Slow cooker turkey chili is a hearty meal and easy to prepare. Each bowl has fire roasted jalapeños, butternut squash, tomatoes, beans, corn, and savory spices. Healthy wholesome ingredients simmer for maximum flavor!
Slow cooker turkey chili is a straightforward and satisfying recipe. Just a few preparation steps then simmer in a crockpot to enhance the flavors of the protein and vegetables. For this recipe, I like to broil the jalapenos first, which then allows the chili to develop a smoky flavor. The combination of butternut squash, corn, bell pepper, tomatoes, beans and lean protein adds additional nutrition to each serving.
When you want a hearty meal that you can just set and forget, a big pot of this thick soup is your dinner time solution. Wholesome, warm and comforting with a little bit of devilish spice in each spoonful.
How to make slow cooker turkey chili
- Equipment: My slow cooker of choice is a 6-quart Crockpot. It’s very affordable (around $50 to $60) and fits nicely on my countertop. It’s the perfect size to make large batches of soup, stew, braised meats, and even ribs! My essential slow cooker guide gives more details on how it works and how to select the right size for your cooking needs.
- Browning the Meat: Sauteeing meat ahead of time offers new flavors and textures to the chili through Maillard Browning. You can see the pigments of color as high heat is applied to the surface or the protein, building and creating new savory sensations. The slow cooker can only simmer and steam, but not brown the meat, so it’s good to spend a few minutes doing this before adding it to the pot.
- Roasting Peppers: A chili would not be complete without some spicy peppers in the mix. Instead of just adding fresh chopped peppers, pre-cooking them in the broiler to get a brown and blistered skin creates deeper and more interesting flavors in the chili for an earthy and smokey profile.
- Bloom Spices: Cooking the spices in oil in the microwave helps to release the flavor from the dried herbs so that it’s stronger and more vibrant in the chili.
- Balancing Acidity and Sweetness: The San Marzano tomatoes add a hint of natural sweetness, and the acid tenderizes the turkey meat as it slowly simmers. The vinegar also brightens the flavors after hours of cooking.
- Cook Time: The goal is to allow the lean ground turkey to infuse all of the savory spices like cumin, paprika, and chili powder. This happens over low and slow cooking times. The moist heat cooking in a closed vessel also tenderizes the butternut squash and peppers so that each bite melts together in your mouth. At least 3 to 4 hours on high is needed, but if you have time 5 to 6 hours on low will give an even more flavorful recipe.
If you are tight on time and want to make this turkey chili a little faster, I have a quick trick for cooking butternut squash that I learned when making baby food for my son James. Cover squash in a microwave safe bowl, nuke for 5 minutes, and they are fork tender and ready to go! This method reduces the time needed to cook the squash all the way through. You’re very welcome my friend 🙂
You can’t have chili without adding some fresh jalapeno peppers! To build on the flavor layers, I broiled a few chili peppers in the oven, and in less than 10 minutes the green skin was charred and blistered like a burnt marshmallow. The roasting process adds a smokier taste to the chili and mellows out the heat a bit. If you like your meal spicy, throw in the seeds, add more chilies or some cayenne pepper.
This is slow cooker turkey chili only gets better with time. The longer the ingredients have to mingle together, the more opportunities for flavors to settle in. If you do opt to make it ahead of time, you may need to add some water or stock to loosen the chili and readjust the seasoning once reheated.
For those who like a homecooked meal ready the minute you walk in the door, this slow cooker turkey chili is your ticket to happiness.
When I’m eating a giant bowl of hot chili, I love it with Cornbread! Any excuse for me to eat something bready and sweet is my jam, and if you break some pieces into the chili, give it a stir, sublime!
How do you maximize the flavor of the dried spices in the chili?
To make the chili have an aromatic and enticing smell and a punch of flavor, you can add individual spices to the cooking oil. Dried ground spices like cumin, paprika and chili powder in this recipe are great flavoring agents, a lot coming from their aromatic compounds that are released during cooking. Cooking the spices in fat first is called blooming, releasing fat-soluble flavor molecules into the oil, resulting in more complex flavors. Be careful not to heat the oil too hot or those wonderful spices will burn! (Source: The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks)