White chicken chili is not only easy to make, it’s delicious and family-friendly too. And you can make it on your stove top, in your slow cooker, or in your instant pot.
Because it’s so popular, and so versatile, there are hundred of recipes out there. To try to make sense of it all, I’ve reviewed twenty recipes for white chicken chili. I’ve figured out what’s popular, and what’s unique, to help you choose an approach or a recipe that suits you the best.
What is White Chicken Chili?
If you haven’t come across it before, it’s still chili, but different. Traditional chili is beef, tomatoes and kidney beans with plenty of spices. White chili is made from chicken, white beans (like cannellini), and a bit less spice but more green chilies. It’s a completely different taste, but it’s delicious! And it can be very quick and easy to make for a midweek meal too.
What’s in a chicken chili?
As always, there was a lot of variation in the recipes I reviewed, but also a number of very consistent ingredients:
- Raw or cooked chicken
- White beans
- Canned green chilies
- Onion and garlic
- Chicken stock
- Corn kernels
And if you want a creamy chili, some type of creamy dairy ingredient.
It wouldn’t be a chicken chili without chicken, so all twenty recipes have some type of chicken included. You have a few options here though.
Raw chicken breast
This is the most popular meat, being used in eleven of the twenty recipes. If you’re not a fan of handling raw chicken don’t worry though. All but one of these recipes has you cook the breasts whole and shred them with forks once it’s cooked.
The other nine recipes use cooked chicken. Some are specific about what to use, and some just list a weight or volume (in cups) of cooked chicken required.
Chili is a great way to use up leftover chicken from another meal. And although only a couple of authors specify a rotisserie chicken, several more mention it because it’s a wonderfully quick and easy approach to a chicken chili.
Of course it doesn’t have to be chicken. A number of authors and some of their readers highly recommend making leftover turkey from your Thanksgiving or Christmas feast into a white bean chili.
Although none of the recipes use ground chicken, several authors suggest it would be a successful substitution if that’s your preference or all you have on hand. A couple suggest ground turkey as well. Depending on the recipe you may just need to cook it separately first to break it up. Browning it up with a good sear will certainly enhance the flavour of your chili too. Thank you Maillard reaction.
All but one of the recipes has beans in it, and almost every one is a white variety. In fact seven of the authors don’t specify what type of bean, just “white beans”. Of the recipes that do get specific, there are four types:
- Seven authors use great northern beans.
- Four prefer cannellini beans.
- One uses navy beans.
- Two use a white bean, but also add some pinto beans to their chili.
The majority of authors recommend canned beans.
A couple of the recipes use dry beans. While these work just as well as canned beans, they need to be fully rehydrated and then cooked, so this needs to be allowed for in the cooking time. A few readers identified this issue when they substituted dried beans for canned, and found that their beans were not fully cooked by the end of the proposed cooking time, even after pre-soaking in a couple of cases.
Every recipe contains one or more vegetables, and they’re almost all aromatics.
Aromatics are ingredients, mainly vegetables, that bring deep flavour and aroma to a dish when heated. The are usually sauteed or sweated at the beginning of the recipe. A number of them appear in these recipes:
- Seventeen of the authors use a classic pairing of onion and garlic as a base for their chili. Most use one or two onions, but garlic varies considerably from as little as two cloves to as much as two tablespoons of crushed garlic. The other three recipes use onion powder, garlic powder, or both.
- Four of the recipes call for one or more bell peppers (capsicum), either green or red.
- One author adds a cup of chopped celery to her chili.
Chilies are also an aromatic ingredient, but because of the important role they play I’ll consider them together with herbs and spices.
Corn kernels are a very common addition, included in twelve of the recipes. Both canned and frozen corn is used, together with a few mentions of fresh corn kernels in the commentaries.
In addition to corn kernels, Emily from Fit Foodie Finds also adds white hominy to her chili. Hominy is dried corn kernels that have been treated with an alkali to soften and chemically alter them. This process makes ground hominy suitable for making dough (masa) for tortillas and other foods.
One recipe, from Lillie at Lillie Eats & Tells, includes a couple of chopped zucchini. A few readers ask about or suggest this addition with the other recipes as well.
Herbs and Spices
As you can imagine, being recipes for chili, there are quite a variety of herbs and in particular spices to be found.
There are quite a number of different types and formats of chili used by the authors to spice up their dish:
- Canned mild green chilies are overwhelmingly the most popular choice, used in seventeen of the recipes.
- Chili powder (a blend of ground chili, cumin, oregano and more) is used in eight of the recipes, although in much smaller quantities than a typical chili con carne.
- Ground cayenne is also used in eight of the recipes. Cayenne is hot, so in most cases it’s only a quarter of a teaspoon.
- Five authors use diced fresh jalapeno chilies, a medium-heat green chili.
- Another three use diced fresh poblano chilies, a milder green chili.
- Two authors spice their chili with salsa verde, a green salsa made from tomatillos and green chilies.
- A few unique chili types appear in one recipe each, including ancho chili powder (dried poblano chilies), red pepper/chili flakes, green enchilada sauce and green Tabasco sauce.
Other herbs and spices
Although there’s not as much variety as their is with chilies, there are still a number of other flavours added to the various recipes:
- Much like a beef chili, cumin is almost unanimously used, appearing in eighteen recipes, and in similar quantities too, ranging from as little as a teaspoon to as much as two tablespoons.
- Eleven of the recipes include some oregano.
- Five authors use some onion powder, and four use some garlic powder.
- Four recipes use fresh cilantro/coriander leaves.
- Three authors include some paprika, although only in small amounts so as not to introduce too much red colour to their white chili.
- While most authors season their chili with salt and pepper to taste, Deb from Just a Pinch uses both white and black pepper in hers.
- A couple of unique herbs appear, with one recipe using some thyme and one using bay leaves.
Other ingredient options
There are a couple of final flavouring and ingredient options worth mentioning:
- If you like a zesty chili, eight of the recipes include some lime juice in the mix.
- Katerina from Diethood adds a cup of beer to her chili.
All twenty recipes use chicken stock to extend their sauce. In fact some use quite a bit, as much as eight cups, to create a more soupy white chili.
Many of the authors recommend low sodium stock, and as always, the higher quality stock you use, the better your finished dish will taste.
Thirteen of the recipes include some form of dairy to create a creamy white chicken chili. I’ve listed the links to these recipes under their own heading at the bottom if you’re after a creamy chili.
Cream cheese is the most popular dairy product to add, included in six of the recipes. This soft, spreadable cheese is made from milk and cream and usually contains 30% or more milk fat.
A few other dairy products appear in a small number of recipes:
- Three recipes use Greek yogurt. Not only will this provide a mild sour flavour, it’s also got less milk fat than cream cheese.
- Two recipes use sour cream, which will also give a sour tang but with much more creaminess than Greek yogurt.
- One recipe each uses almond milk, whole (full cream) milk, cheddar cheese, heavy cream and half-and-half. If you’re not familiar with the last two cream products, I give a brief overview of different types of cream in my glossary.
- Lillie from Lillie Eats & Tells uses a product I hadn’t come across before, Greek yogurt cream cheese.
Dairy-free white chicken chili
If you’d like to enjoy a white chili without dairy, the other seven recipes are all dairy-free. Some still achieve a level of creaminess by blending some of the beans, and some are just a non-creamy style of chicken chili. I’ve listed these recipes separately at the bottom in case you’d like to try one.
How to cook a white chicken chili
There are a number of different approaches to cooking your chili amongst these recipes, but there are three fundamentally different options available, and several of the recipes offer guidance for more than one of these.
Where to cook your white chili
Fourteen of the recipes provide directions to cook your chicken chili on the stove in a Dutch oven or other suitable pot. And for eleven of these, the stove is the author’s chosen way to make it.
Slow cooker/Crock pot
Eight of the recipes offer directions for using your slow cooker to make your white chili, and for five of these it’s the author’s chosen approach.
Pressure cooker/Instant Pot
Four of the recipes provide directions for using your pressure cooker, and one of these can only be done this way.
If you haven’t used one before, pressure cookers seal and generate significant internal steam pressure, which increases the boiling point of water. This means the sauce can get hotter and cook the food, in particular the meat, much faster (up to four times the speed of normal boiling). If you don’t have a pressure cooker there is no way to achieve the same effect other than a few hours of cooking time in a slow cooker or on the stove.
It’s worth noting that while the cooking time is fast, the device takes a bit of time to reach operating pressure, and then fifteen minutes or so to release that pressure at the end, making the process take a little longer than it first seems. That said, you’re still getting the equivalent of several hours of cooking time in less than an hour.
All four of these recipes use raw chicken. The benefits of a pressure cooker are unnecessary if you’re using cooked chicken, which you’re essentially just reheating in your chili.
How to cook your chicken chili
Amongst the recipes there are two main methods for cooking your chili.
Quick & easy approach
The fastest, simplest way to a bowl of white chili is the “dump everything in the pot” approach. And this is the most popular approach amongst these recipes.
Using this method, almost all of the ingredients are added to the cooker or pot at once. It’s then cooked just like that until done, and the final ingredients are added close to the end. If you’re using raw chicken, it is removed and shredded at this stage too, before being added back into the pot.
A pressure cooker or instant pot is the quickest route here, with the most consistent recommendation being twenty minutes at pressure. The stove top is close behind, typically requiring twenty to thirty minutes simmering, and less if you’re using cooked chicken. Realistically though these are both very similar in time because of the pressurisation and depressurisation process with the instant pot. The slow cooker lives up to its name, being the slowest, although many will attest to the superb and even superior results the crock pot delivers.
Late additions to the pot
As mentioned above, a few ingredients don’t go into the pot or pan until close to the end, usually just for ten or fifteen minutes to heat them through. They are:
- Dairy, to prevent it from splitting or curdling during the long cooking time in some recipes and the high heat in others. This is critical to ensuring your chili has a rich and creamy texture.
- Cooked chicken. As mentioned above, you’re only reheating this and intermingling it with the sauce. Too long a cooking time can overcook it.
- Lime juice. Not sure why this is only added at the end – maybe to protect its zestiness. If you know why please drop a comment at the bottom of the page and let me know.
Some authors also add their beans and corn close to the end as well, heating them through rather than cooking them. This will obviously only work with canned beans.
I’ve called this method traditional mainly because it includes a step that is commonly used in many dishes to enhance the flavour.
Before adding everything to the pot, a number of authors sweat (saute in oil over low heat) their aromatics – onion, garlic, fresh chilies and some their bell peppers (capsicum). A few also bloom their spices, a process of heating them in oil until they release their aromas as well. While not necessary, both of these steps will boost the flavour of your white chicken chili.
After these steps, these recipes are very similar to the quick and easy approach. The rest of the ingredients are added, excluding those listed previously (dairy, etc), and the chili is cooked until almost done. Then the chicken is shredded (if raw was used) and it and the rest of the ingredients are added to the cooker or pot for the last ten to fifteen minutes.
If you’re wondering what to top your chili with, there are quite a number of options offered up by the authors and their readers:
- Grated/shredded cheese
- Sliced avocado
- Fresh cilantro/coriander
- Sour cream
- Corn/tortilla chips
- Tortilla strips
- Sliced japalenos
- Diced red onion
- Sliced green onions
- Lime juice
A number of authors also suggest that cornbread is the perfect accompaniment to your white chicken chili.
Thickening your chili
A number of these recipes are quite soupy by design, with a couple of authors actually referring to their dish as a soup in the writeup. If your chili’s a bit too soupy for your tastes, and you’re wondering how you can thicken it, there are several things you can do:
- A number of the recipes have you puree some of your beans and stock together, or use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup/sauce. This will not only help thicken it up, it also adds a texture akin to creaminess. Very helpful if you’re looking for a dairy-free chicken chili.
- Simmer your chili for longer. Just watch that you don’t overcook the chicken, making it tough.
- Make a slurry of some cornstarch/cornflour and water and add to your chili.
- Add some refried beans.
- Add some masa harina (chemically treated cornstarch/cornflour used to make tortillas).
If you do prefer a thicker chili, it’s probably best to start with less stock than the recipe recommends, especially if there’s a lot of it. You can always add more later on, but it’s more challenging to fix once it’s already too soupy for you.
You could also build your chili on a roux, like Tonia’s on The Gunny Sack. The flour will help thicken the sauce.
Making it in advance
For the most part, white chicken chili will freeze well, but there are a couple of things to be aware of:
- The recipes with more dairy in them may not freeze quite as well because the texture of dairy products can change once frozen and thawed. In fact a couple of authors recommend only cooking to the final stage (before dairy ingredients are added) and cooling and freezing it then. When you thaw and reheat it, add the dairy just before serving.
- The beans may break down when thawed, which will not only change the texture, but also thicken your chili. This is easy to fix by adding a little more stock to taste when you reheat it.
The essence of white chicken chili
If you’re looking to make a white bean chili you’ll need the following:
- Raw chicken breasts, or cooked chicken. A rotisserie chicken is great for this.
- Canned white beans, like great northern or cannellini
- Canned green chilies
- Onion and garlic
- Cumin and oregano
- Canned corn kernels
- Chicken stock
And if you like it creamy, some cream cheese is a great addition.
To make your chicken chili, the following approach on your stove top will give you a great result:
- Saute your onion and garlic over low heat.
- Add your spices and cook them briefly until they smell amazing.
- Add the rest of the ingredients, apart from cream cheese if you’re using it, and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about twenty to thirty minutes.
- Once the chicken’s done, remove and shred it, then return it to the pot, together with the cream cheese if you’re using it. If you’re using cooked chicken, now’s the time to add that too.
- Simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes, and serve with your favourite toppings.
So there you have it – the essence of white bean chicken chili. Hopefully this has helped you choose an approach, or a recipe, that suits you the best.
And don’t forget this dish’s older brother, chili con carne, for another great weeknight meal or spicy fix.