We take chili very seriously here at MyRecipes. In fact, our deliciously simple Easy Chili is one of our most popular recipes of all time.
Good homemade chili is not only relatively hands-off, it has a certain special and comforting quality about it that is almost impossible to describe—so why would anyone ever bother with the canned stuff?
This is what we were thinking as we steeled ourselves to tackle the taste test that nobody was looking forward to. We purchased, prepared (a.k.a. heated on the stove), and ate every canned chili we could find in three common grocery stores—Publix, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods—because we’re dedicated, damn it.
Related: We Tried 10 Canned Tomato Soups and This Was the Best
One quick note before we move ahead: There are a lot of chili varieties on shelves. If we had tried every single can of turkey, vegetarian, beanless, hot, and mild chili… well, I'm not sure that any tasting panel could stomach that in a single session. In order to provide a fair comparative analysis, we took a no-frills approach to this endeavor: We only tried classic, beef chili with beans.
As expected, most of the options were not great. None were absolutely terrible, and any would be perfectly fine on a hot dog.
But we’re not here to talk about the many, many cans of mediocre store-bought chili. No, we’re here because one brand surpassed our wildest expectations of what a canned chili could or should be: Trader Joe’s Beef Chili With Beans.
One of our testers perfectly summed up our thoughts in one simple sentence: “This is how chili is supposed to taste.”
The $1.99 canned chili is hearty and chunky, but still soup-like enough to give us a perfect-for-fall feeling. The canned concoction actually feels like a bowl of stew, rather than a weird tomato-meat condiment. The flavorful spices are wonderfully traditional—we detected chili powder and cumin—and not overbearing. Jalapeño is listed among the ingredients, but none of us found it to be unpleasantly spicy.
The Trader Joe's chili offers an ample amount of beans (red and kidney), which is more than we can say for some of the other contenders.
But let’s not forget: canned chili is always going to be canned chili. The sodium content is nothing to sneeze at and, no, it’s just not as good as countless homemade recipes that you can easily throw together in a slow cooker.
In a pinch, though, we think TJ’s chili would make a perfectly adequate cool weather dinner.
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