(With Alternate Stovetop Directions)
~ Our family’s go-to, classic chili recipe! This Healthy Crock-Pot Turkey Chili is boldly flavored without being too spicy (but don’t worry – we’ve got tips for you if you like it hot)! It’s so easy in the slow cooker, or on the stovetop. Make a big, double or triple batch for parties or for meal prep freezer meals! ~
This Recipe Is: • Freezable • Make Ahead •
On a chilly evening, it’s hard to beat a comforting, classic bowl of chili!
Yeah, I realize I’m kind of the queen of unique chili recipes. (You’re remembering our contest-winning Pineapple Chili, right? Or our Indian-Spiced Turkey Chili, or even our pumpkin-based Vegetarian Chili?) There’s just something about chili – it begs for creative twists and unique ingredients!
But sometimes, what you really need is a classic. A tried-and-true, don’t-overthink-it, everybody-loves-it, classic.
This is that chili.
- big, bold tomato-y flavor from the double-hit of tomato juice plus ketchup
- a unique balance of sweetness and acidity from the tart lemon juice and vinegar, layered with a little bit of sweet brown sugar
- terrific umami depth from the Worcestershire sauce
- a mild spice level that everyone seems to enjoy (but don’t worry if you like it hot – we’ve got spicy suggestions for you in a bit …)
A Favorite Chili for Years (Decades, Even!)
This Crock-Pot Turkey Chili is pretty much always on the menu at my twins’ birthday party, year after year. I usually make a big, triple batch – and watch it magically disappear while everyone raves and scoops up seconds. They oooh and aaah and make happy, yummy nosies as if they’ve never tried it before … even though it’s exactly the same as what I served last year … and the year before that. Just always a favorite.
And in fact, it’s got a long, long track record of being a family favorite that dates way back before my kiddos were even born and needed me to throw them a birthday party. Way back to before I was even part of this family!
It’s adapted from a photocopied page out of one of my mother-in-law’s mid-20th-century cookbooks (we’ve debated which one it even was) – a recipe she’s been making practically forever, that she passed along to me. That photocopied page has dog-ears, handwritten notes in the margins, and spills and little food stains – all the sure signs of a well-loved recipe that’s been made a thousand times over.
I didn’t want to mess too much with a beloved classic, but through the ba-zillion times I’ve made it myself, I did manage a few nutrition tweaks (you know I couldn’t help myself there!). And I worked through some suggestions for how to make it in the slow cooker (the way I almost always do … yay – hands-free cooking magic!), as well as offering directions for how to simmer it on the stovetop the way the original recipe suggested.
How I Made This Chili Healthier
So, just how did I wave my health-ification magic wand over this classic chili recipe?
Well, as I’ve made this chili time after time, I tweaked several little things, always making sure it still tasted phenomenal. Here’s what I did:
- ditched the butter
- ditched the msg (a relic that almost no home cooks use anymore)
- swapped the ground beef for lean turkey (more on that in a moment)
- decreased the brown sugar
Turkey Chili … or Beef Chili?
I’ve tried this recipe with ground beef (as the original recipe directed) instead of ground turkey, too – and it’s terrific either way. But, with more and more Americans trying to reduce their consumption of red meat, this is a perfect recipe to make with turkey instead. With so many bold, rich flavors going on here, you won’t miss the beef at all!
Regardless of which meat you choose, though, it’s important to read the nutrition labeling carefully to get the leanest ground meat possible.
A lot of people don’t realize that ground turkey – just like ground beef – can vary in the amount of fat it contains. So, using a ground turkey blend that’s, say … 85% lean … is definitely NOT leaner that using a ground beef blend that’s 95% lean.
Be sure to check the labels, so you’re certain about the amount of fat in the meat you’re selecting. (You can dive deeper into ground beef vs. ground turkey nutrition HERE).
More Ingredient Tips
1) Healthier Ketchup: You might be surprised to learn that many ketchups contain high-fructose corn syrup. So, yeah … you could be getting lots of great lycopene from all those tomatoes, but also a hefty wallop of a pretty undesirable sweetener. To be sure you’re avoiding high-fructose corn syrup, choose an organic or all-natural ketchup.
2) Different Beans: The beans in this turkey chili add extra protein, plus nutrition bonuses like fiber. But, you don’t have to stick with regular kidney beans – feel free to try other beans like cannellini beans (sometimes called white kidney beans), light red kidney beans or black beans. Or, if you’re making a double or triple batch, you could grab cans of different bean varieties for a pretty mixture of bean shapes and colors.
3) Tomato Juice: I usually use Campbell’s Tomato Juice. But in a pinch, I’ve tried using extra V8 Original Vegetable Juice (that I happened to have on hand from making our Farmers’ Market Italian Sausage-Tortellini Soup), and it worked just fine, too.
How to Make Spicy Turkey Chili
One of the many fantastic things about this Crock-Pot Turkey Chili that makes it such a well-loved classic, is that it’s got such big, full-bodied flavors, without being too spicy. Its basic flavor profile seems to satisfy everybody, from spice wimps to chili-heads. But, if you and your family like it hot-hot-hot, there are a couple of easy options for ratcheting up the heat:
- Add more chili powder during cooking.
- Pass hot sauce at the table (which is an especially good option if only some of your family members like spicy food but others don’t).
Serving Suggestions for Our Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
This deliciously nutritious Turkey Chili is so flexible and adaptable and goes great with practically anything!
- Try it cozied up next to cornbread or grilled cheese (mmmmm … how about our killer-good Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese Sandwiches?!?).
- For our big B-day/Super Bowl bash, I normally triple the recipe for our crowd, and serve it alongside Baked Hawaiian Roll Sliders.
- A green salad and some crisp, sweet-tart apple wedges would be great to fill out your menu!
For toppings, I usually offer:
- shredded, reduced-fat cheddar cheese
- reduced-fat sour cream
- maybe some thinly sliced green onions or finely diced red or sweet onions, if I happen to have any
- also try sliced jalapeños for spice lovers
Alternate Stovetop Method
To make this Healthy Turkey Chili on the stovetop, you simply cook the turkey and onion in a large pot or dutch oven, and leave them on the stove, instead of transferring them to a slow cooker after they’re cooked. Just dump in all the other ingredients, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Super easy! And a great alternative if you don’t happen to have a crock-pot, or if you forget to start the recipe in the slow cooker … and suddenly realize dinner needs to be ready in about half an hour (oh yes … I’ve been there myself a time or two!).
Try this classic chili for an easy family dinner … and for parties or tailgates. It even freezes great and is terrific for meal prep!
No matter how you make it, or how you serve it, it’s always an absolute crowd pleaser!
- 1 pound lean ground turkey (we prefer to use 96-99% lean)
- 1 cup chopped sweet onion (from about half a large onion)
- 16.5 ounces tomato juice (we use three 5.5-ounce cans of Campbell's)
- 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans (preferably organic or reduced-sodium), rinsed and drained
- 2/3 cup ketchup (natural or organic, see note)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup chopped celery (from about 1 stalk)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- Optional for serving: toppings like shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, reduced-fat sour cream, chopped green onions, hot sauce for passing at the table
In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, brown turkey and onions, stirring to crumble (or use my favorite crumbling tool), about 5-7 minutes. Drain if needed (if using very lean turkey, there probably won't be any need to drain.)
Transfer turkey and onion mixture to slow cooker. (This small, 3-quart slow cooker is the perfect size, but a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker will also work.) Add all other ingredients (except optional toppings) to slow cooker and stir to combine.
Cook on high (about 4-5 hours) or on low (about 6-8 hours).
Serve with optional toppings as desired.
Ketchup: We recommend purchasing natural or organic brands of ketchup whenever possible, in order to avoid brands that have high-fructose corn syrup and other "questionable" ingredients.
Alternate stovetop directions: Brown turkey and onions in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring to crumble and draining if needed, as directed above. Instead of transferring the turkey and onion mixture to a slow cooker, leave the mixture in the large stovetop pot and add in all other ingredients (except optional toppings). Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
Freezing and make-ahead: This chili reheats beautifully, and like most chili recipes, its flavors are just as good if not even better after a day or two. It also freezes well if you want to make batches further in advance for freezer meal prep.