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Substitute for Beans in Chili

Looking for a different type of bean or even a bean substitute for chili? Here is a list of options, both bean and non-bean!

If you ask 10 people what’s supposed to go in chili, you’ll get 20 different answers. Some people say that beans don’t belong in chili. Others say they always use beans in chili, or just a certain kind of beans.

Friends, I’m not a diehard fan of any particular method. I use MANY different ingredients each time and still call it chili.

That being said, maybe you’re looking for a change. Maybe you don’t like beans and are looking for the best beans substitutes. Or maybe you’re just looking for a different type of bean to use instead.

A bowl of chili with text "Substitute for beans in chili"

I tried to include the best of both worlds in this post. There is no one perfect substitute, but hopefully you’ll find some good ideas here. Scroll to the end to find some delicious recipes!

Best Beans/Legumes Substitutes

Dried pinto beans in a container

Pinto Beans

The cans of chili beans you see at the grocery store are typically pinto beans in a sauce. If you prefer to use your own sauces or spices, you can easily use regular pinto beans as a great substitute.

Pinto beans are also used in refried beans. Those are usually mashed, though, and probably wouldn’t add a good texture to chili. It’d be a much thicker consistency.

A pile of dried black beans

Black Beans

I use black beans in a lot of Mexican dishes, including taco-inspired chili. Usually it’s with things like taco seasoning, corn, and ground beef/turkey.

Cooked kidney beans in a bowl

Kidney Beans

If pinto beans/chili beans aren’t your thing, then I think kidney beans (Sometimes called red beans) would be an excellent substitute. In a standard chili, these are the beans I use.

I’ve used dark red kidney beans and light red kidney beans, and haven’t seen much difference. They’d both be a great option.

Dried red and green lentils


Lentils are a great source of protein and fiber! They’d be an excellent alternative to beans. You can used canned lentils to speed things up, or use dried lentils and raise the cooking time/ liquid a bit.

I prefer green lentils. Red lentils don’t take as long to cook, but they end up very mushy.

Edamame in their pods


Edamame are soybeans that you typically find in Asian-style dishes. They wouldn’t be my first choice in chili, but they’ll absorb the spices really well.

A pile of various dried beans

Other types of beans

There are a few other types of beans: Navy beans, lima beans, Great Northern beans, Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas), and possibly many other kinds of beans. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be a good option, but I think the others listed above would be better substitutes.

Best Substitutes That Are Not Beans

Cooked ground beef


If you’re into more of a low carbs lifestyle, then meat would be a great alternative to beans. Ground meat is high in protein and low in carbs.

In chili, I’ve used many types of meat: ground beef, ground turkey, and even ground chicken. All of them have a similar texture, a high protein content, and taste just fine in chili.

A bowl of cooked brown rice

Gluten-free grains

Have you ever used grains in chili? It adds a chewy texture, and extra fiber if you use whole grains. Brown rice and quinoa are the best choices, in my opinion.

With grains, it’s best to cook them ahead of time and add them to the chili at the very end. They also absorb the liquid after awhile, so consider adding extra liquid when you heat up the chili the next day.

Cubed tofu in a bowl


Tofu is a soy product and a good alternative as a vegetarian protein. Plus, it has fewer carbs than beans. It absorbs the flavor of whatever you cook it in, and has kind of a creamy texture. Cut it into small pieces and cook right in with the chili.

Portobello mushrooms


Mushrooms have somewhat of a meaty texture and is often used as a meat replacement. They also have a low carb count, lower than beans for sure. Portobello mushrooms seem to be the best for the flavor and texture. If you’re looking for a vegetarian chili, I’d recommend using mushrooms!


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