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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Headshots: Pinch of Yum, Getty, Cookie & Kate, Allrecipes

I Tried 4 Famous Vegetarian Chili Recipes and the Winner Only Takes 30 Minutes!

published Dec 14, 2021
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As far as I’m concerned, as soon as the temperature dips below 60 degrees, it’s time to get a pot of chili going. I love chili for its ease — you can literally add a bunch of ingredients to a Dutch oven and call it a day — and versatility. Even so-so chili can be pretty darn good with enough sour cream, cheddar cheese, and scallions showered on top. 

But I’ve never been one to settle for a just-fine recipe. With an increased interest in plant-based eating (both for me personally and the world at large), I wanted to find the best vegetarian chili — one that delivers a ton of flavor and has the same super-satisfying texture as meaty versions.

Once I started researching the best recipes, I quickly discovered there’s a whole world of veg-friendly chili options out there I never considered. Some recipes use meat substitutes, while others replace the meat with tons of extra veggies or create their own meat-like mixture as the base. Read on to see which vegetarian chili recipe I’ll be making all winter long. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How I Chose the Vegetarian Chili Contenders 

A quick Google search turned up hundreds of well-rated vegetarian chili recipes. It seems every food publication and food blogger has their own version. For this test, I chose highly rated recipes that each had a specific point of view. Here are the contenders.

Allrecipes: I’ve never used vegetarian burger crumbles (and admittedly wasn’t even sure where to find them in the grocery store!), but this recipe swears by them, and with a few thousand 5-star reviews, I had to believe they’re on to something. 

Cookie & Kate: When I think of chili, I think of a pot simmering on the stove all day. Cookie & Kate turns that notion on its head by blending a portion of the chili before adding it back to the pot, which she swears gives it the same flavor but only requires 30 minutes of simmering. 

Rachael Ray: Two ingredients in this recipe stood out to me: beer and vegetarian refried beans. I love both, and was curious if they would be key to the best-ever veggie chili.

Pinch of Yum: This recipe swaps out the traditional ground beef for a DIY meat mixture made up of walnuts, mushrooms, and carrots. I’ve seen similar approaches for vegetarian burgers and Bolognese, and wondered how it would hold up in chili. 

How I Tested the Vegetarian Chilis

Chili is relatively easy to bang out, so making all four recipes in a day was no problem. Many of the recipes had a similar ingredient list, so I made sure to do all the prep for all four recipes at the beginning of the day — like chop all the onions, drain the beans, and open cans of tomatoes. I’m fortunate enough to have four pots large enough for chili and a six-burner stove, which meant I was able to make the chili recipes right after each other. That also meant I could do a taste test while each chili was still hot. Because most chilis get better with time, I also tested each recipe 24 hours later.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

1. The Most Disappointing: Rachael Ray’s Veg-Head Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

This chili recipe calls for beer to deglaze the pan, but there were no brown bits to deglaze. Plus, the beer didn’t end up contributing to the flavor of the chili. It also calls for 1 cup of refried beans, which I’m guessing was to thicken the chili. Even with this addition, the chili was way too liquidy, and I’m guessing that still would have been the case if I used the full can of refried beans. I also found the recipe to be severely lacking in salt.

With that said, I did enjoy the toppings on this chili. Rachael calls for spicy Monterey Jack or smoked cheddar cheese, chopped scallions, diced tomato, and tortilla chips — and I’ll never say no to any of those.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

2. The Most Unconventional: Pinch of Yum’s Vegetarian Chili

Just because this chili came second to last doesn’t mean it’s not great. Pinch of Yum’s recipe was really delicious! She adds a handful of of umami-rich ingredients like tomato paste, mushrooms, and soy sauce, which gives the chili a deep, meaty flavor. Rather than add a meat substitute, the recipe calls for making a mixture with carrots, mushrooms, and walnuts, which added a great, meat-like texture to the chili while still keeping it veg-friendly. Beans are optional in this recipe, but for me it’s not chili without them.

The main reason this chili did not rank higher is because it’s not what I would expect when I make a chili recipe. I loved the flavors and texture, but because it was on the thicker side, it tasted more like a cross between a vegetarian stew and a dip. Speaking of, this would be great on game-day with a huge pile of tortillas chips!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3. The Best Recipe for Spice Lovers: AllRecipes’ The Best Vegetarian Chili in the World

As I was making this recipe, I felt like I had made a mistake in choosing it for the showdown. I knew it had a few thousand positive reviews, but between the the three types of beans, the inclusion of corn, and two full tablespoons of dried oregano, I couldn’t see how it would all come together. But I ended up loving it. The inclusion of garbanzos was fun and tasty, and I was pleasantly surprised by the great meaty texture the vegetarian crumbles added to the chili.

My one warning is that this chili is not for folks who aren’t fans of spice. This recipe brings the heat with two jalapeños, two cans of green chilies, chili powder, and black pepper. I loved the heat, but even with sour cream to mellow it, I could still taste the spice. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

4. The Clear Winner: Cookie & Kate’s Homemade Vegetarian Chili

When I think of chili, I don’t think of an easy weeknight dinner, but somehow this recipe manages to be incredibly fast, super easy, and claim the title of best vegetarian chili ever. That makes it a triple-threat in my book.

I always appreciate a well-written recipe, and Cookie & Kate’s was easily the best of the bunch. She took care to make sure all the proportions, timing, and visual cues lined up, and the payoff is a great chili. This recipe skips meat alternatives and instead leans on beans and vegetables to add bulk. At the end, you blend 1 1/2 cups of the chili it and add it back to the pot. I was skeptical of this step, but it created a great texture, and helped deepen the flavor of the chili. It really tasted as if it had been on the stove for a few hours (rather than 30 minutes). I can’t wait to make this recipe again and again.