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.
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.
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.
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 the ahead of time
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, chicken broth, or stock to loosen the chili. Simply taste and adjust the seasoning once reheated. Super easy.
Serve this bowl of chili with
- White or brown rice
- Toppings like sour cream, shredded cheese like sharp cheddar, mozzarella or smoked gouda
- Chopped cilantro or parsley
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! (Source: The Science of Good Cooking)
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Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
- 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.
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