Turkey black bean chili is a great alternative to traditional Texas chili that has ancient roots. What’s more, you can make it either slow and low on a Sunday, or you can speed things up with a few weeknight hacks.
Turkey black bean chili sounds like something some lifestyle magazine whipped together to impress the trendy, but it is actually a stew with origins dating to before the Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere 500 years ago.
Don’t believe me? Well, for starters it was the Aztecs and Maya (or their predecessors) who domesticated the turkey. Black beans and tomatoes originated in Central America, chiles from South America. Oh, and the corn? Yep, that’s a New World ingredient, too. So this dish has a history.
What’s not ancient is the concept of chili as we Americans know it. Chili, to us, is, normally, ground or minced meat with all or some of those wonderful ingredients listed above, simmered into awesomeness and typically topped with green things and cheese.
I’d been tossing around the idea of a pre-1492 stew for a while, when I just decided to go with turkey black bean chili. And for those of you who know me, I take my chili seriously. I love my pork chile verde recipe, and my normal chili recipe has won untold awards in untold chili cook-offs, dating back a decade or more.
Old School Turkey Black Bean Chili
This turkey black bean chili is a lighter, brighter chili, with more vegetables and no coffee or molasses. I like it almost as much as my One True Chili to Rule Them All. Almost.
I make this one old school most of the time, letting it simmer all day while watching football. The beans and field corn take a long time to cook. Dried field corn is wonderful: It’s starchy and hearty and can cook forever. You can nixtamalize it yourself, buy “pozole corn” that is already nixtamalized, or skip that step and simply boil the dried corn straight.
And if you can’t find good dried corn (look in Mexican markets), it is perfectly OK to substitute fresh or frozen sweet corn in this recipe.
You might also notice that I am using teeny black beans; they are black tepary beans, from the Sonoran desert. Just as the corn I use is from the Tohono O’Odham tribe, so are the beans. That said, any black bean that makes you happy will work.
Finally, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use real dried chiles in my chili. Unlike my other chili recipe, this chili relies only on either guajillo or New Mexican red chiles, which are sometimes sold as California chiles. The point is that they are very red, dried and mild-ish. If you can’t find them, simply use paprika.
If you are in a hurry, you can make turkey black bean chili in less than 40 minutes. Just use canned black beans and fresh or frozen corn, and use paprika or chili powder instead of the dried chiles.
What Meat to Use?
I prefer to use ground turkey thighs for my chili, but any ground light meat will work: turkey breast, pheasant or chicken, pork or rabbit would all be good substitutes.
If you have all day and are making the old school version, I would drop whole turkey legs in the pot, fishing them out and chopping the meat when it’s falling off the bone. This is similar to how I make my turkey leg stew.
Serve your turkey black bean chili with whatever toppings you like, but I prefer melty cheddar or Jack cheese, some chopped onions and cilantro.
It will keep a week in the fridge, and is actually better the day after it’s made. You can also freeze it, or pressure can it in quart Mason jars for 90 minutes at whatever PSI is appropriate for your altitude.
Turkey Black Bean Chili
- 2 to 3 tablespoons bacon fat, lard or vegetable oil
- 2 to 3 pounds ground turkey
- 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 28 to 32 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 quart turkey or chicken stock
- 4 to 6 dried guajillo or New Mexican chiles, stemmed and seeded
- OR 3 tablespoons paprika
- 1 to 2 cups cooked corn kernels (1 cup dry if using)
- 2 to 3 cups cooked black beans, or 2 15-ounce cans
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
- If you are using dried corn and dried beans, soak them in water overnight. The next day, you can either cook them with the chili, which will increase cook time to about 6 hours, or you can cook the corn and beans separately, which will take about 3 hours; the acid in the chili will drastically slow the cooking of the beans.
- If you are using the dried chiles, about 30 minutes before you plan on starting the chili, put the chiles in a bowl and pour boiling water over them to rehydrate.
- Heat the bacon far or oil in a large pot like a Dutch oven over high heat and, when it's almost smoking, add the ground turkey. Sear the turkey over high heat without touching it for a couple minutes, then stir and repeat that process until the meat is cooked and has some nice brown marks.
- Stir in the onion and green pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili powder and cumin and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Pour in crushed tomatoes and stock and stir well. If you are using the dried chiles, buzz them into a puree in a blender and add to the chili. If you are using the paprika, add it now. Stir well and add salt to taste.
- If you are using the dried corn and beans and want to cook them in the chili, add them now, along with another quart of water; it'll cook down over time. Simmer the chili until the corn and beans are tender, which will take several hours.
- If you are using fresh or frozen corn and canned beans, thaw the corn and rinse the beans. Let the chili simmer for 30 minutes, and then add the corn and beans and cook another 15 minutes. Serve with the garnishes once everything's nice and tender.
Josh Hoffman says
Terrific! Needed to do the quick route with 20 extra people in the house clamoring for lunch today. I look forward to going the long route next time. FYI, squirrel works really well.
Wow. This was amazing. Cannot recommend it highly enough. I honestly liked it even better than Hank’s one chili to rule them all (which is amazing). Thanks for another go-to!
Jeremy Heyl says
Wow Hank- this is great. I made it for lunch this afternoon and my wife was a bit upset when I didn’t start it in time for a noontime finish- I rushed it, finished at 12:30 (but I had cooked the beans the night before in an instantpot). I made a few ‘adjustments’ but not far at all from your recipe. Stock from last Thanksgiving Smoked Turkey, dried beans from Great River Organic (I do plan on buying corn and beans from your link soon- but I really wanted to make this now), for the corn I used a cup of your buddy Paul Virant’s Chow Chow and for the dried peppers I used medium Hatch chilis. I also threw in a cup of canned roasted and diced Hatch chilis. I have never had a chili so good right from the stovetop- the next day or later I usually exclaim ‘Wow’. I can’t wait to try this after it sits awhile.
Yum! Threw in some dandelion greens near the end. (They go in just about everything this time of the year) I also used some dehydrated green beans and waxed beans! I didn’t have canned tomatoes so I substituted some tomato pepper soup I had. Turned out great! I love all your recipes and posts. Thank you for adding so much value.
Tim H says
First time using dried peppers – really enjoyed this recipe!
Paul Myles says
As I normally find the thigh bones are where shot gets stopped, I will slow cook the thighs in a liquid which I will use as a stock and before using the meat, strip it off the bones and check it for shot before adding it to the chilli. Even better I suppose would be to strip the raw meat from the thighs and try to eliminate any shot before any cooking starts… I could still boil the thigh bones for stock while the chilli is being made… I cook real slowly!
Substituted chukar for turkey (because that’s what I had), and it was delicious! Another great recipe Hank. Thank you
Came together well with a 25 oz can of hominy, two 15 oz cans of black beans, and ancho chile powder instead of paprika.
Hank, we missed you at the Central Oregon Sportsman show on Saturday, March 2nd. I hope everything went ok for you there. It was a little snowy! I had a GREAT chukar season this year! I saved all the legs and thighs, boned them, and shoved them through the grinder. Got about 10 lbs of bird burger! I’ve been looking for something fun to do with the stuff and I think this is it! Your recipe looks awesome! My question is, do you think hominy would be a good substitute for corn? I’ve got a gross of the dried kind and want to use it. The reason I ask is because I know hominy can have a strong flavor and I don’t want to overpower the recipe as it stands.
Hank Shaw says
Drake: Hominy would be perfect! Go for it.
Ellen D says
I thought this was a great recipe. It has great flavor without being too spicy. I used store-bought ground turkey and went heavy on the beans because my boys love beans. I also used ancho chiles just because that’s what I had. The only complaint came from my 6 year old who is deeply offended by corn these days. I’m looking forward to trying this with some fall grouse. Hank, do you have a suggestion for a corn substitute? I’d like to keep the southwest flair. Or my kid could just deal with it ?
Hank Shaw says
Ellen: You can leave out the corn, or add diced squash or sweet potatoes if he likes those.
Recipe looks awesome, can’t wait to try it.
Just a suggestion: I print out most of your recipes to use in the kitchen and if it is a winner, I file them in a 3-ring binder. Your “Print” icon is great and makes that process easy – but you should include your name and website on the printed version to show the source . A little free advertising never hurts!
Randal Josten says
I was surprised to read in your black bean turkey recipe that the acid present in the stew would slow the cooking of the beans. I have, I think, been advised in the past that acid shortens cooking time. Is that information false or still true in general with beans being an exception?
Hank Shaw says
Randal: Yes, that’s false, with beans at least. It’s the opposite.