Tips for Grilled and Smoked Chili

February 15, 2023
Tips for Grilled and Smoked Chili

Chili is meant to be made outdoors!

Story Highlights

Though typically not associated with "outdoor foods" (like hamburgers, hot dogs, barbeque, and brisket), chili originated in the 1800's being made outdoors over open fires. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that chili tastes far better when prepared on the open flames of a grill or smoker. Chili is meant to be made outdoors!

Whether it's for a game day party, a chili cook off, or just a run of the mill Tuesday, we recommend kicking your chili up a notch by making it outdoors. In this article we provide all of the tips you need to prepare chili on your grill or smoker.

Getting Started

Choosing the right pot

To cook chili on the grill, you need a heavy-duty pot that can withstand the high heat of the grill/smoker. Kitchen pots often have plastic parts (usually on the handles) that can be damaged in the heat. Cast iron is always a great option for your outdoor cooker and a cast iron dutch oven will work perfectly for your grilled/smoked chili.

Next steps

Choosing the right ingredients

Though your grill and smoker can add a delicious layer of flavor, your chili's success really begins and ends with your ingredient quality and selection.

Skip the canned goods and start with all fresh ingredients!

Start with Fresh Ingredients

When making chili on a stovetop, most people go directly to canned tomatoes, chilis, and peppers. For your grilled or smoked chili, try to avoid canned items as much as possible. As with many things that are cooked on the grill, the fresher the ingredients the better results you are going to get.

You can't put "a little char" on canned tomatoes, chilis, or peppers

Then add a Little Char

Starting with fresh ingredients allows you to add an extra layer of flavor to your chili. Before building your chili, put a little char on all of your fresh ingredients. Whether it's your meats, vegetables, or even your lime garnish and side tortillas, be sure to give these ingredients a few minutes on the grill. The extra layer of flavor you'll create is well worth the time.

Don't be afraid

Experiment with your ingredients!

Chili is the type of dish that you can throw in "everything but the kitchen sink." The possibilities are truly endless. You can make great chili your entire life and never make it the same way twice.

If you're not already experimenting with your chili, it's time to start! Consider a blend of these traditional and outside-the-box ingredients

Meats: Ground Beef, Shredded or Diced Steak, Shredded or Diced Pork, Bison, Venison, Ground Turkey, and Bacon

Vegetables: Tomatoes, Garlic, Onions, Green Chilis, Jalapenos, Bell Peppers, Celery, and Corn

Beans: Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Pinto Beans, Chickpeas, and Lentils (if you're going vegetarian)

Spices: Chili Powder, Oregano, Cumin, Cocoa Powder, Sugar (white or brown), Cayenne Pepper, Garlic Power, Onion Powder, Coffee or Espresso Powder, Cinnamon, Paprika, Coriander, and Bay Leaves.

Liquids: Beef Broth, Chicken Broth, Beer (be careful with bitter IPAs), and Red Wine

Additional Items: BBQ Sauce, Apple or Pumpkin Butter, Tomato Paste, Masa Harina, Corn Meal, and Worchester Sauce

it's time to get cooking

Choosing your cook method

When elevating your chili using outdoor cooking methods, there are a couple of directions you can take. With a grill, you're able to add the quintessential sear and char flavors that are associated with outdoor cooking. Using a smoker, your chili will have a deeper infusion of smokiness typically found in barbeque and briskets. Whether using a grill or smoker (or a combination of both), you are guaranteed to have an elevated chili experience.


Preheat your grill to medium-high heat (400 to 450 degrees F).

Before chopping vegetables or breaking down any ground meats, we recommend giving everything a little char directly on the grill's grates. This simple step will add a lot of great flavor to your chili. If using a ground meat, form a large patty or loaf for this initial step.

From here, place your cast iron skillet or dutch oven directly on your grates and begin building your chili as normal or as your recipe instructs. Once liquids have been added and your chili comes to a boil, bring the grill's heat down to 250 degrees, cover the chili, and simmer for 60-90 minutes.

(More on simmering below)


Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees.

Traditional Method

On the stovetop or grill, build your chili as normal or as outlined in your selected recipe. Once it has been brought to a boil, transfer it to your smoker for 1-2 hours.

Over-the-Top Method

This unique method simultaneously smokes the meat and the chili base separately, creating multiple levels of smoke flavor throughout the dish.

On the stovetop or grill, build your chili base without the meat. Put the chili base on the smoker with a wire rack directly on top of your skillet or dutch oven. Place your seasoned meat on the wire rack so that it's drippings will fall into your chili base. If using a ground meat, simply form it into a loaf. Smoke the chili for 1-2 hours or until your meat is done.

For more information, check out this "Over-the-Top" recipe.

Make use of your

Side Burner

Side burners are a great option for building your chili base as well as keeping your chili warm once you pull it off the grill or smoker.

Also, if your grill and smoker are cooking other items (or if you simply want to keep the chili smell out of your house), an outdoor kitchen side burner could certainly be used for making chili. Traditional stove-top cooking methods would apply.

The importance of


Chili is one of those dishes that gets better the longer ingredients are allowed to meld together in the pot. This is even more important when you're infusing flavors from your grill or smoker.

After using high heat to add a little char to your meats and vegetables, establish a temperature of 250 degrees and allow your chili to simmer for an hour or two.

When using a grill, be sure to keep your chili covered, only opening it to stir occasionally. On the smoker, use the lid to help control the amount of smoke flavor you incorporate. To increase the smokiness of your chili, leave your chili uncovered for longer.

Pro Tip

Add Beans at the End

Unless you're from Texas, you probably include beans in your chili. To ensure they don't break down too far during the long simmering process, it's best to add beans at the end. Plan to add your beans about 20-30 minutes before serving.

And finally

Don't forget the toppings!

Chili toppings have come a long way since the days of simply adding a little shredded cheese. Take your chili to the next level with a variety of toppings. Mix and match. Try a bunch of combinations. Find your new favorite(s)!

Consider these options

Green Onions


Corn Chips

Shredded Cheese


Sour Cream

Red or White Onions

Tortilla Chips

Saltine or Oyster Crackers

Hot Sauce

Lime Wedges

Pico de Gallo or Salsa


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