This Smoky Bacon Chili is hearty and filling, full of deep, complex flavors. Plus: bacon!
This Paleo chili recipe makes plenty for a big crowd or as part of a meal plan to eat throughout the week.
I’ll show you how to cook it on the stove, in an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker, or a slow-cooker.
Plus this no-bean chili is gluten-free, dairy-free and soy free!
The mashed butternut squash goes great on the side (or underneath) but I have more serving suggestions below.
This post and recipe were updated on July 29, 2020.
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Smoky Bacon Chili
This beefy chili has all the warm, spicy flavors of classic chili but with extra umami and depth due some special guest star ingredients.
It has an earthy, smoky flavor from smoked bacon and smoked paprika.
The other smoke factor is from liquid smoke which is exactly what it sounds like. The smoke from hickory chips is condensed into a liquid and bottled up.
I know not everyone loves liquid smoke and if you want to leave it out, that’s fine. The bacon chili will still be great. But I include it as optional just in case you want that extra layer or flavor.
I like Wright’s liquid smoke. It’s only ingredients are water and liquid smoke concentrate. Other brands add a bunch of weird, unnecessary ingredients but I like to keep things simple. (Not paid to say this, I just genuinely like it.)
And yes, there’s no beans! I never liked beans in chili, even as a kid. But you can add a can of kidney beans if you want.
How to make Smoky Bacon Chili
- A big pot or Dutch oven
- a cutting board and chef’s knife
- A wooden spoon or sturdy spatula
- measuring spoons (these are my favorite since they fit in spice jars!)
- A slow cooker (if necessary, for the chili or squash)
- An Instant Pot (if necessary)
And then all you have to do is:
Cook the bacon until crisp, then drain on a paper towel. Pour out the bacon fat until there’s only 2 tablespoons left.
Soften the onion in the bacon fat, then add the tomato paste to deepen its flavor, then add the spices. Quickly cooking spices heightens their flavor (which is called “blooming” the spices).
Brown the ground beef.
Add beef broth to stir up all the tasty brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
Add the liquids and the rest of the spices.
Simmer for at least 30 minutes.
Although if you have the time, you can simmer it up to 2 hours to really deepen the flavor.
The bacon chili is great right away and even better the next day.
See the notes below the recipe for Instant Pot and crockpot instructions.
Variations and Substitutions
To make it spicier, increase the amount of cayenne.
If you want to make it less smoky, omit the liquid smoke. Use regular (not smoked) bacon and/or regular (not smoked) paprika.
What to serve with this no-bean chili
Serve it with your choice of toppings like crushed up chips (I like the grain-free ones from Siete), sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced avocado or guacamole.
Below I’ll also share a super simple recipe for Mashed Butternut Squash. It’s a great base for the chili or any stew.
If cutting up a butternut squash intimidates you, then this is the recipe for you! You can use your oven or slow cooker to bake it whole, then you cut it. It’ll be so soft the knife will slide right through.
But my absolute favorite accompaniment to chili is cornbread, so making my paleo cornbread is a must for me.
You can make a big batch of the Smoky Bacon Chili and squash on the weekend. Pack them up with an extra veggie like broccoli or, like I did here in the picture, green beans.
You just throw those veggies in raw and they’ll steam-cook in the amount of time it takes to heat this all up in the microwave at work or home.
Otherwise, just heat the chili and squash in a microwavable bowl or in a saucepan over medium heat.
Make Smoky Bacon Squash ahead of time
The chili and squash can be kept in the fridge up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Other chili recipes:
Try my creamy white chicken chili.
Or my cocoa and sweet potato chili.
Smoky Bacon Chili and Mashed Butternut Squash
For the chili:
- 5-6 slices smoked bacon, chopped (see notes)
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- pinch of fine sea salt plus 1/2 tsp., divided
- 1 (6) oz. can tomato paste
- 1 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 2-2½ lbs. ground beef
- 2 cups beef broth, divided
- 1 (14.5) oz. can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
- 1 tablespoon cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon molasses (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon espresso powder
- ½ teaspoon liquid smoke (or more if you like it smokier)
For the mashed butternut squash:
- 3 lb. butternut squash
- 1 tablespoon ghee or bacon fat, melted (see notes)
- ½-1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Make the chili:
- Add the bacon pieces to a large Dutch oven and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally so they brown evenly and become crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spatula to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour out the fat until there's 2 tablespoons left in the pot.
- Add the onions to the bacon fat and sprinkle with the salt (not too much as the bacon fat is already salty). Stir occasionally until the onions are soft, about 5-8 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and stir it around until it darkens in color, about 2-4 minutes.
- Add the chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika and cayenne and stir for 30 seconds. Scoot the spiced onions to the outer edge of the pan.
- Add the ground beef, flipping and stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10-15 minutes.
- When the meat is mostly brown, add 1 cup of the broth and scrape up the bottom of the pot to get all the flavorful brown bits. Stir in the rest of the broth, the diced tomatoes, cocoa/cacao powder, Worcestershire, molasses, espresso powder and liquid smoke, if using. Turn up the heat to bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for at least 30 minutes (although 1 hour is great and 2 hours would be fantastic).
- Stir in the bacon pieces and taste. If it needs more salt, start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste before adding more. Like almost any chili, this is best made at least one day in advance to let the flavors deepen.
Make the mashed squash:
- If using the oven, heat the oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
- Stab a knife into the bottom of the squash so steam can escape. If using a slow cooker, wash but do not dry the squash.
- Bake the squash whole for 60-90 minutes, until a knife slides easily all the way through. If using a slow cooker, cook on low for 7-8 hours.
- Once the squash is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Scoop the flesh out of the skin into a medium bowl. Stir in the ghee/bacon fat and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings.