Chili bars are the latest meal trend inspiring some truly unique chili toppings to hit recent dinner tables. The trend offers a more simplistic recipe for the chef to prepare while also allowing your guests to customize their meals to their liking. It works whether your chili is vegan or made with different meats.
Similar to most ice cream shops, when setting up a chili bar, you’ll need quite a few containers or bowls to hold your toppings. The best chili toppings don’t always have to be the most obvious choices. While you’ll certainly want to include some basic options, don’t be afraid to add a few items that are out of the ordinary.
While selecting toppings, keep in mind what your chili’s base ingredients will be. The right chili bar toppings can elevate a dish, so it’s important to offer options that will pair well with what you’ve whipped up. These are some unique toppings that will take your next chili bar to a whole new level.
Sour cream may be an obvious choice for your chili bar, but Greek yogurt offers your guests a healthier option for their meals. It adds the same creamy consistency and tart flavors to chili but contains less than half the fat. You may not even be able to tell the difference.
Since Greek yogurt is a healthy alternative, it pairs well with any chili recipe that calls for sour cream. When setting up your chili bar, you can replace sour cream with Greek yogurt or offer both. The choice is yours.
You may be surprised to learn that cocoa powder is a common ingredient found in chili. Not only does it add richness and density, but it draws out the natural flavors of the other chilis and other spices. Cocoa powder can also help balance out the chili as it reduces the acidity added by tomatoes and peppers.
The trick is to add just enough so it adds to the dish without overwhelming the other ingredients. For reference, most chili recipes serving up to eight people only call for two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, so less is more in this case. Don’t be afraid to give dark and semi-sweet chocolate a try too.
Espresso Or Coffee
Like the cocoa powder, adding espresso or coffee to chili creates a better consistency and draws out the natural flavors. Additionally, it adds a subtle earthy sweetness that is great when combined with chocolate toppings.
You’ll want to use a bitter espresso or strongly-brewed black coffee for your chili bar toppings. Ground espresso, coffee, or instant coffee can be used as well. Like with cocoa powder, use it in moderation. If you don’t have cocoa powder or coffee, Coca-Cola is a great substitution too.
Beer often gets used to enhance the flavors of chili, so why not liquor? A smoked whiskey or bourbon can add a smooth, earthy quality to your dish and pairs well with any beef and tomato-based chili. Tequilla and vodka, on the other hand, serve best as white chicken chili toppings.
While some prefer to use alcohol as a marinade or add it during the cooking process, it can also work as a topping. However, keep it minimal and refrain from mixing liquors.
While we’re on the subject of booze, wine also makes a great topping for a chili bar. When preparing a tomato-based chili, we recommend you use red wine. The flavor adds richness and body to what is already a hearty dish, giving it that something extra you may be looking for.
Adding white wine will draw out the flavors of the spices and meats in the chili. It enhances the overall taste of the dish without overpowering it. Either option will improve your chili and should be added in moderation.
Give your chili some crunch with a grilled corn chili bar topping. Corn is an especially handy option if the chili is on the salty side. The sweet and creamy flavor helps to balance out the salt while also adding flavor.
Since corn is so versatile, it’s an asset to practically any chili dish. Whether you’re making it with chicken or beef, corn is a great chili topping idea for your guests.
Soy sauce may be associated with Asain cuisine, but it also adds a bit of extra zest to the chili. The sweet and salty qualities pair well with most chili ingredients and tend to draw out the flavor in meats.
Vegan chili also benefits from a small amount of soy sauce. It gives the chili a meatier quality as it enhances the flavors of beans, rice, and peppers.
While shredded cheese is hardly a unique topping, the best cheese to top chili doesn’t have to be cheddar. You can do no wrong when it comes to cheese topping, and the more variety the better! Your chili bar can include everything from mozzarella to Gouda.
Tomato-based chili especially pairs well with Parmesan cheese, while a spicy dish may warrant a bit of queso. Not only does cheese improve taste, but it also creates a creamy consistency. You’ll have your guests begging for more!
Honey adds a subtle sweetness that especially pairs well with spicy chili. The sweet and spicy flavors create a complex combination that is enhanced even further by adding cocoa powder. You can also use honey to balance out the acidity formed by tomatoes and peppers.
Chili recipes call for anywhere between three to eight tablespoons of honey for servings up to ten people, so add as little or as much as you to your bowl as you’d like.
Maple syrup offers similar benefits as honey, adding an earthy sweetness to a savory chili. It helps to create a thicker consistency while also drawing out the flavors of the spices.
One of the best chili toppings is a mixture of maple syrup and sour cream. It adds a sweet flavor without overwhelming the other ingredients and ensures your dish still has a kick.
Peanut butter adds a sweet, nutty flavor to chili and is often used to elevate vegan recipes. It gives the dish a creamier texture that many vegan chili recipes lack. Using natural peanut butter contributes protein without the added fat and sugar, but any peanut butter will do the trick.
Chili made with chicken or beef has benefited from this unique chili topping idea as well. It can replace dairy ingredients such as cheese or sour cream as peanut butter is also a thickening agent, or it can simply act as a fun topping option for your guests to try.
Classic Chili Bar Toppings:
No chili bar would be complete without some classic toppings! Your less daring guests will be satisfied if you offer a few of the following options:
- Sour cream
- Tortilla chips
- Chopped onions
- Black olives
- Crumbled cornbread
- Chipotle peppers
- Lime wedges
- Bacon bits
- Hot sauces
- Balsamic vinegar
Perhaps now you see why you need so many bowls to set up your chili bar. Hopefully, you aren’t also responsible for doing the dishes!