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Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili

The best bowl of spicy turkey chili is easy to make at home! Includes tips for making it milder, freezing, and topping ideas. Perfect comfort food that’s healthier than traditional recipes.

Overhead view of bowls of Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili with toppings and cornbread alongside.

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I didn’t always enjoy spicy food. It’s something that I got into gradually after moving to New York back in 2004.

Since then, I’ve played around with amping up the heat level of some of my favorite childhood recipes. This recipe is one of the best examples of those efforts – a healthier spin on a classic chili recipe with tons of flavor.

This hearty chili recipe is one of my family’s favorite comfort food meals. It’s a great way to warm up on a cold winter night. You can have a lot of fun with the toppings when you serve it up, too.

And if you aren’t a fan of spicy food, no need to fear – this spicy turkey chili recipe is super simple to make with or without a kick. Read on for my tips!

This recipe is one that I’ve been making for many years now, based on the (not at all spicy) chili that my mom used to make when I was a kid. She used a really solid chili recipe from Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cookbook that was made with ground beef.

Over the years I’ve changed things up a bit, swapping out the beef for turkey adding some more interesting spices to add complexity to the flavor of the chili.

What kind of meat should I use for this chili recipe?

While the original version of this recipe called for ground beef, I almost always make it with ground turkey these days. I’ve also had great success using half ground turkey and half ground chicken.

When using ground poultry, I recommend using the regular variety, not the ground breast meat, which I find to be a bit too lean.

This recipe definitely works well with ground beef, and I think it would be tasty with bison or pork as well. Using turkey or chicken will keep it lighter, but by all means, use what you have! Just be sure to drain off any excess fat after you brown your meat before adding the rest of the ingredients to simmer away.

One tool that I recently started using for breaking up ground meat is this hamburger meat chopper. My husband got it for me as a Christmas gift after watching one of the contestants on the Great British Baking Show use it to break up ground meat and I have to say WOW. I couldn’t believe how easy it makes breaking up ground meat and getting it to a consistent texture while browning. It’s a total game changer!

On a similar note, I found one of the best ways to drain out the fat while cooking ground meat is to use a baster. I started using this dripless baster years ago after I accidentally melted the tip of an all-plastic one.

The silicone tip helps this one withstand hotter temperatures, even when I’m cooking with cast iron. And the dripless design is SO much better than other basters I’ve used. I definitely recommend this one!

Close up of a spoonful of Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili being lifted from a bowl.

What type of beans to use for turkey chili

I tend to use 3 different types of beans to make this a “3 bean” chili. We’re using canned beans here and unlike many other recipes, we aren’t draining the liquid or rinsing them off.

For this reason, I like to steer clear of any beans that are already “seasoned” with other flavors. My store has “chili beans” that are already seasoned with spices. We’ll be adding plenty of spices later on, so regular canned beans are perfect.

I’ve used low sodium beans and it’s worked out fine as well – you can always add a little more salt at the end if it needs some.

My go-to bean combo is 1 can each of red beans, kidney beans, and chili beans. I’ve also had luck with black beans, pinto beans, and white beans. I wouldn’t use something like a lima bean or chickpea here, because the texture is really different from a lot of the other beans.

You can also use 3 cans of the same type of bean or use what’s in your pantry. I haven’t tried this particular recipe with dried beans, so I can’t speak to how that would work since soaked beans don’t have the same type of liquid as canned beans.

Plus, canned beans help this meal come together much more quickly than if we were using dried.

Can turkey chili be made in the slow cooker?

Yes! This chili recipe is definitely doable in a slow cooker. You need to sauté the onion and brown your meat first though, so you’ll either need to use a slow cooker that has that function or brown it in a skillet before transferring it to the slow cooker and adding the remaining ingredients.

I haven’t made this in the Instant Pot yet – I think that my 6-quart may be too small but it would likely work well in an 8-quart Instant Pot. If I was trying it in my current one, I’d probably cut the recipe in half to make sure it wasn’t too full.

How to make a mild turkey chili

If you don’t like things too spicy – no need to worry! All you need to do to make this chili recipe milder is omit the chipotle chili powder and cayenne. You could also add a little of those spices if you want just a little more kick than it has without.

I often make this chili and after adding the beans and other spices, stir it all together and take half of the chili and put it into another pot. I’ll then add half the amount of chipotle chili powder and cayenne to one of the pots so I have both spicy and mild chili made without much fuss.

This is especially good when I’m cooking for my kiddo, dad, or mother-in-law, who don’t enjoy spicy food as much as my husband and I do. Whichever way you serve it up, it will be a wonderfully flavorful bowl with or without the heat.

Just be warned that the heat level of this recipe as written will definitely clear out your sinuses. Whew!

Overhead view of bowls of Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili with toppings and cornbread alongside.

Toppings for turkey chili

This chili has gone had several incarnations over the years, but lately, I am all.about.the.toppings. Feel free to keep it as simple or as complex as you like. Here are some of my favorite toppings (and yes, I like piling them ALL into my bowl of chili!):

  • Shredded cheese (cheddar or a Mexican blend are both great choices)
  • Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • Diced avocado
  • Minced red onion or shallots
  • Fresh cilantro

The yogurt or sour cream is great for taming the heat if you’ve gone the spicy route here.

What to serve with turkey chili

My favorite sidekick to turkey chili is cornbread. I like serving it with these Sweet Corn Muffins and also Golden Cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet.

Most recently, I came up with a smoky, cheesy variation of cornbread that I need to bake up again soon and post here. Trust me, it goes SO well with the chili!

Dunking the cornbread into the chili is one of my favorite parts. My dad likes to crumble the cornbread into his bowl and mixes it all together with lots of shredded cheddar. I approve!

A nice crusty bread is also good for dunking. Dinner rolls would work too. You don’t need to serve anything alongside, but it really does lend itself well to all things dunkable.

Hand dipping a wedge of cornbread into a bowl of Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili

Freezing turkey chili

A lot of people want to know if chili freezes well and the answer is YES!

To freeze, make sure you start with room temperature (or even refrigerated) chili. I like to ladle it into a freezable storage container. These are my current favorite food storage containers. I tend to leave a little room at the top for the liquid to expand once it freezes.

If you’re using a bag for your chili, you may want to prop it up until it’s frozen before laying it totally flat to avoid any spills. I love using Stasher Bags for storing things like this, and you can reheat it right in the bag!

When freezing, I like to portion out 2 or 4 servings per container. It makes thawing and reheating for meals much easier.

You can then pop the frozen container into the fridge the night before you want to enjoy it again, or use thawing feature on your microwave. You can also reheat it on the stovetop or even pop it out of the container and into an Instant Pot to reheat fairly quickly.

Phew! That was a lot of information, but I really wanted to be sure to cover all of the bases with this post revamp. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below!

3/4 view of a bowl of Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili with toppings and cornbread alongside

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Recipe for Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili

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Overhead view of bowls of Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili with toppings and cornbread alongside.

Spicy Turkey Three-Bean Chili

  • Author: Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen - Ashley Covelli (adapted from Betty Crocker)
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 8-10 Servings 1x
  • Category: Soups & Stews
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

Description

The best bowl of spicy turkey chili is easy to make at home! Includes tips for making it milder, freezing, and topping ideas. Perfect comfort food!


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 pounds ground beef or turkey
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 3 cans red/kidney/chili beans, undrained
  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder

Suggested Toppings (optional, but encouraged!):

  • Shredded cheese (cheddar or a Mexican blend are both great choices)
  • Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • Diced avocado
  • Minced red onion or shallots
  • Fresh cilantro

Instructions

  1. Melt butter in a large stock pot over moderate heat. Add onion and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add meat and brown, breaking it up as it cooks.

     

  2. Drain any excess fat from the pan. Add ketchup, water, celery, brown sugar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, salt, vinegar, and dried mustard. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

     

  3. Add beans, tomato juice and remaining spices (chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, cinnamon, and cocoa powder) and heat through. (See notes for milder heat level variations)

     

  4. Garnish with any (or all!) of the suggested toppings and enjoy.

Notes

If you don’t like things too spicy – no need to worry! All you need to do to keep this more mild is omit the chipotle chili powder and cayenne. You could also add a little of those spices if you want just a little more kick than it has without.

I often make this chili and after adding the beans and other spices, stir it all together and take half of the chili and put it into another pot. I’ll then add half the amount of chipotle chili powder and cayenne to one of the pots so I have both spicy and mild chili made without much fuss.

Serve with cornbread, crusty bread, or dinner rolls for dunking.

Keywords: chili, spicy, turkey

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