Our favorite Chili Toppings to Try

Chili is a spicy stew that consists of meat, tomatoes, chili peppers, and kidney beans, although the latter tends to be optional. It is a hearty, healthy meal that is packed full of good nutrients. 

After spending time preparing and cooking a delicious chili, you may be wondering what toppings you can add to complement the different flavors.

bowl of chili with cheese

Of course, toppings aren’t a necessity as the dish can be delicious when eaten alone, but there are many mouth-watering options available from tomato salsa to tortilla chips and cocoa powder. 

Below, we have listed over 20 different toppings that you can choose from. Whether you are looking for something to balance out the spiciness of the chili and make it creamier or intensify the heat of the seasonings, you are bound to find something that caters to your preferences. 

Grated Cheese

Bowl of chili mac with cheddar cheese

Cheese is a delicious addition to a chili dish. It is not only going to enhance the taste of the chili by making it tangier, but it is also going to make the texture creamier.

Cheddar tends to be the most popular choice but if preferred you can use Monterey, parmesan, or pepper jack cheese. Essentially, it will depend on whether you enjoy a mild, medium, or strong-tasting cheese. 

Sour Cream

chili with sour cream on top

The cool and tangy flavor of sour cream is going to help reduce the spiciness whilst also making the texture of the chili a little creamier.

You won’t need to use a lot, in fact, you will likely find that one tablespoon is more than enough. As sour cream is acidic it is going to perk up the flavors of the other ingredients that you have used. 

The sour cream can either be added during the cooking process or you can wait until the end to add it. 

Tortilla Chips

Chili con carne with tortilla chips

Tortilla chips are another favorite in Mexican cuisine and they compliment the taste of chili particularly well. You can either serve a bowl of them alongside your chili and dip them in or you can crumble them on top of your chili and mix them in. 


Topping your chili with corn is a common practice in the Southwest, particularly if you’re trying to make a tasty Santa Fe Chili.

Corn is a very versatile addition, though, and it can be added to any chili that you might find excessively salty. The sweet flavor and creaminess of corn can bring a perfect balance to any bowl of chili that’s a little bit on the salty side while also giving it a bit of crunch.

Grilled corn is an easy, delicious topping for chili. Simply place your cobs on the grill and then slice the kernels off right into the chili when they’re done for a nice flame-grilled flavor to boot.

Tomato Salsa 

Salsa is a sauce that is used to flavor many Mexican dishes. It has a sweet and savory taste with a hint of zestiness which will contrast well against the flavors of the chili. Whilst salsa can be bought ready-made from the grocery store, it’s also super easy to make at home.

Typically, the ingredients used to make a salsa are tomatoes, onions, chilis, lime juice, and cilantro. It can then be seasoned as desired. 

If you prefer chunky salsa you can chop up your ingredients, mix them in a bowl and then serve it, but if you prefer smooth salsa, you can blend the ingredients in a food processor. 

Chopped Onions

Onions are one of the most essential ingredients you can add to just about any dish, and chili is no exception. Depending on how you like your chili, onions can add a whole new level of flavor and texture.

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You can use several different types of onions to top your chili for different results. Red onions are perfect for a bit of a crunch with a sharp spice to offset the earthy tones of a milder chili.

If you’ve got a fiery bowl of chili on your hands, then yellow or sweet onion is an ideal topping to counterbalance the spice of the cayenne pepper and the jalapeno.


chili with jalapenos

Jalapenos are a great choice for those who would like to increase the heat of their chili. They taste very similar to serrano peppers except they aren’t as hot. As such, they will add a subtle kick to the dish.

There are a few different varieties of jalapeno peppers, each of which differs in terms of intensity. As such, you should choose the type that is going to add a kick to the dish without being too hot.

If you are making chili for other people who dislike jalapenos, you could always serve them separately rather than on top. 



Guacamole is another delicious chili topping. The core ingredient in guacamole is avocado which has a unique mild and nutty flavor that goes well with many Mexican dishes.

A great thing about guacamole is that it is healthy. It is high in fiber and avocados also contain a lot of vitamins and minerals. 

You can easily make guacamole from home in as little as 10 minutes. Simply prepare and mash the avocado and add some other ingredients like onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Then flavor and season using lime juice and a touch of salt and pepper. 

Black Olives

Some olives can taste quite bitter if they are not ripe, however, black olives tend to be mild but salty. They are added to a few different dishes as they brighten the flavor and contrast well against the creaminess of the chili. 

Crumbled Cornbread

Cornbread is a classic pairing for a chili dish. This is a bread topping that is made using cornmeal and it can either be sweet or plain.

Usually, it is served as a side accompaniment to chili but if you fancy trying something a little different, you can break some up and sprinkle it on top of the dish. 

It is fairly easy to make and only takes around 25 minutes to bake in the oven. You could even add some grated cheddar on top if you would like. 

Mexican Chorizo

Another great-tasting meat option is Mexican chorizo. The flavor can differ depending on the region that it comes from but generally it tends to be quite spicy.

The taste of the beef and chorizo go together very well, but the chorizo is going to add additional flavor and smokiness. 

It isn’t challenging to cook and can be rustled up within a short period of time. To complete the dish you can add a sprinkling of cheese on top. 

Chipotle Or Dried Peppers

If you enjoy feasting on foods with a spicy kick, why not add some more peppers to your chili?

There are a few different types of pepper that you can use. Chipotle peppers have a distinct hot smokey but sweet taste, whilst dried ancho peppers vary in spiciness. Pasilla peppers taste very similar to dried ancho peppers except they are quite smokey with a sharp heat. 

Choose peppers that are going to add some heat to your dish without overwhelming your taste buds. 

A Wedge Of Lime

Depending on how it has been seasoned, chili can be a spicy dish. For those who aren’t a lover of spicy foods, adding some lime juice is going to balance out the intensity of the flavors. 

Lime contains a lot of citric acids which are known to complement the taste and texture of a variety of dishes very well. 

Creamy Greek Yogurt

Yogurt is another topping that is perfect for those who do not enjoy foods that are spicy or have a kick. As a creamy dairy product, greek yogurt will tone down the heat of the spicy ingredients making them less overpowering. 

Greek yogurt is healthier to many other dairy products like sour cream and is a great source of calcium and protein. 

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Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is typically associated with Asian cuisine but it goes well with a range of other dishes. It has a sweet and salty taste that is going to compliment the flavors of the ingredients. 

You do not need to add lots to your chili and will likely find that a couple of tablespoons is sufficient. Although the taste of soy sauce enhances the flavors of meats, it also tastes great when added to a meat-free chili.

Ripe Mangos

Mangos can be added to your chili to give it more of a tropical twist. In Asian Cuisine, fruits are often used to enhance the flavor. Ripe mangos have a sweet taste that contrasts well with the richness and saltiness of the chili. 

Adding chunks of mango to your chili is going to make the dish more bright and appealing. 

Bacon Pieces

If you’re a meat-lover I’m sure that you will agree that you can never have too many meats in a dish. Why not add some chunks of crispy, smoked bacon to your chili to create a great tasting dish.

Not only can you enjoy the texture of different meats but you can also appreciate the combination of different flavors. 

Roasted Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash has a sweet but nutty taste that is very similar to that of sweet potatoes. The sweetness balances out the spiciness of the chili and the soft texture of the butternut squash means that it will melt in your mouth. 

It is not overly difficult to cook. Begin by slicing the butternut squash into cubes before coating it in oil and putting it in the oven to cook for approximately 20 minutes until it is golden brown.

Once it is done, you can then remove it from the oven and add it to the top of your chili. 

Spices and Herbs

Why not enhance the flavor of your chili by combining the perfect blend of spices and herbs. From cumin to cilantro to oregano and cayenne, there are lots to choose from and you can experiment with different ones to create your own, unique blend that caters to your taste.

Remember that some herbs and spices are stronger than others, so it is best to add them in moderation rather than adding lots at once. 


Beer is key to a good chili. Instead of making it boozy, the maltiness is going to add flavor and improve the texture.

Moreover, it is also going to increase the boldness of the other ingredients. Beer differs from many other ingredients in the sense that it adds quite a unique but appealing taste. It has apple notes which contrast well with the earthiness of the beans and the spices. 

Beer from most brands will work well. When you are in the process of cooking, simply pour in some beer and then mix it with the other ingredients. 


Just like beer, whiskey pairs very well with chili. It is going to add depth and a unique smokey flavor to the dish. Not only does whiskey work well in chili but it is often used in stews and to make barbecue sauces. 

How you add the whiskey is going to be a matter of preference. You can either pour it straight in from the bottle and then mix it with the other ingredients or you can set it aside and wait for it to reduce.

Doing this will enhance the richness of the flavor so that it is more noticeable when added to the chili. 


Another liquid ingredient that you can add to your chili is cola. You may be surprised to learn that cola is used in many recipes.

The acidness of cola is going to encourage the meat to cook whilst the sugar content compliments the flavor of the spices that you use to season the chili. 

You don’t need to add a lot of cola to the pan as a little goes a long way. A single can is going to be sufficient. Pour it into the pan as your other ingredients are cooking and mix. 

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Dried Cranberries

Dried cranberries have a natural tart taste with a hint of sweetness. They can also be a little sour. Usually, they are added to curries but then work just as well as a chili topping.

As chili is typically a spicy dish, the dried cranberries will make the flavors more balanced whilst also adding some richness to the chili. 

The texture of the dried cranberries will contrast with the ingredients that you use to make your chili as they are rather chewy. 

Coconut Milk

Although the initial taste of coconut milk is quite mild and creamy, it has rich undertones which will add depth to the chili.

Just like regular milk, coconut milk has a smooth and creamy consistency that will help to thicken the stew. Not only is coconut milk super tasty but it is also packed with nutrients. 

Sweet Honey

Honey is often added to a range of sweet and savory recipes because it adds a subtly rich flavor and it’s also a natural substitute for sugar. It tastes great when combined with the other ingredients and can also be mixed with cocoa powder if desired. 

There are thought to be several health benefits associated with the consumption of chili, these include improved heart health and wound healing. 


Croutons are used to garnish and season an array of dishes. They are small rebaked chunks of bread that are usually flavored with butter or oil and seasoned with some herbs.

Although they are often associated with French cuisine, they can be used to top many other dishes, including chili. 

You can either purchase croutons from the supermarket or have a go at making your own. Should you go for the latter option, you will be pleased to know that they are super easy to make.

Take a few slices of stale bread and start cutting it into cubes. Then use some olive oil and butter to coat it before seasoning and popping it into the oven. Many seasonings go well with chili, these include paprika and cumin

Hot Sauce

Why not spice up your bowl of chili by adding some hot sauce. There are a few different types to choose from and some are spicier than others.

Tapatio combined with butter creates a tasty buffalo sauce, but you can also use Tabasco or sriracha. The latter is going to go particularly well with chili as it will add a tangy but sweet taste and although it is hot, it isn’t going to be too overpowering. 

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar can be used to balance out the flavors of the chili.

Whilst it may not seem like the most likely combination, just like many of the other ingredients that we have listed, the acidness of the vinegar is going to neutralize the different spices without making it taste bland.

You don’t need to add lots of vinegar, in fact, you will likely find that one tablespoon is sufficient. 

Maple Syrup

As we mentioned previously in our list, honey goes well with chili but if you are not stocked up on it, you will be pleased to know that you can use maple syrup instead.

Real maple syrup has a sweet flavor with hints of vanilla and caramel. These flavors may not sound like a good choice for chili, but they actually equalize the spiciness of the chili.

If you do not want to use maple syrup alone, you can mix it with some sour cream to balance out the flavor. 

Cocoa Powder

Now, this may sound like a peculiar topping but adding cocoa powder to any sort of spicy dish is going to add depth and richness. You will need to add enough cocoa powder to improve the taste of the chili, but not too much to overpower it. 

Ideally, you should opt for unsweetened cocoa powder and add 1 or 2 tablespoons. Alternatively, dark cocoa powder works just as well. 

Coffee – Espresso 

Similar to cocoa powder, adding coffee to your chili may not seem like the most obvious option but it works well in intensifying the overall taste of the dish. Espresso, in particular, is going to add a noticeable twang to the chili and earthy richness without being too intense. 

Simply add a few tablespoons of espresso beans to enhance the aromas of your chili. If desired, you may add the cocoa powder and coffee beans together. Doing so will create a mouth-wateringly delicious dish. 

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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