There are a lot of chili recipes out there: bean-free Texas Red, chili made with elk or venison, white chicken chili, brisket and butternut squash chili, spaghetti-topped Cincinnati chili, and chilis made with secret ingredients like chocolate, coffee, or beer. But when it comes to staple chili recipes with ground beef and beans, it's hard to beat Wendy's chili. According to Spoon University, the chili was one of the original items on the menu when Dave Thomas opened the chain back in 1969. It's rich, hearty, and surprisingly lean (more on that in a moment).
If you're craving the flavor of Wendy's chili, but you don't want to wait in the drive through lane, the recipe is shockingly simple. Our copycat Wendy's chili recipe is mostly made with pantry staples, so you can whip up a batch on a whim. Keep in mind that the recipe makes about 3 quarts of chili, though, so you'll want to plan on eating a lot of leftovers (or pop it in a freezer-safe container, where it will last up to six months).
What is Wendy's Chili Made Of?
After heading to the Wendy's drive through to order a bowl of their famous chili, I turned to Wendy's website to take a peek at the ingredients. In creating this recipe, I skipped any preservative ingredients (like xanthan gum and disodium inosinate), focusing primarily on the ingredients found in home pantries.
The ingredients list didn't have any big surprises. The bulk of the chili is made up of ground beef, pinto beans, red kidney beans, tomatoes (in the form of diced tomatoes, tomato juice, and tomato paste), onions, celery, green peppers, chili peppers, and spices. Green peppers might seem like an odd choice, but they add a pleasant grassy flavor to the chili and help it stand out as unique.
For the spices, the ingredients list specifies that both garlic powder and onion powder are used. The rest of the ingredients are guesswork, but I tasted chili powder and cumin. Wendy's chili is not very spicy, but feel free to add some cayenne pepper to the mix if you want to amp up the heat in your homemade version. There's also salt, black pepper, and sugar in the recipe, which helps balance out the acidity of the tomatoes and rounds out the flavor.
Finally, the ingredients list includes cornstarch. Cornstarch absorbs water to thicken gravies, soups, and stews. If you're adverse to cornstarch, feel free to use a cornstarch substitute or reduce the water by one cup and skip the thickening agent.
Does Wendy's Chili Contain Dairy?
At the end of the ingredients list, there's a label that reads "CONTAINS: MILK AND SOY." We saw soy lecithin on the list, but we couldn't identify any dairy ingredients. As it turns out, the recipe itself is actually dairy free. Go Dairy Free reached out to a Wendy's representative, who confirmed there is no milk in the ingredients list. It's labeled as containing milk because of potential cross-contamination: Wendy's chili is made with chopped burger patties, and cheese is also used on the grill. They go on to say that, while it's not corporate practice, some locations have been reported as putting unused cheeseburgers in the chili.
When you make this Wendy's chili copycat recipe at home, you'll be 100% certain there is no dairy in the chili. Unless you want to top it with cheddar cheese, of course!
Is Wendy's Chili Healthy?
Wendy's chili is surprisingly healthy. Their nutrition calculator lists a small chili (approximately 8 ounces) as having 240 calories, 11 grams fat, 16 grams protein, and 6 grams fiber. It's hearty and filling, and you can round it out as a healthy meal by adding a small salad. Of course, it also has almost 1,000 milligrams of sodium, so it's not that healthy. Luckily, our homemade version has a fraction of the sodium. When we popped our recipe into a nutrition calculator, it estimated 375 milligrams of sodium per serving.
How to Serve Wendy's Chili
When asked if we want cheddar and onions on our chili, the answer is always yes! The sharp cheddar and pungent onions add the perfect contrast to this already perfect chili. You'll get minced yellow onions from the drive through, although we prefer using green onions for a color contrast.
Chili is fantastic eaten straight out of the bowl, but you can also use the leftovers for any number of fun dishes. Try making loaded baked potatoes, Frito pie, Ree Drummond's chili pie burritos, or smothering nachos or hot dogs. The sky's the limit, so have some fun with it!
Wendy's Chili Substitutions
We make our Wendy's chili in the Instant Pot because it reduces the cooking time for chili. If you don't have an electric pressure cooker, you can make this recipe on the stovetop in a Dutch oven. You'll want to simmer it for two to three hours to get the same depth of flavor, and it's important to stir every 30 minutes to keep the chili from burning to the bottom of the pan. A slow cooker would work here, too. Try browning the beef in a skillet, combining the ingredients in the slow cooker, and cooking it on low for five to six hours.
Keep in mind that a pressure cooker doesn't allow liquid to evaporate, so you'll want to adjust the liquid level accordingly if you use another cooking method.
Copycat Wendy's Chili Recipe
- 1 pound ground beef (85/15 or 80/20)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 1 stalk celery diced
- 1 medium green bell pepper seeded and diced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups tomato juice
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 14.5-ounce can kidney beans drained and rinsed
- 1 14.5-ounce can pinto beans drained and rinsed
- 1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- grated cheddar cheese as a garnish (optional)
- chopped green or minced yellow onions as a garnish (optional)
- Select the Saute function on your electric pressure cooker. Add the ground beef, salt, and black pepper to the pot. Let the beef cook for 5 to 6 minutes without stirring. Stir and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the beef is browned. Use a spoon or potato masher to break up the beef into small, bite-sized pieces. Drain any excess grease.
- Add the tomato paste to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it turns deep red and begins to release its oils.
- Add the diced onion, celery, green bell pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and onion powder to the beef mixture. Stir well and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Turn off the pressure cooker and add the water, tomato juice, canned tomatoes and their juices, drained kidney and pinto beans, green chilies, and sugar. Stir to combine.
- Set the lid according to the manufacturer's directions. Cook on high pressure for 8 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally (this should take about 45 minutes).
- With the lid off, select the Saute function. Make a cornstarch slurry by mixing the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. Add the slurry to the pot and stir until well combined. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the chili is thickened.
- Serve the chili with chopped green or minced yellow onions and grated cheddar cheese, if desired.
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