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Wonderfully spiced bison chili is a flavorful, leaner version of traditional ground beef chili. It’s delicious on its own, or piled onto hot dogs or pasta.
Chili has been a longstanding staple at my house. Living in the Midwest, you need lots of cozy, comforting dishes when the cold weather won’t stop, and chili always hits the spot.
While we most often make ground beef chili, I like to switch it up every now and then and make this bison chili instead.
If you’re not familiar with cooking bison, it’s a leaner option than beef with lots of flavor. It’s great for bison meatballs, bison picadillo, and my bison one-pot dinner.
This easy ground bison chili is full of flavor. It doesn’t contain beans, but is thick and hearty — perfect for spooning over corn muffins or a hot dog.
Plus, it doesn’t take long to make at all. Sauté your ingredients and let it simmer as little or as long as you’d like. You’ll love it!
Ingredients for bison chili
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this bison chili recipe:
Ground bison – Bison is usually sold near the ground beef or among the other less-common meats at your grocery store. If you can’t find it, don’t be afraid to ask a store worker, they can help you find it or order it.
Olive oil – Oil is used to sauté the vegetables.
Onion – I use white or yellow onion for chili. I don’t recommend using red onion, which has a sharper flavor, or sweet onion, which is too sweet for chili.
Bell pepper – I like to add bell pepper to chili for a sweet component that contrasts the spices. Use any color bell pepper you like, or a mixture of colors.
Garlic – Garlic cloves can vary a lot in size, so measure with your heart.
Chili powder – You can use either a chili powder blend or a single-ingredient ground chile. I like to use ground ancho chile in my chili recipes.
If using a chili powder blend, note that many of them contain a lot of salt, so you might want to reduce the amount of added salt.
Ground cumin – Cumin adds warmth with a slight citrus note to dishes.
Smoked paprika – For an added depth, try smoked paprika. I love how it adds smoky flavor without heat.
Salt and pepper – To taste
Cocoa powder – It might sound odd, but cocoa powder is a great ingredient to add to chili. It helps create rich flavor that holds up well against the spices.
Make sure to use unsweetened cocoa powder, not sweetened or cocoa drink mix.
Mexican oregano – Mexican oregano lifts the chili, adding citrus notes.
Mexican oregano is not actually related to Italian or Greek oregano. The best substitute for Mexican oregano is marjoram.
Tomato paste – A small amount of tomato paste adds rich tomato flavor.
Crushed tomatoes – Crushed tomatoes make the bison chili thick and hearty, but not overly brothy. Look for crushed tomatoes that are unflavored.
Beef broth – To thin out the chili just slightly, add a bit of beef broth. You can also use water instead.
How to make bison chili
Set a large pot or a dutch oven over medium heat.
Add the olive oil and let it heat, tilting the pot so the oil evenly coats the bottom.
Add the chopped onion and bell pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds.
Break the ground bison meat into pieces and add it to the pot, using a spatula or spoon to break it up further. Cook until no longer pink, continuing to break into smaller pieces as it cooks.
In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, cocoa powder, cumin, paprika, salt, Mexican oregano, and pepper.
Sprinkle the mixture over the meat and stir vigorously to coat the meat in the spices.
Add the tomato paste and stir well again, then add the crushed tomatoes and beef broth and stir.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. If you like, let simmer longer to let flavors meld even more.
Serve with your favorite chili toppings.
If you like a spicier chili, add ground cayenne pepper to taste, chopped jalapeño, or a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce.
For a more brothy chili, use diced tomatoes instead of crushed. Make sure you do not drain them before adding.
This recipe doesn’t contain beans, but you can always add them! Make sure to rinse and drain canned beans before adding. You might also want to add more broth or water when adding beans.
The beans can replace some of the meat or simply added. You can also swap out half of the meat with cooked quinoa, or 1 cup uncooked lentils.
Offer a variety of topping options for everyone at the table, like chopped white onion, pickled jalapeños, shredded cheese, and hot sauce.
We also love creamy options like sour cream, sliced avocado, or guacamole.
Go crunchy with corn chips! We love turning chili into Frito pie by adding a layer of corn chips at the bottom of the bowl.
Serve with buttermilk cornbread, sliced French bread, or buttermilk biscuits.
Pile bison chili on top of hot dogs for homemade chili dogs, or add to a burger.
Can I make bison chili in the slow cooker?
While this chili doesn’t take long to prepare, you can also make it in the slow cooker.
Simply sauté the vegetables and meat and transfer it to your slow cooker. Mix in the spices, tomato paste, tomatoes, and broth, and stir well.
Place the lid on the slow cooker and set on low for up to 8 hours.
What’s the difference between bison and buffalo?
The terms bison and buffalo are often used interchangeably for the bovine herd animal that lives in North America.
Bison are also sometimes called “American buffalo” to distinguish them from Asian water buffalo and African Cape buffalo.
Most grocery stores will carry the meat under the correct taxonomic term of bison.
Can bison chili be frozen?
Bison chili is perfect for freezing and enjoying later.
Let the chili cool, then transfer to freezer-safe containers. Be sure to leave space at the top to allow for expansion as it freezes.
I like to freeze chili in individual portions for quick lunches, I do not recommend freezing more than 1 quart in a single container.
To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight, or pop the frozen chili out of the container and thaw in a saucepan before simmering to heat through.
More chili recipes
Try these other chili recipes too!
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
- White Bean Chicken Chili
- Pumpkin Turkey Chili
- Three Bean Chili
- Butternut Squash Chili
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pounds ground bison
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1 to 2 cups beef broth
- Pour olive oil into a large pot or dutch oven and set over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook 30 seconds more.
- Add the ground bison and cook until no longer pink, breaking into small pieces as you cook.
- In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, cocoa powder, cumin, paprika, salt, oregano, and pepper. Sprinkle over the meat and stir well to coat. Mix in the tomato paste.
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes and beef broth and stir well. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and let the chili simmer for 20 minutes, or longer if you like. Serve with your favorite chili toppings.