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What can I put in chili besides beans?

Chili is a thick, hearty stew that is a staple in many households. While beans are a traditional ingredient, there are many reasons you may want to leave them out. Maybe you want to reduce carbs, don’t like the texture, or are cooking for someone with an allergy. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make delicious bean-free chili.

Why leave out the beans?

Here are some of the most common reasons for making beanless chili:

  • You or someone you are cooking for has a bean allergy or intolerance. Beans contain proteins that some people have difficulty digesting.
  • You are on a low-carb or Paleo diet. Beans are relatively high in carbohydrates. Skipping them reduces the carb content.
  • You want a smoother textured chili. Whole beans add fiber and protein but can make the texture chunky.
  • You want to highlight other flavors. Beans have a distinct flavor that can overpower spices and seasonings.

The best bean substitutes for chili

Here are some of the most commonly used replacements to add hearty texture and flavor instead of beans:


Adding extra ground meat like beef, turkey, bison, or pork is an easy substitution. Lean ground beef is the most traditional option. Go for 85% lean or higher to limit the fat content. Other ground meats work as well. For example, ground turkey or bison have a milder taste. Adding a variety, like half beef and half turkey or pork, gives a more complex flavor.


Chopped mushrooms provide meaty texture and umami flavor. Cremini, white button, and portobello mushrooms are all good choices. You can pulse them in a food processor for a ground meat-like consistency. Or dice them into small pieces. Cook the mushrooms until softened before adding them to the chili. Make sure to sauté them first to remove excess moisture.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes perfectly mimic the soft, substantial texture of beans. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1⁄2 inch cubes. Parboil for 5-7 minutes until almost tender when pierced with a fork. Add them to the chili during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. This prevents them from getting overcooked and mushy.

Butternut squash

Like sweet potatoes, cubed butternut squash adds fiber, texture, and natural sweetness. Peel, seed, and cut into 1⁄2 inch cubes. Roast at 400°F for about 20 minutes until fork tender. Then add to the chili to finish cooking. Butternut squash has a brighter orange color than sweet potatoes if you want a more vibrant looking chili.


Russet or red potatoes hold their shape well when simmered in chili. Cut potatoes into 1⁄2 inch cubes. Parboil for 5 minutes, then drain and add to the chili. Cook for 20-30 minutes until fully tender. The starch from the potatoes will help thicken the chili as well.


Cooked lentils make an excellent replacement for beans in vegetarian chilis. Brown, green, or red lentils all work. Cook them separately until just tender before adding to the chili. Make sure to add lentils earlier in the cooking process, about 30 minutes before serving, so they have time to absorb flavors.


Canned chickpeas can stand in for other beans. They have a distinctive flavor on their own. So use them in moderation mixed with other substitutes. Drain and rinse canned chickpeas. Stir them into the chili during the last 15-20 minutes to warm through and absorb the seasonings.


For a vegan option, use cubed extra firm tofu. Drain and press the tofu first to remove excess moisture. Then pan-fry until lightly browned. Add the fried tofu cubes to the chili and cook for 10 minutes to soak up the flavors. Firm tofu provides a nice hearty chew similar to beans.

Textured vegetable protein

Textured vegetable protein (TVP) is made from soy flour and can be used to mimic ground beef. Rehydrate TVP with vegetable broth, then add it to the chili like you would ground meat. TVP granules soak up the chili flavors and provide filling protein and fiber. Use TVP along with mushrooms and sweet potatoes for a meatless version.


Seitan is another vegetarian meat substitute that works well in chili. Made from wheat gluten, it has a chewy texture similar to meat. Chop seitan into bite-sized pieces. Sauté it before adding it to the chili to brown it slightly. Add some extra seasoning like paprika and garlic powder to give the seitan more flavor.


Adding extra bell peppers bulks up a meatless chili. Go for a mix of red, yellow, and orange peppers. You can also use roasted peppers from a jar. Chop the peppers into 1⁄2 inch pieces before adding them. Cook the peppers for 5 minutes to soften them slightly before mixing into the chili.


Cubed, cooked eggplant is another good way to mimic the texture of beans. Peel and chop eggplant into 1⁄2 inch cubes. Roast at 400°F for 15 minutes until softened. For a meaty texture, pulse cubes of raw eggplant in the food processor. Cook the eggplant until very soft before adding it to chili during the last 15 minutes.


For a bit of sweetness, stir in some corn. Use fresh or frozen corn kernels, or drained canned or roasted corn. Add during the last 10 minutes so the corn doesn’t get overcooked. Just take care not to add too much corn, or it will make the chili taste too sweet instead of savory.


Chopped zucchini or yellow squash add moisture and texture to chili. You can pan-fry the squash first to remove excess moisture. Or just stir raw chopped squash into the chili during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking until just tender.

Tips for making beanless chili

When making chili without beans, keep these tips in mind:

  • Use plenty of chili powder, cumin, garlic, and other spices to add lots of flavor since you are missing the beans.
  • Increase the veggies like onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc. Veggies add fiber and nutrients.
  • Cook any denser vegetables like sweet potatoes first before adding to chili so they have time to soften.
  • Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, or tomato puree to make up for the thickening power of beans.
  • Use broth or water to thin out the chili if needed. The starch from potatoes or sweet potatoes will also thicken it as it simmers.
  • Make it extra chunky by leaving vegetables in larger pieces. Beans fill space in chili, so you want plenty of texture without them.
  • Sear and brown meat first for greater depth of flavor.
  • Add chili toppings like avocado, cilantro, green onion, and lime juice to brighten up the flavor.

Full recipe for beanless beef and butternut squash chili

This flavorful recipe uses ground beef, butternut squash, and complementing vegetables for a hearty bean-free chili. Lean beef provides protein while winter squash gives natural sweetness.


  • 2 pounds ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 cups butternut squash cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  1. In large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, cook ground beef until browned and crumbly, about 10 minutes. Drain and discard excess fat.
  2. Return beef to pot. Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, carrots, celery and jalapeno. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened.
  3. Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano and cayenne. Cook 2 minutes.
  4. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, butternut squash, broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until squash is very tender.
  6. Adjust seasoning to taste. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

Nutrition per serving:

Calories: 278

Fat: 8g

Carbohydrates: 16g

Protein: 29g

Other flavor ideas for beanless chili

Change up the flavors of chili by using different add-ins:

  • Chicken chili verde: Use shredded chicken along with green salsa and cubes of fresh tomatillos.
  • Turkey mushroom: Substitute ground turkey and add chopped mushrooms and thyme.
  • Venison and sweet potato: Use ground venison and sweet potato cubes.
  • Bison and pumpkin: Make it with ground bison and pumpkin puree.
  • Pork and lentil: Use ground pork and add cooked green lentils.
  • Vegetarian: Try with brown lentils, mushrooms, peppers, sweet potatoes and squash.
  • Spicy: Turn up the heat with extra chili powders, cayenne and chopped chipotles.
  • Smoky: Add smoked paprika, ground chipotle or cumin for a smoky taste.
  • Cincinnati-style: Stir in chocolate or cocoa powder for a touch of sweetness.

Frequently asked questions

What can I use instead of tomatoes in chili?

Good tomato substitutes include red bell peppers, pumpkin or butternut squash, beets, or carrot purees. You can also use vegetable or chicken broth for more liquid.

Is it okay to freeze leftover chili?

Yes, chili freezes very well for up to 3-4 months. Let it cool completely before transferring to airtight freezer containers. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Can I make chili without chili powder?

You can make chili without traditional chili powder by using a mix of other spices like cumin, garlic powder, smoked paprika, oregano, cayenne, and red pepper flakes. The combination of spices gives a similar chili flavor.

What spices go well in chili?

Good spices and seasonings to use in chili include cumin, garlic, onion powder, oregano, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and cocoa powder for rich flavor.

How can I thicken chili without beans?

Ways to thicken beanless chili include reducing the liquid by simmering uncovered, adding tomato paste or puree, using starchy vegetables like potatoes, mashing some of the veggies, making a roux with oil and flour, or mixing in a little masa harina.


You can still enjoy delicious hearty chili without the beans. Lean ground meat, mushrooms, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and lentils all make excellent bean substitutes. With flavorful spices and plenty of veggies, beanless chili can be just as satisfying. Adjust the add-ins and seasonings to make your favorite meat or vegetarian version. With the endless possibilities, there is no need to miss out on chili just because you want to skip the beans.