I love Wendy’s chili. I grew up eating it with my Dad after school—we’ve probably had hundreds of bowls. Bright and just spicy enough, it’s delicious and comforting. To develop this recipe, I revisited my food memories and a Wendy’s to speak to someone about the chili. It was a powerful trip down memory lane and I loved every moment.
This recipe tastes and looks like how Wendy’s chili should: a three-bean soup meets a hamburger tortilla soup. I sent my dad a photo of the original chili and the copycat side-by-side and asked him to guess which was which—he guessed wrong!
I can’t wait to see him in person so that he can taste my version. I’d serve it to him the way Wendy’s chili should be served: with baked potatoes, sour cream, a dash of Tabasco, and Saltines. And of course, a Diet Coke.
The 3 Keys to the Best Homemade Wendy’s Chili
1. Use the right beans:: Wendy’s chili is unique in that it’s more soup-like than other chili recipes, very bright tasting, and bean-forward. I chatted with a clerk at my local Wendy’s for a while and learned that they get bags of a three-bean chili concentrate, to which they add a lot of water.
For this recipe, the key is to use three types of beans and a lot of liquid too. Most three-bean medleys in stores include black beans and/or green beans, which Wendy’s chili does not have. The best combination is white beans (like Great Northern or cannellini), pintos, and predominantly dark red kidney beans.
2. Use the right cans of tomatoes: Unless you prefer low or no-sodium products for health reasons, Rotel (the MVP of this recipe) and sodium-added tomato sauce and diced tomatoes are the keys to the best homemade Wendy’s chili. One small can of Rotel yields just enough green chili flavor and bright spice. I find that I don’t need to add much salt to the soup.
3. Keep the ground beef in larger chunks: About 1 1/4 pounds of meat strikes the right meat-to-bean ratio. As the meat cooks, try not to break it up into small pieces—leave some in larger chunks. I’m convinced that Wendy’s breaks up old patties to add to their chili.
Comforting Bean Soups
- Ham and Bean Soup
- Feijoada (Brazilian Black Bean Stew)
- Creamy White Bean Soup with Sage Gremolata
- Black Bean Soup
- Easy Tuscan Bean Soup
Brown the ground beef:
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and salt, and cook, undisturbed, until the underside is deeply brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
Use a wooden spoon to break the beef into smaller pieces (no smaller than 1/2-inch crumbles, leaving some larger), and cook, stirring occasionally until evenly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the beef to a colander set over a bowl to drain the fat; return the meat to the fat. Discard the fat.
Stir in the vegetables and beans:
Add the onions, celery, and jalapeño, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the ground cumin and chili powder until darkened and fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the water, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, diced tomatoes with green chilis, and beans, and bring to a boil.
Then, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced and the flavors meld, about 45 minutes.
Add sugar and serve:
Stir in the sugar and remove the pot from the heat. Serve warm with crumbled saltines and a dash of hot sauce.
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