Two bowls of white bean chili topped with onions and cilantro.
Vegetarian Chili Recipe
Chock full of kidney beans and chickpeas, just one bowl of this rich plant based chili will warm you up, even on the coldest winter days!
Vegetarian Chili Recipe
Chili in a bowl with rice topped with cilantro and avocado.

6. Black Eyed Peas

Black eyed peas spilled out of a spoon on the table.
Photo Caption: Jasmine Waheed

Despite the name, black-eyed peas are beans with a creamy, smooth texture once cooked. They are slightly sweet, making them a perfect complement to the other ingredients featured in chili.

How to Use Black Eyed Peas for Chili

Instant Pot Black Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas are a Southern tradition known to bring good fortune, and my Instant Pot black eyed peas are brimming with smoky and spicy flavors that will leave you feeling lucky.
Instant Pot Black Eyed Peas
Instant Pot black eyed peas in a bowl.
Slow Cooker Black-Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas cooked with ham and bacon! Great for celebrating the new year or any day really!
Slow Cooker Black-Eyed Peas
A crockpot filled with black eyed pea chili.

How to Prepare Beans for Chili

  • Rinse canned and dry beans under cold water and pick out debris before using them in a recipe.
  • Soak the dry beans in water overnight to reduce the cooking time and ensure they become tender.
  • Drain the soaked beans and rinse them before cooking.
  • Place dry beans in a stockpot and cover them with fresh water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1-2 hours or until they are tender.
  • Add the cooked or canned beans to the chili and stir to combine. Let the pot simmer until the ingredients have time to incorporate.

How to Use Chili

Serve a warm, cozy bowl of chili as a main dish alongside buttery cornbread, corn casserole, rice, pasta, or crusty bread. But there are many other ways to enjoy chili. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Topping: Pour homemade chili over baked potatoes, french fries, or hot dogs to make chili dogs. You can also grab your favorite bag of chips to make walking nachos
  • Filling: Use chili as a filling for chili and rice casserole, chili spaghetti squash casserole, chili and tater tot casserole, Frito chili pie, and chili cornbread casserole.
  • Sauce: Thin the chili with broth or water and use it as a sauce for vegetables or pasta.
  • Dip: Warm chili and serve it as a dip with tortilla chips or crackers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of beans go in chili?

The best beans for chili highly depend on personal preference and regional variations. Common beans used in chili include kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans. Some recipes may also include navy beans, cannellini beans, or chickpeas.

What are the best canned beans for chili?

Save time in the kitchen by using canned beans. Canned beans tend to have a softer texture than dry beans, so if you prefer your beans to be firm, consider using cooked dry beans or canned kidney beans since they retain their structure more than other varieties. For smooth and creamy chili, I recommend canned pinto or black beans.

What’s the best bean to meat ratio?

Ultimately, the best bean-to-meat ratio for chili is a matter of personal preference- feel free to experiment and find what you like. I use one 14-ounce can of beans for every pound of meat or vegetables.

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Maya Stevens

Friday 26th of May 2023

Thanks for this great overview. I'll try to diversify my chili now.