Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

4.82 from 54 votes
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Slow cooker turkey chili is a hearty meal that’s easy to prepare. Each bowl has fire-roasted jalapeños, butternut squash, tomatoes, beans, corn, and savory spices.

Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

When you want a hearty meal that you can just set and forget, a big pot of this slow cooker turkey chili is your dinnertime solution. Wholesome, warm, and comforting, with a little bit of devilish spice in each spoonful. The combination of butternut squash, corn, bell pepper, tomatoes, kidney beans, and lean protein also has wonderful nutritional benefits.

For maximum flavor, I recommend browning the turkey meat first before placing in the Crock-Pot to add a depth of flavor. I also like to broil the jalapenos to add a smoky flavor to the chili as it simmers.

The right slow cooker equipment

My 6-quart Crock-Pot is 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 turkey meat

Sautéing the 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 of the protein, which builds and creates new savory sensations. The slow cooker can only simmer and steam, not saute, so it’s good to spend a few minutes doing this before adding it to the pot.

Crock-Pot filled with roasted jalapeños, butternut squash, diced tomatoes, beans, and corn

Roasting the 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 for an earthy and smoky profile.

Bloom the spices

Cooking the chili powder, cumin, and paprika in oil inside the microwave helps to release the fat-soluble flavors from the dried seasonings. The tastes and aromas become stronger and more vibrant, especially in chili.

Balancing acidity and sweetness

The San Marzano tomatoes add a hint of natural sweetness. The acid tenderizes the turkey meat as it slowly simmers. Any type of diced tomatoes can be used. Just make sure they are vine-ripened. The vinegar also brightens the flavor after hours of cooking.

The difference in cook times

For this crockpot turkey chili, at least 3 to 4 hours on high is needed, although 5 to 6 hours on low will give an even more flavorful recipe. The goal is to allow the lean ground meat to infuse all of the savory spices. This happens over low and slow cooking. The moist-heat cooking method in a closed vessel also tenderizes the butternut squash and peppers so that each bite melts together in your mouth.

turkey chili simmering in a slow cooker

A tip for cooking the butternut squash faster

Cover the butternut squash in a microwave-safe bowl, nuke for 5 minutes, and then they’ll be fork-tender and ready to go! This method reduces the time needed to cook the squash all the way through.

Broil the chili peppers

To build on the flavor layers, I broil a few chili peppers in the oven, and in less than 10 minutes, the green skin will char and blister 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, and add more chilies or some cayenne pepper.

Make it ahead of time

This is slow cooker turkey chili that 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, chicken broth, or stock to loosen the chili. Simply taste and adjust the seasoning once reheated. Super easy.

A bowl of slow cooker turkey chili with grated cheddar cheese

Serve this bowl of chili with

  • Cornbread
  • White or brown rice
  • Toppings like sour cream, shredded cheese like sharp cheddar, mozzarella or smoked gouda
  • Chopped cilantro or parsley
  • Quinoa

Recipe Science

How to maximize the flavor of dried spices in chili

Dried ground spices like cumin, paprika, and chili powder are great flavoring agents in addition to their aromatic compounds that are released during cooking. Blooming the spices releases fat-soluble flavor molecules into the oil, resulting in a more complex depth of flavors. Be careful not to heat the oil too hot, or those wonderful spices will burn!

Slow Cooker Turkey Chili

Slow cooker turkey chili with roasted jalapeños, butternut squash, tomatoes, beans, corn, and savory spices.
4.82 from 54 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time3 hours
Total Time3 hours 10 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American


  • 2 jalapeños
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin, ground
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups butternut squash, diced, ¼-inch cubes
  • 28 ounces diced tomatoes, canned, with liquid
  • 15 ounces kidney beans, can, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup yellow corn kernels, raw, canned, or frozen
  • ¾ cup yellow bell pepper, ¼-inch dice
  • ¼ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • ½ cup sour cream, for garnish
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese, grated, for garnish
  • ¼ cup green onion, sliced, for garnish (optional)


  • Place jalapeno peppers on a foil-lined sheet pan, and drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil to lightly coat.
  • Broil for 5 minutes at about 6-inches from the top of the oven.
  • Flip and broil another 5 minutes until brown and blistered on both sides. Remove and allow to cool.
  • Remove the stem and seeds, mince and add to the slow cooker.
  • In a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl add 1 tablespoon olive oil, onions, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and paprika. Stir to combine.
  • Microwave mixture for 2 minutes, then stir. Cook 2 more minutes, then transfer to the slow cooker.
  • Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.
  • Add ground turkey, black pepper and salt, cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Break up the meat with a spoon, but leave some larger chunks. Transfer to the slow cooker.
  • Add butternut squash, tomatoes and the juice, beans, corn, bell pepper, apple cider vinegar and chicken stock to the slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook until squash is tender on high setting for 3 to 4 hours, or low setting for 5 to 6 hours.
  • Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Add more chicken stock if needed.
  • Serve hot. Garnish with green onions and cheddar cheese if desired.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 212kcal (11%)Carbohydrates 21g (7%)Protein 18g (36%)Fat 7g (11%)Saturated Fat 1g (5%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 28mg (9%)Sodium 353mg (15%)Potassium 451mg (13%)Fiber 6g (24%)Sugar 5g (6%)Vitamin A 3500IU (70%)Vitamin C 64.4mg (78%)Calcium 70mg (7%)Iron 1.4mg (8%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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25 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Stephanie says

    As a mom of two littles, I’m always searching for healthy, yummy slow cooker recipes. I made this the other night and it was delicious. The jalapeños added a nice little kick which is perfect for the chilly Fall weather. This will definitely be a repeat in our house.

  2. Pat Martin says

    I’m cooking now, following recipe exact – it’s been cooking for 2 hrs on high- where is the juice? Hope I’m not disappointed

  3. Mia says

    Although this chili sounded really great I’m not an extra heat lover (jalapenos). How would this taste without the jalapenos? Or is there anything I can substitute?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      If you don’t want any heat you can remove the jalapenos. I would add some green bell peppers for a similar flavor profile and use fire-roasted canned tomatoes for a smokey taste.

  4. Donna says

    Made this chili last night for my family of four (two college aged boys). We all LOVED it. It has enough spice to be interesting and flavorful which isn’t always true when you cook with turkey. Since my family likes heat, I added a total of three jalapenos. I also served it with slices of avocado. I will differently cook this again-

  5. Myra Huggins says

    This is the best chili recipe I’ve ever made/had! It’s full of so many veggies and flavors. I tweak it with extra of each spice for an extra kick. Everyone that has tried it speaks of how delicious it is. Thank you for this recipe!

  6. Alison says

    It’s September, time for chili! We loved all the stealth veggies you sneaked into this, Jessica. I made it with ground turkey thighs and it was really yummy.

  7. Maria says

    Made this for dinner tonight. Loved the addition of butternut squash. This version has great flavor. I felt good about eating it because it was healthy. I use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream since I always have it in my fridge. Another winner Jessica! You haven’t let me down yet.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Taylor! I think that it would not fit since the recipe makes for a good size already and fills up the flow cooker about halfway. Great question!

  8. Trang says

    I love your tip about browning the meat ahead of time. My husband is all about browning the meat, he’s the cook and I’m just a lazy cook. I love to use my crock pot but I never brown the meat, so he scolds me all the time about it! haha

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Trang! Yes, browning the meat makes a big difference in the flavor and texture in the chili. I’ve tried it without browning, and it was too mushy. You guys sound like a great culinary team 🙂

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Elizabeth- Thank you so much, I’ve updated the recipe 🙂 Add the cooked squash towards the last 10 minutes of cooking with the beans and corn.

  9. Margaux Milchen says

    Those servings are more than 2 cups each. I would probably halve the servings to 1 cup each and add a dollop of sour cream since we make ours with lots of jalapenos and no bell peppers…its too mild for us the other way, but great for kids.