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Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili is my signature chili recipe. Slightly spicy, smoky, and sweet, it’s crock pot and freezer-friendly, too!

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com

Happy second day of fall, y’all! Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Mother Nature hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s no longer summer and will be cranking out mid 70s for the forseeable future according to the weatherman. I’m not complaining but after experiencing the frigid 50s a few weeks ago I’ve made the mental shift and no longer feel right about wearing anything with short sleeves. Thus I have been LI-VING in jeans and this lightweight sweatshirt from Old Navy, which is the most comfortable thing I own AND Ben, who normally has no opinion on women’s casual wear, told me it was “dope” the other day. #winning!

Anyway, my taste buds are also craving a cozy yet casual experience so, despite the summery temps, I broke out my go-to Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili recipe last weekend and gave it an updated twist to share with you in this Way Back Wednesday post!

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com

Growing up I never really liked chili. It was always too…I don’t know, tomato-y? My Dad, the chief chili cooker in my house, always made it with huge hunks of tomato which, gagsville. Totally not knocking my Dad’s cooking, he’s the best hash brown, gumbo, and french toast maker this side of the Mississippi (always wanted to say that,) but he likes chunks and, well, I don’t.

It wasn’t until my early 20s that I fell in love with chili. I was living in the frigid tundra otherwise known as Minneapolis in the wintertime when one of my best girlfriends, who was living right down the street at the time, made a big pot for us to warm up with one dark and freezing night. The chili immediately won me over and I wrote the recipe down as soon as I scraped up the last bits from my bowl.

What was so great about Lindsey’s recipe that could erase 20+ years of chili avoidance? Surprise, surprise, it’s a tad sweet, plus it’s got some heat. Normally I’m not a huge spicy foods-lover, but with the touch of sweet it totally works.

Over the years I’ve fine-tuned her recipe to fit our tastes to a T and it’s become my go-to signature chili. I have the recipe memorized and make it over and over again in the fall and wintertime. It’s awesome for making on a Sunday afternoon then eating for lunch all week long. I never get sick of it!

I actually posted the recipe back in 2011 with cornbread baked on top. I didn’t include measurements for the spices though, and recently added smoked paprika to give the chili an awesome smokiness, so I decided to feature it again with an updated ingredient list.

I also tested my Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili recipe in the crock pot and here are my thoughts: this chili can be ready to eat in less than 45 minutes – we’re talking from raw ingredients to scooped into a bowl and topped with freshly grated cheese – in a soup pot or Dutch Oven on the stove. BUT, if you want to be able to throw a bunch of ingredients in a crock pot and walk away for 4-6 hours then it works perfectly that way too. Either way, you’re going to love it!

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com

This chili recipe is totally budget-friendly and I bet you’ve got nearly all the ingredients for it already in the house. Start by browning 1lb ground beef with 1 large chopped shallot or 1 small onion, 2 cloves garlic, salt, and pepper in a large soup pot or Dutch Oven. If you’re going the crock pot route then brown the beef mixture in a skillet and then add it to a 5-6 quart crock pot.


Next add a 29oz can tomato sauce, 15oz can baked beans, and 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed. For whatever reason I’ve always used Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans in my signature chili, but you can use whatever kind you like best. I just love how the baked beans add a touch of sweetness!


Now add all the spices that turn tomato sauce and beans into Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili. You’ll need 3 Tablespoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon each salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon (or more or less) cayenne pepper.

The smoked paprika gives this chili a totally unique flavor and plays well off the smoky/spicy chili and cayenne powders. Mmm!


Now for the piece de resistance: 1-2 heaping Tablespoons brown sugar. The chili tastes completely different without the brown sugar so if you like a subtle sweetness in your chili then you’ve just got to go for it! Trust me, it will not make your chili taste like candy. It’s all about balance between spicy, smoky, and sweet.


Place a lid on top then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring two or three times. Alternatively, stir everything together in the crock pot then cook on low for 4-6 hours. If you’re around you can give it a stir a few times, but it’ll be ok in there if you can’t stir it. I tried letting the chili slow cook for 8 hours but it reduced down a bit too much and some of the flavors got lost. Stick with 4-6 and you’ll be set.


This chili also freezes GREAT. Simply let it cool completely then scoop into a freezer bag and freeze flat. To reheat, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat on the stove.


When it’s time to eat, scoop the chili into bowls (these little crocks are from Ben’s Chili Bowl in D.C.!) then top with melted cheese, chopped green onions, and tortilla chips for crunch!

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com

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Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili


Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili is my signature chili recipe. Slightly spicy, smoky, and sweet, it’s crock pot and freezer-friendly, too!


serves 6

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1 large shallot or 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 29oz can tomato sauce
  • 15oz can Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1-2 heaping Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less)
  • Toppings: shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, tortilla chips, sour cream


  1. Brown ground beef, shallot or onion, and garlic in a large skillet over medium high heat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the remaining ingredients then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.
  2. Crock Pot Cooking Instructions: Transfer ground beef mixture to a 5 or 6 quart crock pot then add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine (can be done ahead of time. Store in the refrigerator until ready to start cooking.) Place a lid on top then cook on low for 4-6 hours.

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats, http://iowagirleats.com.

did you try this recipe?

I’d love to see it! Follow Iowa Girl Eats on Instagram then snap a photo of the dish and tag it #iowagirleats

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com

I could not love this chili more – well I guess I do with the addition of that smoked paprika! Me + Signature Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili = always and forever.

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com

Oh, don’t forget the cornbread! I made a gluten-free batch then topped it with Cinnamon-Honey Butter. That’s just 1/4 cup softened butter mixed with 2 Tablespoons honey and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Reeeeeediculous!

Signature Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Chili #glutenfree | iowagirleats.com