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Chili bars are a great way to feed a crowd of people during the holiday and football season. They are an easy, fun, and affordable option for a party, gathering, or even a weeknight dinner for the family. Everyone will enjoy customizing their own with all the topping options. To get you started we have a list of topping ideas, our favorite topping combinations, and several different chili recipe options.
Setting Up a Chili Bar
These are a few helpful tips when setting up your chili bar:
1. Use disposable bowls and utensils. They will make cleaning up a breeze and are the perfect single-serving size for chili. Make sure your bowls are heavy duty to hold up to the weight of the chili and all the toppings.
2. Have a variety of toppings. What makes a chili bar fun is everyone gets to mix and match all their favorite toppings. You should include a couple of different cheese, chips, and garnishes like chives, onions, and sour cream.
3. Prepare the toppings in advance. A lot of the prep work for a chili bar can be done ahead of time. The chili can be made a day or two in advance and then reheated the day of. Shred cheese and chop veggies in advance and refrigerate them in containers with lids until ready everyone is ready to eat.
4. Assemble the topping bar. Congestion is the enemy of any good potluck or party. Place the chili along with bowls at the start of the serving line followed by the garnishes, utensils, napkins. Make sure that you have forks and/or spoons for all the toppings and garnishes.
5. Keep the chili warm. Keeping chili warm for a chili bar is crucial to ensure that your guests can enjoy it at the right temperature. Slow cookers or crock pots are the easiest way to maintain temperature. You can also keep them warm on the stovetop in a dutch oven or pot over low heat.
6. Place the cold toppings on ice. For food safety, keep your cold toppings like sour cream over ice. Just place the serving bowl(s) inside a larger bowl with ice.
7. Don’t forget the drinks. Plan a separate place for drinks to prevent culinary traffic jams. A cold beer or wine are the perfect drink companions to chili. Don’t forget to include non-alcoholic drinks as well.
Bests Toppings for Chili
There are lots of topping options for chili so consider offering a variety. This will make sure that there is a little something for everyone.
- Cheese and other Dairy: variety of shredded cheeses, queso, green chile queso, crumbled feta, goat cheese, and queso fresco, sour cream or crema
- Fruit and Veggies: diced tomatoes, pico de gallo, guacamole or avocado slices, jalapenos, green onions, pickled red onions, grilled peppers and onions, diced radishes, diced raw onions, roasted corn, black olives, cilantro, salsa, lime wedges, roasted green chiles
- Sauces: salsa, ranch dressing, and hot sauce
- Other Toppings: saltine crackers, cornbread, oyster crackers, corn chips, tortilla chips or strips, bacon crumbles, cornbread croutons
Best Chilis for a Chili Bar
Creating a chili bar is a fun and customizable way to serve chili at gatherings, allowing guests to build their own bowls with a variety of toppings. When selecting chilis for a chili bar, it’s a good idea to offer a range of options to accommodate different preferences. Here are some chili varieties to consider:
- Classic Beef Chili: A hearty beef chili with beans or an authentic Texas Chili is a staple and appeals to a broad audience. It serves as a solid base for the chili bar.
- Vegetarian or Vegan Chili: To cater to vegetarian and vegan guests, offer a meatless chili made with beans, vegetables, and plant-based protein like tofu or tempeh.
- White Chicken Chili: A milder, creamy chili made with chicken and white beans can provide a contrast to the traditional red chili options.
- Turkey Chili: A leaner alternative to beef, turkey chili is flavorful and works well for guests looking for a lighter option.
- Cincinnati Chili: This unique chili is often served over spaghetti and topped with cheese and onions, offering a distinctive twist for your chili bar.
By offering a variety of chili options you’ll ensure that your chili bar is a hit, catering to different tastes and preferences among your guests.
Additional Chili Sides
To take your chili bar to the next level, include additional foods that can be topped with chili and condiments. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Baked Potatoes: Provide baked potatoes or sweet potatoes as a hearty side dish. Guests can load them with chili and various toppings.
- Cornbread: Cornbread is a classic companion to chili. You can serve it as slices, muffins, or even cornbread sticks. It’s great for dipping in chili or enjoying on its own.
- Tortilla Chips: Offer a selection of tortilla chips, both regular and flavored, for guests to scoop up chili or make nachos with toppings.
- Rice: White or brown rice can be a neutral side dish that complements the chili. It’s especially helpful for guests who want to mellow the spiciness of their chili.
- Pasta: Spaghetti can be a unique and delightful side option on a chili bar, particularly if you’re offering Cincinnati-style chili, which is traditionally served over spaghetti.
- Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: Mini grilled cheese sandwiches or grilled cheese dippers can be a fun and nostalgic addition to your chili bar.
- Fritos or Corn Chips: In addition to traditional tortilla chips, consider offering Fritos or corn chips. These have a slightly different texture and can be a unique twist for dipping or adding crunch to chili.
- Macaroni and Cheese: For an indulgent option, serve macaroni and cheese alongside the chili for those who like a combination of flavors.
- French Fries and Tater Tots: Who doesn’t love loaded tots and fries.
- Hot Dogs: Chili and hot dogs are a classic favorite.
Remember to label each side dish, and offer serving utensils and bowls, so guests can customize their chili experience to their liking. With these side dishes, you’ll create a well-rounded chili bar to satisfy everyone’s tastes.
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- no bean chili
- authentic Texas chili
- creamy white chicken chili
- Cincinnati chili
- turkey chili
Cheese and Other Dairy
- shredded cheese
- sour cream or crema
- crumbled feta, goat cheese, or queso fresco
- green and/or red salsa
- ranch dressing
- hot sauce
Fruits and Veggies
- diced tomatoes
- pico de gallo
- avocado or guacamole
- green onions
- pickled red onions
- grilled peppers and onions
- diced radishes
- diced raw onions
- black olives
- lime wedges
- roasted green chiles
- tortilla chips
- corn chips
- saltine crackers
- oyster crackers
- cornbread croutons
- bacon crumbles
- Heat up chili and prep toppings.
- Fill a bowl with chili and top with your favorite toppings.