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Dad’s Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili

Dad’s award winning secret ingredient chili is a hearty chili full of big flavors and a couple unexpected secret ingredients. This one pot chili takes only 15 minutes of active prep time before simmering away on the stove top to create a satisfying bowl of coziness.

Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili served in white bowls, topped with cheddar cheese, and sliced corn bread in the background

My dad was onto something with his award winning secret ingredient chili. When he made this chili when I was a kid, I could never get enough.

Now that I make it for my kids, they can’t get enough. It’s like no other chili recipe you’ve ever tried before thanks to not one but two secret ingredients.

Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili served in white bowls, topped with cheddar cheese, and sliced corn bread in the background

First up on the secret ingredient list: chocolate. That’s right, Chocolate.

You’d never expect it even though chocolate and heat go pretty well together in things like Mexican hot chocolate.

This chili is not nearly that chocolatey.

In fact, without me telling you, you’d never even know that there was chocolate in this recipe.

It blends it to the background and gives the chili an earthiness that makes it feel so hearty.

Now it’s not a lot of chocolate. Just an ounce of semisweet chocolate.

I do recommend you use semisweet chocolate instead of dark chocolate because that sweetness helps balance out the next secret ingredient.

Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili served in white bowls, topped with cheddar cheese, and sliced corn bread in the background

Secret ingredient number two? Coffee grounds.

Yes, not brewed coffee but actual coffee grounds.

Stay with me here. I

know it sounds a little shocking or scary. But trust me. It’s delicious.

The coffee grounds really add richness and depth of flavor.

I promise you if you add the half tablespoon of sugar your chili will not be bitter or coffee-flavored at all. But don’t skip that sugar.

Without it, you could have a bit of a bitter aftertaste cut through the chili. 

Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili served in white bowls, topped with cheddar cheese, and sliced corn bread in the background

If you trust me, and follow this recipe, the secret ingredients just work so well with all the other usual chili suspects.

Aside from coffee and chocolate, we’ve got ground beef, diced tomatoes, two kinds of beans, chili seasonings, onion, garlic powder, and a can of lager.

Some chili recipes just call for any old kind of beer, but I prefer the clean, crisp taste of a lager in this chili.

It balances out the mild heat from the spices and the richness from the chocolate and coffee.

And this chili is a milder chili, since I use Bush’s mild chili starter.

However, if you want to add some heat you could certainly add some jalapeno in or go with the Magic Medium chili starter. But the end result may be too spicy for some tastes then.

Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili served in white bowls, topped with cheddar cheese, and sliced corn bread in the background

Making the chili is fairly easy. The active prep time is only 15 minutes and during that prep you are just browning the beef. 

Once the beef is cooked and drained, just add the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Then the chili just does it’s thing on the stove and you just need to stir occasionally.

Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili served in white bowls, topped with cheddar cheese, and sliced corn bread in the background

Just trust me, my Dad knew what he was doing when he made this big pot of award winning secret ingredient chili. You’ll know it too as soon as you smell it cooking.

I know the ingredient combination is surprising but it all works to make the most delicious bowl of chili you have ever tasted.

Other Chili Ideas You’ll Want To Try:


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Dad's Award Winning Secret Ingredient Chili

A hearty beef & bean chili, Dad's award winning recipe is always a winner wherever it's served thanks to two simple 'secret' ingredients.
4.19 from 199 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer, Chili, Dinner, Soup
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories: 436kcal


  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 15.5 oz can dark red kidney beans
  • 1 can MILD Bush's chili starter
  • 1 tsp dried chopped onion
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 pkg chili seasoning mix
  • 1 oz semi sweet chocolate
  • 1 tbsp coffee grounds
  • 1/2-1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 12 oz can (or bottle) larger style beer
  • 1 can sweet corn kernels, drained


  • In a large pot, brown the ground beef, stirring to break it up as it cooks. When cooked through, strain the ground beef to drain excess grease, and return the meat to the pot.
  • Add all of the remaining ingredients to the pot, stirring to evenly combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat until the chili's simmering.
  • Cook the chili, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours. Add water or beef broth, if necessary if the chili is too thick for your liking. Ladle the chili into bowls, and serve topped with your favorite toppings.


Don't skip the sugar, even if tempted. It keeps the chili from taking on a bitter taste from the coffee. 


Calories: 436kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 90mg | Sodium: 403mg | Potassium: 678mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 252IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 58mg | Iron: 5mg
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4.19 from 199 votes (193 ratings without comment)

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  1. I had to come see what the secret ingredient was and I have to tell you that the coffee grounds surprised me. I am definitely curious to try this now!

    1. 4 stars
      Good Chili, yes. Award winning, not for me. The coffee grounds are too over powering even after the sugar. Lacks seasoning, and zest. Its good though for throwing items into a pot. Thanks

    1. Yep, just let it cook low and slow. I would still cook the ground beef first and strain the grease before adding everything to the crock.

  2. Hello can you tell me about the onion? Is it supposed to be fresh chopped or dried? You mention both. Also no tomato sauce? Interested in trying this. Thank you

    1. I see the confusion. As noted in the recipe card, I used dried onion in this chili. However, you can use freshly diced onion as long as you saute it with the beef so it gets nice & tender. And I’ve never made a chili that involves tomato sauce- that’s new to me. The tomatoes and the other ingredients combine & break down when cooked low & slow to create their own rich flavorful broth, no extra ingredients necessary! Hope you enjoy it as much as we do 🙂

    1. Your father was a wise man. I’ve been using chocolate and coffee in my chili for 20+ years.

      As you mention, the key is to not use too much of either. Just enough to bring out the savory notes without disclosing the actual ingredients. Like French cooking. Too much chocolate and you’ve got mole. Too much coffee and you’ve gotten mocha.

      My hint, add the chocolate, coffee and sugar during the 3 hour simmer so you have more control. Taste test often….and get a second opinion during the cook time.

      FWIW, my Chile Rojo is always the best dish at our Mexican themed gatherings.

      Oh yeah, a dash of cinnamon and a smaller dash of clove. Enjoy!

  3. I cannot find the chili starter. I see the spot for it on the shelf, but everyone is out. Is there something I can substitute for this?

    1. You can sub chili seasoned beans, and you may need to adjust the other seasonings to taste. Chili is pretty adaptable!

    1. We find it in the little seasoning packet section, usually somewhere around the spice and gravy aisle. If you can’t find it, you can find a recipe online for whipping up a homemade version.

  4. This is the first time i made Chilly, and something tasted like i missed something, like salt? Idk😭😭 Need your help asap!!!

  5. 5 stars
    Love it!! Thank you for sharing so others can enjoy.I bet your father was a wonderful cook and his legacy lives on in this chili. It has been my experience that recipes with unusual ingredients are usually the best. For example, the most delicious fudge I have ever tasted is made with velveeta cheese. This will be my go to chili recipe from now on.

    1. Have you actually made the recipe? If not, why the two stars? No, I meant actual ground coffee- but if instant is what you have on hand it will also work.

  6. 5 stars
    this is the only chili I make my husband and son love it I do add a little extra chili peppers they like it hot and I make my own chili seasoning thanks for this recipe

  7. 5 stars
    5 stars!! I modified it just a bit to include bacon to prep the pot, some leftover chicken we had for extra meatiness, and a couple of layers of tony’s. The BEST chili ever! Will be making this again! Thank you for sharing!