We all love mayo, mustard, and salsa, but I humbly submit to you that one of the best and most underutilized condiments out there is some good, saucy ground beef chili. There aren’t many more exciting sights for me than opening up a menu or stepping up to a burger stand and seeing a little marker that says “chili +2” next to what I’m about to order. It’s spicy, smoky, meaty, and more complex than your average upgrade, all of which are words I always want in the description of what I’m eating. It’s also filling enough to turn a simple base into a full meal all by itself. So consider this list your call to action. Whether the chili is canned, homemade, or at a restaurant, start adding it to more of your meals.
Burgers and Hot Dogs
Hot dogs may be an obvious, and great, choice for a chili topping, but I actually think burgers get an even bigger boost from chili. It may seem like a hat on a hat, but considering that the flavors of chili were literally made to be mixed with beef, it makes perfect sense. It also doesn’t hurt that chili goes great with a few slices of melty cheddar. Out here in Los Angeles, Original Tommy’s chili burgers have spawned a ton of local imitators, but it’s not a common option nationally. If you see a chili burger in the wild, order it. Otherwise, take charge by cracking open a can of chili to make one at home.
Covering fries in any toppings can be a mixed bag, since you sacrifice some of that delicious crisp for the sake of more flavor. However, chili works great as a side for dipping, too. As long as it’s made with finer ground beef, not chunks like Texas chili, a couple fries can easily scoop up everything in your bowl, and potato serves as a great, sturdy canvas for the powerful flavors. Take things a step further by making some easy chili cheese dip.
Eggs and Scrambles
Having grown up in a relatively spiceless household, my introduction to huevos rancheros, and the idea of salsa on egg in general, was a real “what have I been missing?” moment. Whether you’re a fan of that dish or typically enjoy a bit of hot sauce on your eggs, there is no denying they benefit from a little acid and a little heat. Chili brings both, along with a meatiness that renders a side of sausage or bacon unnecessary (although not unwelcome). Whether it’s served over some simple scrambled eggs, or a scramble with veggies and hash browns, a cup of chili is always a welcome sight with breakfast.
A longtime Southwestern staple that’s been popping up around the rest of the country more frequently, Frito pie is just chili and cheese dumped over corn chips, and yes, it’s just as delicious as it sounds. You can plus it up with jalapeños or sour cream, but it really doesn’t need anything except those salty, crunchy chips and hot chili. Share it as a snack, or eat it as a cheap and easy dinner. It might be the clearest example of chili’s power to immediately transform any food into a square meal.
Enchiladas and Burritos
Living in New Mexico for a while made me a big fan of smothered burritos, and I always preferred the red chile option to the popular green. Subbing out red chile sauce for chili, another chile-based Southwestern staple, is a natural riff on the dish. Chili adds a uniquely savory dimension that’s just as satisfying as the traditional variety. Simply spread some warm chili over your favorite burrito or enchilada and then revel in the ultimate Southwestern comfort food.
This is a favorite meal of mine, especially when I’ve made some chili with beans at home and have leftovers I want to stretch out across multiple meals. Cornbread is quick to bake, and its mild, lightly sweet flavor is a great foundation for chili. It’s a warming variation on the classic Southern combo of beans and cornbread, offering the same simple, rustic pleasure. If you can’t get enough of this combo, try a one-pan skillet pie or chili-topped spoonbread.
We pile so many ingredients onto nachos, including ground beef and beans, so why not just go all the way and combine the two? Just about everything else we put on nachos, from onions to hot pepper to cheese, is going to go great with chili, and it also brings those smoky flavors that other nacho additions can lack. As with chili fries, you may be wary of sogging up your nachos, but you can always use the chili for scooping, alongside some salsa and guac.
Mac and Cheese
Chili and cheese have a clear affinity for each other, so the cheesiest of cheesy dishes is an ideal candidate for a chili topping. I’m not talking about a full-on chili mac here, but a few scoops of chili mixed in with your mac and cheese is still going to wake it up and turn it into a real flavor party. It brings a lot of sharp, lively notes that most mac and cheese is missing, and makes for a hearty addition to an already soothing meal.