Chili Madness: What are the best chili toppings?


While everyone is engrossed with March Madness, another type of competition is taking place in the kitchen. Chili Madness is here to determine the best chili toppings.

Chili can be a hotly contested recipe debate. From the beans debate to chili toppings, everyone has a preferred way of eating chili. While everyone has a favorite chili, one item is clear. Chili and March Madness are a winning combination.

According to HORMEL Chili, “over 8 million pounds of HORMEL Chili was purchased during March.” Additionally, the South bought more than 3 million pounds of chili, the most of any region. While these numbers are staggering, HORMEL Chili found that each region has certain preferred chili toppings.

Chili Madness: Best chili toppings, photo provided by HORMEL Chili

Breaking the country into four regions, South, West, Midwest and East, the best chili toppings seem to have strong regional ties. Our choice for top toppings for chili are:

South – Corn Chips
West – Cotija Cheese
East – Sour Cream
Midwest – Cheddar Cheese

The South’s top choice of corn chips seems pretty straight forward. The crunchy qualities of the corn chips adds a great textural element to chili. The sweetness of a corn chip could balance the spice in a chili.

Truthfully, the choice seems like a nod to a walking taco or Frito Pie. It would be additionally interesting to know if scoop style corn chips were preferred to a classic style. If you’re looking to serve a Southern inspired chili, make sure there is a bowl of corn chips to top the chili.

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For the West, cotija cheese is an unusual choice. The Mexican style cheese is typical on dishes like tacos and tosado. The cheese can be quite salty and is usually served crumbled.

The idea of adding cotija to chili is different. Often people prefer something cooling to offset a spicy chili. While the dairy from the cotija helps, people need to watch the salt balance in the chili. No one wants a spoon of over-salted food.

In the East, chili fans prefer sour cream. This topping seems to be a traditional choice. Sour cream often adds both a tangy and cooling effect to chili. The topping can also thicken the chili’s consistency.

Lastly, the Midwest prefers cheddar cheese as its favorite chili topping. With the power of the Wisconsin dairy farmers, this cheese choice seems logical. One item to consider is the thickness of the grated cheddar cheese. Thinner grated cheese will melt more consistently. If you prefer the cheese melted into the chili, a finer grated cheese is better.

These toppings were the most popular in the four regions. Other toppings were both traditional and non-traditional. While I know some people enjoy cornbread with their chili, I don’t know too many people who put cornbread in the chili.

Also, avocados in chili are becoming more common. Then again, avocados are on everything these days. Why not add some of this fruit as a topping to chili.

While these findings are interesting, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay on the traditional path. Everyone should enjoy chili their way. Personally, I like to add habanero cheese to my non-bean chili. I really like chili to bring the heat and leave my mouth on fire.

Next: March Madness restaurant specials

If you’re serving chili, what is your preferred chili topping? Will you be serving some chili during March Madness? Share your thoughts in the comments or tag us on social media using #FoodSided.