There’s nothing better than digging into a hot, heaping bowl of Wendy’s chili on a cold winter’s day. Or any season, really. That warm red cup full of tasty chili is the ultimate comfort food, and it’s a success, despite the fact that it’s not your standard fast food menu item. Finishing off a cup of Wendy’s chili is like getting a big food hug — it’s just that good.
Wendy’s has been making its Rich & Meaty Chili since it first opened in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio, by founder Dave Thomas — it was one of the chain’s original menu items. The dish’s pure staying power alone proves that folks think it is one heck of a good meal. So what is it that makes the coveted Wendy’s version so delish? Why do people crave that saucy bowl of Wendy’s chili? We dug deep into the history of Wendy’s and their recipe for this tasty dish to find out.
Wendy’s always uses fresh meat
Wendy’s tagline is "Quality is our recipe," and using fresh meat is the number one point that the company makes to prove it uses quality products — and that includes the meat they use in their chili.
When it comes to meat, fresh is often better than frozen, particularly with ground beef. Lean ground meat is approximately 60 percent water, so when you freeze that chunk of hamburger beef, that water freezes as well, creating ice crystals that chop up the meat in a not-so-good way. It tears the muscle fibers and, when the meat thaws, it leaves that unsightly reddish water on your cutting board.
Then there’s the problem of freezer burn, which dries out the meat. According to TheKitchn, if meat is exposed to air in the freezer, it can lead to things like freezer burn or dehydration. It’s not unsafe to eat, but it won’t look or taste like it does when it’s fresh. ‘Nuff said.
The fact that the meat used in Wendy’s chili never touches the inside of the freezer means it’s always going to taste that much better.
The meat in Wendy’s chili starts as something else
The meat that’s used for Wendy’s chili might never have been frozen, but it wasn’t browned specifically for a batch of chili. It’s actually leftover meat — but that’s even more reason to love it. Allow us to explain:
We all know that browning beef in a pan does not taste as scrumptious as when you stick it on the barbecue and get that charred, caramelized piece of meat. Not to get too scientific, but when meat is browned, something called the Maillard reaction takes place. This is a process that involves a rearrangement of amino acids and sugars, revealing flavors, smells and tastes that humans crave. It just makes things taste better. Too much char, though, and that meat quickly puts us off: When burnt, a chemical reaction occurs, making meat bitter.
So what does this have to do with Wendy’s chili? One former employee noted on Quora that the unused burgers make their way into the chili. If a large crowd walks in and the cook starts cooking burgers, it’s possible they may not all be ordered. Rather that serve them later to customers or throw them away, the company takes those char-grilled patties and puts them in the fridge for the next batch of chili. We applaud this no-waste policy — it only makes the chili taste better.
Those Wendy’s burgers get boiled
We know, boiling burgers doesn’t sound like the best way to make them taste delicious, but bear with us for a moment.
Former Wendy’s employees on Reddit claim that Wendy’s does this very thing — that stash of leftover burgers hits a pot of boiling water before it makes it’s way to the chili — and it actually does make sense.
We can only guess as to the reasoning behind the boiling, but it works to their advantage in more ways than one. Boiling the burgers reduces the fat content so that your chili won’t be swimming in a sea of grease — because, let’s face it, that burger was fresh, but it was also greasy. Also, boiling does bring back some of the moisture to the meat after it’s been sitting in the fridge.
When ground beef is boiled it breaks it up into smaller, more even-sized pieces than if you were to fry it alone. This adds a nice consistency to the chili. The sauce becomes beefier and the beans stand out more.
While we wouldn’t recommend boiling leftover burgers you want to eat on a bun, Wendy’s proves that it does, in fact, make for tasty chili.
Wendy’s uses more than one kind of bean in their chili
Wendy’s includes both red kidney beans and pink beans in its chili recipe. Although sometimes subtle, beans do have different tastes and textures. With two different types of beans, each bite brings something new, and they do say variety is the (chili) spice of life.
Red kidney beans are what bring that hearty taste to chili. You would be hard-pressed not to find these guys included in a chili recipe. They are like the Kleenex brand of beans: ubiquitous, relatively inexpensive, and recognized everywhere. They are full of fiber and protein, but must be fully cooked or they are toxic.
Pink beans are related to their kidney bean cousins, bringing a full, sweetish meaty flavor to chilis and stews. They are often confused with pinto beans, but they are, in fact, a separate type of bean.
More beans means flavor, so their different varieties of beans just means that Wendy’s chili is extra delicious.
Wendy’s chili is a low-calorie meal
Wendy’s Chili s pretty good when it comes to calories. At 160 calories per small serving and 250 per large, this dish rates well when compared to most food you can find at fast food joints (including those "healthy" salads that come with a healthy dollop of dressing to go with those good-for-you greens).
Healthline says that an average woman should consume about 2,000 calories a day to maintain her weight and 1,500 calories per day to lose one pound per week. If you’re a man, you get to eat a bit more: 2,500 calories per day, and 2,000 calories to lose that extra pound or two. Wendy’s chili barely puts a dent into that daily calorie count. And that salad? Wendy’s Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad comes in a 610 calories, even more calories than a Wendy’s single with cheese.
Knowing that you’re making a healthier choice — and one that won’t destroy your diet plan — makes Wendy’s chili taste even better than that greasy burger you may have been considering.
Wendy’s chili smells delicious
Science has proven that we need both smell and taste to properly appreciate the nuances of flavor. Because we are all made differently, we each have a slightly different take on what constitutes "good" and "bad." While we might not all think that rotting cabbage is good and smells like home, we can all agree that there are certain scents that take us back to a happy time and food often plays a big part in our scent memories.
For many of us, the smell of chili slowly simmering on the stove is a comforting smell, making us feel all cozy and warm inside. Maybe it’s something your mom made when you were a kid, slathered on rice to make it go further, or something you discovered as an adult because it was pretty easy to make while you had your social life to think about and, oh, yeah, college. Whenever chili entered your life, it’s hard to dispute that it is a go-to if the day’s treated you badly.
One whiff of that Wendy’s chili and you already know it’s going to taste delicious.
Wendy’s chili isn’t that expensive
We all love a good deal. It makes us feel good, which makes us do it again, and this keeps our economy in motion so, really, you’re helping society function. Yay you! The fact is, fast food is a small indulgence. We can get it while we’re on the run as a convenience, and we use it to treat ourselves when we need a little boost. And we can get this self-satisfying snack at a reasonable price, so there’s no guilt about the money you spent.
When you’re a fast food restaurant, it’s practically in your mandate to sell inexpensive (read, cheap) food. Wendy’s takes this covenant to heart. This chain’s chili costs a mere $2.09 for a small bowl and $2.79 for a large one (as of June 2019, depending on your location). With prices that low, you can even add in that Baconator! Although, if you stick to the chili alone, you won’t feel guilty about the money spent OR the calories ingested.
Eating a hearty meal and feeling good about the price you paid translates to a meal that tastes even better than a higher-priced one.
You can feel good about eating meat from Wendy’s
No matter how enthusiastic of a carnivore you may be, sometimes there’s a part of you that feels, well, just a wee bit queasy about the current state of our food supply chain. Knowing how we raise and butcher meat isn’t for the faint-hearted.
That’s why when we hear about a company that sells meat products — Wendy’s, we’re looking at you — and does so in a humane way, it makes us very happy. The company has an extensive animal welfare program that covers everything from animal welfare, antibiotic use, sustainability, supplier education and welfare audits. According to Wendy’s, the company has tougher animal welfare standards than the government, and all of its suppliers are expected to meet or exceed these standards of treatment. Suppliers are regularly audited to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to and then the auditors are audited just to keep everybody honest. Wendy’s also believes that antibiotics are only to be used when an animal is sick, not as a routine preventative.
Just …thanks. No wonder that chili tastes so good.
Wendy’s chili is swimming in a (tomato-y) sea of salt
Yes, we know. Salt is not necessarily the health food we’d like it to be, as it is in our imaginary topsy-turvy world where everything bad for us is now miraculously good. Wendy’s chili may have 780 mg of sodium in the small size and 1,170 mg in the large (recommended daily dose is a maximum of 2,400 mg for an adult, so that’s nearly half a day’s worth) but, if we compare this to, say, a Barbecue Cheeseburger Triple, coming in at 1,900 mg of sodium, that chili is looking pretty fine all of a sudden.
Salt is, after all, the magic ingredient in cooking, enhancing flavors, diminishing bitterness and boosting sweetness. Plus our bodies do need some sodium to function well. While we don’t advocate for a salt-laden diet, don’t blame the salt. It’s only doing what it’s supposed to do: make good food taste even better.
There are plenty of Wendy’s chili copycats, but they’re not the same
Search on the web and you’ll find more recipes for Wendy’s chili than you could ever dream of trying out yourself — unless you have a lot of time on your hands. Most of the recipes agree that ground beef — although, hello, they don’t boil it after frying it — red kidney beans, celery, onions, green pepper and chili powder are part of what makes Wendy’s chili, well, Wendy’s chili, but then they start to differ.
Most of the recipes all agree that some form of tomato needs to be added, but some include one or more of: tomato sauce, tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, and diced tomatoes, getting particularly specific by spelling out that these tomatoes should be diced tomatoes with green chilies. A lot of the recipes also, mistakenly, used pinto beans and not pink ones, although it’s an easy mistake to make. Many of the recipes also included a touch of vinegar, sugar or Worcestershire sauce.
Regardless of the specifics of each recipe, they say that mimicry is the best form of flattery so, with the numerous copycats out there, it’s got to be good. (We’ve even got our own version.)
Still, nothing tastes as good as the real deal — maybe it’s because you didn’t have to cook to eat it.