[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aybe it's that they're only one letter apart, but when the first chill hits the air each fall, the hungry collective unconscious starts daydreaming about chili: chunky earthenware bowls of chili topped with mountains of sour cream and shredded cheese; bean-forward chili that's filling and healthy; five-alarm-fire chili to win the "spiciest" category at the local cook-off. But did you know that canned chili can actually be really good?
When the homemade version just isn't in the cards, canned chili comes waltzing in to save the day. I've ranked my favorite shelf-stable, store-bought renditions below, including both meat-forward and vegetarian versions. All of the canned chilies I picked are intended for a bowl and a spoon: I bypassed what I consider to be "chili sauce"-- canned chili like Hormel Chili with No Beans and Aldi's Brookdale Original Chili No Beans that are better served on nachos, chili dogs, baked potatoes, and in the case of Skyline Original Chili, spaghetti. I also didn't wade into the contentious waters of canned chicken chili. Another time!
Without further ado, from favorite to least, here are the canned chilis that make me break a sweat.
Top Carnivore Canned Chili: Wolf Brand Angus Chili with Beans
For many chili-heads, great chili (canned or not) is synonymous with the Lone Star State, so it's no surprise that Texas-based Wolf Brand Chili--a company that's been cooking up its signature creation since 1895--tops our list with their thick, meat-forward canned version. Clocking in with a whopping 31 grams (!) of protein per serving and made with hearty chunks of top-quality Angus steak, this stick-to-your-ribs chili is a beef-lover's delight, and the kind of filling meal that can make even the most urban chili-lover feel like they're ready to wrestle cattle on the open prairie.
Runner-Up Carnivore Canned Chili: Stagg Silverado Beef Chili with Beans
If you're searching for a chili that has all the taste of homemade without the sweating-over-the-stove-all-day effort, Stagg Silverado Beef Chili with Beans should be your new go-to. Combining a healthy serving of ground beef and two types of beans (kidney beans and pink beans) with jalapeño and bell pepper to round out the perfectly dialed-in chili seasoning, Stagg Silverado stands out from other canned chilies (and even other Stagg brand canned chilies!) thanks to its rich, almost roux-like base and ample chunks of juicy tomatoes.
Trader Joe's 99% Fat-Free Beef Chili with Beans
High-fiber and packing in 18 grams of protein, the Trader Joe's take on classic canned chili is rich and satisfying--particularly for tomato-lovers. Significantly more tomato-forward than most canned chilies, there's a welcomed brightness in TJ's spin that's often lacking in its shelf-stable brethren. The spice level is mellow-to-middling, and while heat-seekers might scoff, the jalapeño bite is amplified just enough by the juicy meat and sweetness of the tomatoes to be perfectly tastebud-singeing.
Chilli Man with Beans and Lean Beef
Chilli Man canned chili has something of a cult following, particularly around its birthplace in the Midwest, and for good reason. Based on a recipe that won the infamous Terlingua International Chili Championship in 1973, there's something that feels refreshingly rustic about Chilli Man's signature canned chili. Well-balanced, but complex, the spices send you digging in for one bite after another, and there's no shortage of beef and whole, plump beans with each spoonful. This is a chili that feels like a well-rounded meal--particularly if you mop up the bowl with a hunk of cornbread.
Kettle and Fire Chili with Beans and Grass Fed Beef and Bone Broth
Kettle and Fire is best known as a bone broth company, but they've recently branched out into the mass-market chili game using (what else?) their organic bone broth base as a calling card. Made with pieces of 100% grass-fed beef, boxed up in eco-friendly packaging, and sold at a higher price point than many of its canned competitors, this collagen-rich chili has a watery consistency and tongue-coating, pepper-heavy aftertaste that leaves something to be desired. If you're willing to doctor up your soup with a pantry's worth of extras to give the chili some much-needed body, it's a fine buy, but for the money, there are better options that require less after-the-fact creativity.
Campbell's Chunky Chili, Hot & Spicy Beef & Bean Firehouse
If you're in the mood for a chili with smoky, chipotle-style heat, Campbell's Chunky Hot & Spicy Beef & Bean Firehouse Chili (whew, that's a mouthful!) should be the can you snag off the shelf. Widely available and affordable, with plentiful ground beef and kidney beans, this is without a doubt the best canned chili that Campbell's produces, but the spices become one-note after a few bites, leaving you craving just a little more intricacy beyond the paprika overtones.
Top Vegetarian Canned Chili: Amy's Organic Medium Chili with Vegetables
Loading up a canned chili with a garden's worth of organic bell peppers, potatoes, carrots, and corn is a controversial chili move, no doubt, but Amy's makes the case for taking this traditionally bean-forward dish to the next level with a rainbow of flavorful vegetables as supporting cast members. The medium spice level adds just enough back-of-the-throat heat while avoiding any risk of the chili being mop-your-brow hot, so it's appropriate to serve to bigger kids and teens who don't mind a little fire. It's also a safe choice for pretty much any group dinner thanks to its inclusive status as vegan, kosher-friendly, gluten free, dairy free, lactose free, and free from tree nuts.
Runner-Up Vegetarian Canned Chili: Whole Foods Organic Three Bean Chili
Full disclosure: I'm a serious bean freak, so a canned chili that blends together a thoughtful mix of organic, fiber-packed legumes will always get a leg up in my book. You don't have to have a pantry-packed devotion to Rancho Gordos to fall in love with the Whole Foods Three Bean Chili, which marries navy beans, red kidney beans, and black beans in a cayenne-and-cumin spiced broth that has plenty of tongue-tingling personality.