I try to resist, but whenever I find myself at Wendy’s, I just have to order the chili. I have read articles about “Fast foods you should never eat,” and reports that leftover beef is used . . . but honestly, I don’t care. If it were my kitchen, I would use up the leftover beef in chili, too, rather than throw it out. And anyway . . . their chili is awesome, and I just can’t stay away from it. It’s got a nice, hearty tomato base that is full of flavor without being overly spicy, allowing the individual to add spice to his or her taste. When it’s decked out with onions, cheese, and sour cream . . . oh my goodness. It’s fantastic. The problem is, it’s almost $3 per cup, and I feel guilty paying that price for a teensy little bit of food that I could make, myself, at home, for much cheaper. So I set out to make a similar chili substitute to feed my Wendy’s chili addiction. I compared multiple supposed “secret” recipes online, but none of them seemed exactly right, although they were quite tasty. So, in the end, I ignored those recipes and just started throwing things into a soup pot, writing down what I put in, as I went, and this chili is the result. I think it tastes very similar to Wendy’s chili– full and hearty, and full of flavor without being too spicy. I have changed the beans up to meet my own favorite tastes, and you definitely can, too. Feel free to dress it up with more spice or turkey instead of beef, if you like. Make it for your next cold-weather get together, and set up a chili bar with lots of different toppings for guests to dress their bowls. I bet everyone will love it. And bonus? It’s deliciously and naturally gluten free, so everyone can enjoy!
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Copycat Wendy’s Chili Recipe
(made by me through a lot of trial and error– feel free to change it up to your own tastes, but please link back here so no one steals my work 🙂
3 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion (or 2 smaller onions), chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp. cooking sherry
4 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can Great Northern Beans, undrained
1 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, undrained
1 15 oz. can black beans, undrained
1 15 oz. can seasoned diced tomatoes (I use basil and garlic seasoned)
1 15 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes (If you can’t find these, 2 cans of the seasoned tomatoes will work fine)
1 4.5 oz. can chopped green chilies
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce
3 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. sugar
10-20 dashes of Frank’s hot sauce, if desired
Brown hamburger, onion, celery, green pepper, salt, and pepper together, in a large Dutch Oven, scraping off browned meat as it cooks and stirring throughout vegetables to ensure even browning. When meat is completely cooked, drain the mixture and catch the grease in a bowl for disposal (don’t drain grease down your sink or it may clog). Return meat and vegetables to pan and add in sun-dried tomatoes and minced garlic. Stir and allow to sauté for several minutes, until garlic is fragrant. Add in cooking sherry and cook for several minutes, scraping browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add in undrained beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, sugar, and hot sauce, if desired. Stir well, cover pan, and reduce heat to low. Simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours, or until chili flavors have mingled and the raw tomato “acid taste” is gone.
Now, in pictures! 🙂
Chili is a great recipe to get ready, the night before, and simmer on low in the crock pot while you’re at work. Most of the work that goes into making it taste great is done through slow cooking, so if you knock out the prep, you will have an amazing, hearty meal whenever you’re ready. I love meals like that. To begin, let’s brown our ground beef. Basically, get yourself a nice big Dutch Oven, put in your hamburger, salt, pepper, onions, celery, and green pepper, and cook on medium low heat. As the beef browns, scrape off the cooked part and flip the meat over, until the entire batch is cooked. When the meat is all brown, with no pink left, drain the oil out of the pan and discard it. I usually save just a teeny bit of the juice/oil from the meat to give the chili some flavor and keep the other ingredients from sticking here, in a second. Don’t flush oil down your sink, because it might clog it. Eeew. I generally pour used grease into old spaghetti jars and dispose of it.
Now, let’s talk tomatoes. Sun-dried tomatoes are generally found in the condiments/vinegar/olives type section of the store. They are in jars of olive oil and seasonings. They look disgusting– slimy and almost “tongue-like,” but WOW do they pack a wallop of flavor. Get 4 of them out of the oil and dice them up really finely. Throw the tomatoes and garlic in with your drained meat and vegetables. Stir the mixture and let it cook for a few minutes until you smell the garlic scent wafting through the air. Mmmmm. But what if I don’t HAVE sundried tomatoes! My entire life is a lie!!! That’s OK . . . they really do add a nice flavor, but if you don’t have them, leave ’em out. Cooking is about experimentation, and your chili will still taste great 🙂
After your garlic and tomatoes have cooked for about 5 minutes, add your cooking sherry. Use the steam from the sherry to scrape the browned bits up from the bottom of the pan– this is called deglazing the pan. YUM. It’s starting to smell amazing in here! Sherry really adds a taste I can’t even describe to stews and soups– almost a deep, smoky richness. All the alcohol burns off, so you don’t have to worry about getting a buzz eating your chili 😉 However, if you prefer not to use alcohol or don’t have any, beef broth with make a fine substitute.
Now go ahead and add all the other ingredients– your canned beans, canned tomatoes, green chilies, seasonings, and sugar. I like just a little zest to my chili, so I add about 10 dashes of hot sauce– it will dilute significantly in the chili, so don’t be afraid to put a little bit in there. Also, the heat from the spice will mellow, a bit, as the chili simmers. But, as always, season to your own taste.
At this point, if you want, refrigerate the chili and wait until tomorrow, when you can throw it in the crock pot to simmer on low while you’re at work. Or, if you want to make it now, cover your Dutch oven and simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours until the flavors have combined into one glorious, shining pot of goodness.
You can freeze leftovers in individual portions for quick lunches, or in bigger freezer bags for a quick supper on a busy night. Make a big pot of this chili the next time you have a get-together, along with bowls of shredded cheese, sour cream, green onions, tortilla chips, or whatever toppings you like best. You can also keep a crock pot of this going on low for your next Superbowl party or big family dinner. Somehow, when families get together and warm, delicious food is involved, the very best memories are made.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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