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This Butter Bean Chili tastes like it was simmering all day, but comes together in just over half an hour! It’s the perfect way to warm up on those cool nights.
On cool, drizzly nights here in the Pacific Northwest, I always crave something warm and savory. Chili is perfect for those nights, but it can take a while to cook. This quick Instant Pot chili is full of flavor and comes together in just over half an hour! And for leftovers the next day, it’s even better.
Looking for more easy healthy dinners that come together quickly? Here are our top 3, not-fancy desperation dinners we make from our pantry all the time!
What are Butter Beans?
Butter beans are not a classic chili bean, they are starchier and creamier than a smaller lima bean. In fact, they are just large lima beans really! They add a nice texture and slight sweetness to this hearty butter bean chili. I love the quality of these from Azure Standard, but you can also usually find them sold in cans at the grocery store.
How to Build Flavor Quickly
The best chilis build flavor gradually over a slow cooking process. Since this recipe is so quick, it’s important to add different ingredients that allow your flavors to build and develop. These ingredients work together surprisingly well and help me get that rich, umami flavor quickly:
Flavor Boosting Ingredients
- Balsamic vinegar
- Soy sauce or liquid aminos
- Brown sugar
- Fire-roasted tomatoes
- Sweet smoked paprika
I love using beer as a cooking liquid for chili or any roast as that malty flavor breaks down and adds a great base flavor layer. Brown sugar adds just enough sweetness to cut through all the spices, too. Smoky ingredients, like fire-roasted tomatoes and smoked paprika, add a real BBQ stand flavor in no time. Use any or all of these ingredients and taste as you go!
To make this three bean chili, you really don’t need anything complicated! If you’re using the Instant Pot, I typically use that to sautee the onion and bring everything together using the sautee function. If you have time, let it slow cook on low heat. Otherwise, serve it and go!
- Instant Pot, a large pot, or Dutch Oven
- Chef’s knife
- Wooden spoon
- Olive oil: Use extra virgin olive oil to soften your chopped onion and start developing flavors.
- Ground beef: Use grass-fed ground beef for a richer beefy flavor. Grass-fed red meat is also higher in nutrients, making it easier to get your daily values of vitamins from a whole food source.
- Seasonings: To hit all of the tastebuds, this recipe uses a spice blend of bay leaf, cumin, sweet smoked paprika, chili powder, chili flakes, and salt.
- Tomato paste: An often underrated flavor-boosting ingredient, tomato paste adds a lot of depth and is a great source of vitamin C!
- Fire-roasted tomatoes: I’m a huge fan of using fire-roasted ingredient options when I can – it’s a small choice that adds so much flavor.
- Beef stock: To add the most flavor, use a liquid like beer or beef stock. You can also use regular water or bouillon.
- Molasses: Thick, sweet molasses adds a richness that really brings this three bean chilli together.
- Brown sugar: Adds just enough sweetness to complement the brighter spices.
- Soy sauce: or liquid aminos: Probably the best ingredients for adding that delicious umami flavor.
- Balsamic vinegar: Dark, bold, and perfect for complementing the other flavors in chili.
- Beans: Drain and rinse one can of your favorite combination of beans. Butter beans, red kidney beans, and black beans are a good place to start!
How to Make Butter Bean Chili:
- Turn on Instant Pot to saute. If using a pot or dutch oven, turn stove to medium-high heat.
- Pour a drizzle of olive oil and allow to heat up.
- Add a diced white onion and bay leaf. Stir occasionally until the onion softens up.
- Once the onion is cooked, add ground beef. Allow to brown. Break apart with a wooden spoon and stir occasionally.
- When the beef is browned and fully cooked, all of the spices and wet ingredients. Stir together and then add drained and rinsed beans.
- Allow the chili to continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes. Taste occasionally and add more salt or spices if needed!
- Stop here and serve (or slow cook for more flavor!)
Fridge: Some people say leftover chili is better the next day, and they might be right! Store for 3-4 days in the fridge and enjoy the best chili leftovers for your next dinner!
Freezer: One of the great things about chili with a tomato sauce base is that it freezes very well. If you were making a creamy chili, such as white chicken chili, it may suffer in the freezer. Luckily, this hearty dish can be made in big batches and frozen if you want to stock up for later. Place in airtight, freezer safe containers and store for up to 6 months.
Since I like my chili to have a rich, tomato-y sauce, I like to serve it with ingredients that enhance and balance the richness.
There’s always cornbread, just slightly sweet. I always add shredded cheddar and sometimes sour cream or chopped red onion for bite. I’m a simple person though, and just a little homemade cornbread and cheese is usually enough!
Some people love a bit of fresh cilantro or jalapeno peppers, and others enjoy sweet corn and corn chips. One great thing about garnishing chili is that it’s very individual – everyone has their own favorite ways. Recently, I saw someone throw fresh cherry tomatoes on their bowl of chili and I wondered why I never thought of it before!
Tips & Variations
- For this recipe, I used canned beans to keep it quick. I love to use dried beans though, but would recommend soaking and cooking them without salt before adding them to this three bean chili recipe. I keep both canned and dried beans in my pantry and I love having quick recipes I can put together purely from ingredients I keep on hand! Learn how to keep a well-stocked pantry so you can save time, money, and stress while still eating wholesome, homemade food every day.
- When I can, I try to add basic ingredients with extra flavor. For example, I’ll buy fire-roasted canned tomatoes instead of just regular canned tomatoes or smoked paprika instead of normal paprika. These small choices go a long way to building flavor fast!
- For a vegetarian chili recipe or vegan chili recipe, leave out the ground beef and beef stock. In place of beef stock, use vegetable broth as a flavor-boosting liquid to get that warm, savory flavor in every single bite.
- For a little extra heat, feel free to add some chipotle powder, red pepper flakes, or cayenne pepper.
- If you like peppers, chop up some red bell peppers to sautee with the onion in your chili pot.
- Slow Cooker Three Bean Chili: If you’d like to make this hearty chili in a slow cooker it’s important to brown the ground beef for deep flavor development. Once you brown the ground beef separately in a large saucepan or cast-iron skillet, just add everything together in the slow cooker after! You would probably want to let it cook slowly for at least 2-3 hours if you go with this method.
- Stovetop Butter Bean Chili: You can certainly make this in your favorite stockpot or dutch oven, especially since I did not pressure cook for this recipe. It’s just about building flavor and getting a low simmer going!
I am not a purist when it comes to chili and love using different beans! However, I do always use kidney beans. I love their color, texture, and flavor. I pair them with 1-2 other types of beans such as great northern beans, cannellini beans, navy beans, white beans, or baby lima beans (butter beans) to make a 3 bean chili you can call your own! Mixing up your bean variety is a great way to be creative in the kitchen, so let this recipe flex to meet what you have in your pantry! Which canned or dried beans do you already have on hand?
Of course! They add a nice texture and slight sweetness to the final dish. Chili can be made with different types of beans, so choose the kind you like! In my experience, butter beans are one of the best beans to add to get an end dish that is always delicious.
Yes, drain and rinse. The starches in unwashed beans can affect the flavor and thickness of the chili and potentially give you a stomach ache. Simply wash in a colander with cold water to prep beans before cooking.
Need some more healthy meal ideas that come together quickly? Here are some of my other favorite recipes that come together fast:
30 Minute Instant Pot Butter Bean Chili
- Instant Pot, Stock Pot, or Dutch Oven
- Chef's knife
- Wooden spoon
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 lb ground beef, thawed or fresh, not frozen
- 2 pieces bay leaf
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 1/2 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp chili powder, 1
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes, add to taste
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 2 cans fire-roasted tomatoes
- 14 ounces liquid, water, beer, or beef stock
- 1 tbsp molasses
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or liquid aminos
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- Add oil to Instant Pot on saute setting.
- Add diced onions when oil heats up. Stir occasionally until color develops on base of Instant Pot.
- Add ground beef and bay leaves to onions. Stir and break apart with wooden spoon until beef has browned.
- Add spices, flavorings, and liquids (except beans). Stir to incorporate and heat for a couple of minutes.
- Add beans and continue to cook 15-20 minutes until flavors come together!