An easy skillet chili recipe topped with a quick jalapeño cheddar cornbread crust baked right on top! It’s warm and hearty and comes together in one pan. No one’s going to be mad that there are fewer dishes to clean!
Sweet Skillet Chili!
Chili demands to be made in the skillet topped with an addicting slightly sweet and spicy jalapeño cornbread crust. You’ll want to keep eating more with each bite because that cornbread has a hint of sweetness that balances out the heat from the chili. Not only is it hearty, but it’s also quick to pull together. Best of all, you don’t need to make individual corn muffins. Dollop and spread the cornbread batter right on top of your chili and pop this bad boy in the oven until it’s golden brown and bubbly.
Then it’s as simple as topping your bowl of chili with all your favorites, chopped scallions, a dollop of sour cream, or fresh cilantro. My personal preference at the moment? Just a big dollop of guacamole! Don’t knock it till you try it; it has that same creaminess of sour cream only much much better.
I don’t think I’ll ever serve my skillet chili without guacamole again.
This recipe came about when one of my closest friends introduced me to something called spoonbread . Have you heard of it? I certainly hadn’t. It’s the most fantastic cornbread pudding ever. Especially if you spice it up with peppers and cheese, oh yeah. She swapped out the traditionally used corn kernels and used green beans instead, and wow! It was magic. So it got me thinking, why not make skillet chili and top it with that same sort of cornbread mixture? I held to my taste buds when I swapped the corn for jalapeño peppers and cheddar cheese. And I’ve also been told that it’s very similar to a tamale pie! Whatever you decide to call it — it’s delicious!
I’ve made tons of homemade chili, there’s the instant pot  kind, the Texas-style chili , butternut squash chili , pumpkin chili , but this one is still one of my all-time faves. It’s one that I keep coming back to time and time again. And that may have to do with the fact that it’s a complete meal coming out of one skillet.
What do you need to make skillet chili?
- ground beef: I like to keep things lean with anything that about 90-95% ground beef. If you use something like hamburger meat (80-85%) you’ll want to drain the excess grease once you’ve browned the beef before carrying on.
- onions: helps flavor the chili
- peppers: for this recipe I use both bell pepper and jalapeños with the ribs and seeds removed. If you’re worried about the spice, feel free to swap the jalapeños for green bell pepper or a mild hatch chili pepper or something similar!
- garlic: how could I not?
- seasonings: We’re using ground cumin, chili powder, paprika, and chipotle chili powder to help season our chili
- brown sugar: helps add a bit of sweetness to the chili and balances out the umami from Worcestershire and the salt
- Worcestershire sauce: Adds a nice bit of depth to the chili and gives it umami flavor.
- Tomatoes: we’re using a can of fire roasted and a can of tomato sauce
I don’t like ground beef, can I use something else?
Sure, you can replace the ground beef with ground turkey or chicken, both would work equally well here. I do suggest using ground chicken thighs though, and the chicken breast may not hold up to well to the longer cooking time!
Do the jalapenos make this spicy?
They do, but it’s nothing that we can’t handle. However, if you usually prefer milder flavor or don’t care for spice, I suggest swapping out the two jalapeños in the chili for ½ a green bell pepper. That will help curb that spice a bit. If you’re still worried, use mild chili powder, and swap that chipotle chili powder for more paprika!
What if I’m vegetarian?
Did you notice there aren’t any beans in this skillet chili? That’s because this is an all-meat chili! But don’t worry, if you’re vegetarian or prefer beans in your chili the way I usually do, I’ve got an option for you.
This recipe as written calls for 1 pound of meat, but after the first couple of times, I felt like I wanted to try and see if I could make my skillet chili with a can of beans. And so I swapped ¼ pound of the meat with one can of black beans and voila! It worked like a charm! So now, I usually make this with ¾ pounds of meat and one can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained. You can still make this with 1 pound of beef, or replace all the meat with 3 cans of black beans, it’s entirely up to you!
What do I need to make the cornbread crust for skillet chili?
- boxed cornbread mix: Take shortcuts where you can!
- an egg: room temperature if and when possible
- sour cream: use room temperature sour cream so that it stirs and combines quickly.
- chopped jalapeños: again, you can swap the chopped jalapenos for a few tablespoons of drained can of diced hatch chili peppers if you’re worried about the spice here.
- garlic powder: garlic powder goes to well with the melted butter chedd and jalapeños!
- Cheddar cheese: you can use Mexican cheddar, sharp cheddar, white cheddar, mild cheddar – and pretty much any other kind of cheese that melts well here!
- melted butter: to bring flavor and moisten the cornbread
- milk or water: I prefer to use milk but water would also work here.
Can I use a homemade cornbread mix?
Maybe! My most educated guess is that it should work. However, every homemade mix is different. You may need to play around with the liquid a bit depending on the ratio of flour and cornmeal in your homemade cornbread mix. The cornbread batter should look the way it does when you make muffins, so if it’s way too thick, you may need a little more liquid to thin it out. For best results, I suggest using a store-bought mix; it always works like a charm!
Can you make skillet chili in advance?
YAS! Chili is just one of those special meals that taste better as it sits! So feel free to make this up to two days in advance. You could make the chili filling on the weekend and serve this on Monday or Tuesday night. All you need to do is let the chili come to room temperature, combine everything for the cornbread crust and then pop it in the oven to bake.
Can you freeze leftover chili?
We’ve never had any leftover to test, but I think it should hold up fine in the freezer for a couple of months. You’ll want to defrost it in the refrigerator overnight and then pop it back into a casserole dish and heat it through in a 300ºF oven for roughly 20-40 minutes depending on how much you have leftover.
You guys, Anees raved about this. He loved how hearty and filling this skillet chili was. And unlike most of my food whims, he wholeheartedly agreed that skillet chili should always be served with guacamole But for the purists, a little sour cream does wonders too.
It’s serious guy food, so I’m pretty sure you’ll get a similar reaction if yours is a meat lover too! And I’ve got something for you. It’s easy to put together and pleases mostly everyone.
DONE and DONE.
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 lb. lean ground beef (or chicken or turkey)*
- ½ large onion, chopped
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 2 jalapeños, deseeded and diced (see notes)
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons EACH: ground cumin AND chili powder (or more to taste!)
- 1 teaspoon EACH: smoked paprika AND chipotle or ancho chili powder (or more to taste!)
- 1 tablespoon EACH: brown sugar AND Worcestershire sauce
- 1 (15-ounce) can EACH: fire roasted diced tomatoes AND tomato sauce
- 1 (8.5-ounce) box cornbread mix
- 1 egg
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 cup cheddar shredded cheese
- 1 jalapeno, deseeded and diced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- 3 tablespoons water or milk
- BROWN: Heat the oil in a large oven-safe skillet, such as a cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and crumble as needed, allow to cook for 5-7 minutes or until the beef browns. Drain any excess grease, leaving just a tablespoon in the pan. Add the onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños and continue to sauté for 5-6 minutes or until the veggies cook down a bit.
- SKILLET CHILI: Add the garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt, and all the remaining ingredients for the chili, stir to combine. Let it come to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and allow it to cook for 20-25 minutes. If the chili starts drying out too much, add a few tablespoons of water and allow it to continue simmering. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375ºF. While the chili is simmering, prepare the cornbread mix.
- CORNBREAD: Combine all the ingredients for the cornbread in a large bowl. When the chili is done simmering, remove from heat. Drop the mixture in dollops and then spread over the chili. You want it to be evenly distributed across the whole skillet.
- BAKE: Place the skillet on a large baking sheet so if the juices overflow they don't ruin the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
- If you would like to use beans in your chili recipe, reduce the ground beef to ¾ pound and use 1 (15-ounce) can of beans that are drained and rinsed. I highly suggest using black beans!
- Replace the jalepeños in the skillet chili with green bell peppers (about ½ a pepper in the chili) to make this milder!
- To make this even quicker on a weeknight. Prepare the chili mixture over the weekend and refrigerate until ready to use (chili mixture can be made up to two days in advance).