Chili Beans vs Kidney Beans – Best Beans for Chili & Key Differences

Published Categorized as Journal

Ever wonder the difference between chili beans vs kidney beans? Chili beans and kidney beans have distinctive differences, though the terminology may be confusing as the word “chili beans” actually can mean different things to different people.

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Because of this truth, many people find themselves scratching their heads when it comes to determining the key differences between chili beans vs kidney beans. In this article, we set out to bust up the myths concerning the two types of beans and to equip you with the information you need to make a confident selection of the types of beans you need in your next batch of chili coming right up.

Table of Contents

Chili Beans

Chili Beans vs Kidney Beans

Kidney Beans vs Chili Beans

The difference between kidney beans vs chili beans is really quite simple. Still, the differences between the two can often become muddled in the midst of semantics.

In the most basic sense, chili beans vs kidney beans differ in terms of beans used and flavorings added.

Beans labeled as “chili” beans will typically be sold in cans in supermarkets. They will feature smaller beans, usually pinto, along with other flavorings like onion, chilis, and spices to make them flavorful. It is these kinds of beans that can be used on their own or as a side dish as they are already quite flavorful.

Still, others prefer to use chili beans in their homemade chili rather than using kidney beans or other bean types, as these can make the chili more effortlessly delicious.

dry bean types

Kidney beans, on the other hand, can be sold already cooked and canned or uncooked and dry in a package. Kidney beans, when already canned and cooked, will still have a tougher skin and drier interior. B, they will still be ready to eat upon opening the can.

Dry kidney beans, of course, will need to be soaked and cooked according to the package directions or according to the directions in your recipe.

Unlike chili beans, kidney beans don’t typically come seasoned. So many prefer to use these beans when they plan to cook homemade chili because they can get creative when using their own seasonings.

Confusion About “Chili Beans”

Here’s where things get a bit muddled as far as semantics are concerned.

Though there are technical “chili beans” that are labeled as such on the market and sold within cans, there are many people that use the term “chili beans” to simply refer to the best type of bean to use in a particular chili.

For example, you might hear a person say, “What type of chili beans go best in chili?” Someone asking this question may be referring to a specific kind of canned or dry bean that is exclusive to the type of chili they’ll be making rather than the actual “chili bean” type of bean that comes pre-seasoned in a can.

Hormel Chili With Beans 15 Oz (8 Pack)

Chili Bean Types

There are several types of beans that can be called for in chili. The type of chili beans used can vary depending on the recipe. Recipes that call for beans used in a white chili are usually completely different from chili beans used in a red chili.

Here are some of the most common chili bean types used in homemade chilis:

  • Dark Kidney Beans
  • Light Kidney Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Black Beans
  • Bean Mix (Kidney, Pinto, and Black Bean-Great For Three Bean Chili)
  • Cannellini Beans (White Chili)
  • Great Northern (White Chili)
  • Navy Beans (White Chili)

Types of Kidney Beans

As you may have noticed, there are several different types of kidney beans available on the market. Which one you choose will have an impact mostly on the look of your chili, but textures and flavors may vary slightly.

The following are the most common types of chili beans available:

Dark Red Kidney Beans

Dark red kidney beans, as the name implies, have a dark red hue and tougher skin. These kinds of beans are often referred to as being meatier flavored than light kidney beans,. However, their general flavor profile is roughly the same.

These beans become tender when cooked, but they hold up well in slow-simmering dishes, which makes them the prime candidate for deeply-flavored and slowed-cooked meals.

Light Red Kidney Beans

Light red kidney beans are similar in texture and flavor when compared to their dark red counterparts. However, they are a bit lighter in hue and may be lighter in taste once cooked.

Both light and dark kidney beans will yield a creamier flavor once fully simmered, and therefore prove to be a delightful addition to red chili soup, even though not all red chilis (such as traditional “Texas” chili) may call for beans.

White Kidney Beans (or “Cannellini” Beans)

You may not realize it, but there are a white variety of kidney beans known as Cannellini beans that are often sold in stores.

These white kidney beans are similar in appearance and texture when compared to red kidney beans because they feature a thicker skin and are shaped like the human kidney. However, these beans are actually white and make the perfect addition to white bean chili soup recipes.

three bean types

Types of Chili

Now that you know the difference between chili beans vs kidney beans, it may help to go over the various types of chili you can make and which chili beans to use for each.

Bear in mind that recipes for chili will flex and flow according to your taste, and that not all chili recipes are the same. In fact, this is what makes chili cooking contests so exciting- there are so many ways to make chili which therefore means that the beans used in each recipe may vary.

Still, the following types of chili are the most common types, and the beans listed are most commonly associated with each type of chili:

Red Chili

Red chili is called such because of its red hue. This chili is made from diced or stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasonings.

Some chili types, such as Texas chili, may not call for beans at all, using mostly meat as their base. Most, however, will use a form of red kidney bean or a blend of three bean chili beans (pinto beans, kidney bean, and black beans) for added texture and flavor.

White Chili

White chili is usually composed of cannellini beans, or white kidney beans, along with a blend of spices in chicken broth with shredded chicken, turkey, or ground turkey meat.

This beautiful spin on “classic” chili often contains green chilies, may have a creamy or cheesy base and is often served alongside sour cream and tortilla chips.

When in a pinch, cannellini beans can easily be swapped out for great northern beans or navy beans, and in fact, some people prefer to use these beans instead of cannellini beans when cooking white chicken chili.

Chili Con Carne

Chili con carne, despite its fancy sound, is simply chili as previously described but with added meat. The term “con carne” simply means “with meat” in Spanish, so chili con carne can be correctly translated as “chili with meat”.

Remember that not all chili contains meat, especially those being enjoyed by vegetarians or vegans. As such, chili con carne designates itself as a chili that does use meat so it’s easier to distinguish from chili that may be meatless.

Chili Recipe: Making Chili (The Classic Way)

Red chili is enjoyed in many places around the world, but it finds its way onto American tables quite often. Served alongside crackers, cheese, and sometimes cornbread, red chili is a comforting dish to enjoy on a chilly fall day.

Ready to learn how to make a classic red chili? Let’s go!

Note: This can also be made in a slow cooker for an even easier way to enjoy a hearty chili meal at the end of a long day– all in the same pot!

chili with side dishes

Best Chili Recipe

  • 2 Tbsp of Olive Oil
  • 1lb of Italian Sausage, casing removed
  • 1lb of Ground Beef
  • 1 Large Onion, diced
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 1 Jalapeno, minced or left whole for more mild flavor
  • 3 Tbsp of Chili Powder
  • 1 Tbsp of Cumin
  • 1 Tbsp of Oregano
  • ½ Tsp of Coriander
  • 2 Tbsp of Brown Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp of Tomato Paste
  • 8oz of Beer
  • 2-14 oz cans of Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes (or plain diced tomatoes)
  • 1-14 oz can of Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups of Beef Broth
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Chili Recipe

Heat oil

Begin by heating your oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or large pot with high sides.

Add sausage

Once hot add your sausage with the casing removed along with your ground beef and cook the meat until it is about halfway cooked through. Break up as much of the meat as you can with a wooden, keeping the meat as chunky, or as fine, as you wish according to your texture preference. 

Season and sauté

Add your chopped onions, garlic, and jalapeno, and season with salt. Sauté on medium for about 10 minutes along with the beef and sausage.

Drain and add spice

Once your meat has been cooked through along with the veggies, drain your meat mixture and bring it back to the stove (don’t turn off your stove). Return your pot with the beef, sausage, and veggie mixture to the stove and add your spices and the brown sugar and continue cooking for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. 

Add beer

Add the beer and continue stirring for about 30 more seconds.

More ingredients and boiling

Add your fire-roasted tomatoes, beef stock, and kidney beans to the mix, and bring the entire pot to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to low and cook for a couple of hours which allows all of the seasonings in the chili to meld. Keep an eye on the chili and stir occasionally.

Adjust and enjoy

Once enough time has passed, go ahead and taste your chili and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve alongside cheddar and crackers, or tortilla chips and sour cream. 

What to Do With Leftover Chili

Got leftover chili from the recipe above and need ideas for what to do with it? Try these ideas to get rid of any leftover chili you may have lying around:


Chili Bean Health Benefits

In addition to the delicious flavor that various kinds of chili beans add to a dish, chili beans of varying kinds also offer health benefits.

Consider the following benefits every time you indulge in the following type of chili beans:

Kidney Beans

Red kidney beans are a great addition to the human diet. These beans contain potassium, folic acid, iron, copper, and Vitamin K1.

In addition, kidney beans are great for stabilizing blood sugar levels, aiding in weight loss, and preventing colon cancer. Be aware, however, that toxic proteins called phytohaemagglutinin are contained in kidney beans, and as such, kidney beans can be harmful if consumed raw.

To eliminate this risk, it is imperative that you soak and cook kidney beans. Be sure also to keep dried uncooked kidney beans away from babies, toddlers, and young children. Kids can accidentally eat these dried beans and become hospitalized because of it.

Cannellini Beans

Like red kidney beans, white kidney beans also offer plenty in the way of folate and iron.

In addition, they also add additional magnesium and fiber to your diet. They are a fat-free pick, much like the other beans included in this list.

Spicy World Cannelini Beans 4 LB - From Italy - Dried White Medium Sized Kidney Beans

Pinto Beans

Pinto beans contain loads of antioxidants to help lower your risks of certain chronic illnesses.

In addition, like most other beans, pinto beans are a great source of fiber, potassium, and magnesium.

They are also great for boosting weight loss and preventing issues with blood sugar levels.

Black Beans

Consuming black beans can help you maintain a healthy weight, manage diabetes, lower blood pressure, and promote healthy bones. They contain fiber, manganese, thiamine, and folate, all of which are contributing factors to overall good health.

Augason Farms Black Beans Emergency Bulk Food Storage

Difference Between Chili Beans and Kidney Beans: The Two Are Not the Same!

Remember that although the term “kidney bean” and “chili bean” may sometimes be referencing the same thing, chances are that if you see canned beans labeled this way in the store, they are most definitely separate entities.

Also remember that kidney beans are best identified by their kidney shape, thicker skin, and dryer inside flesh. These beans can be paired with ground meat and can be used to make kidney bean chili for some of the best chili you’ve tasted!

On the flip side, canned beans labeled as “chili beans”’ are more than likely simply pinto beans with added flavorings such as chili powder, onion, chilies, salt, and other enhancements that enable you to serve chili beans on their own.

Remember that canned beans labeled as chili beans can be put in tomato sauce along with ground meat to make a quick chili. Or it can be served alongside a main as a side dish for an easy meal that requires no soaking or cooking.

No matter what bean type you choose, you can expect to get flavor, texture, and ultimately, great health benefits from consuming either kind of bean.

We hope this helps! Cheers!


Are chili beans and kidney beans the same thing?

Chili beans and kidney beans are not the same things. Pinto beans, canned beans, red beans, chili beans, and kidney beans are often separate entities but at times can refer to the same things. 
Remember that canned beans labeled as chili beans are usually pinto beans in disguise. They typically contain seasonings and flavorings that resemble the taste of chili, but without the ground meat. Kidney beans are red beans (not to be confused with adzuki beans) that can be bought either dry or canned. Know that kidney beans will not usually contain any flavorings (other than salt in canned varieties) and as such will require you to add spices, such as black pepper and chili powder, to change the flavor profile and make it tastier.

Can you replace kidney beans in chilli?

You absolutely can replace kidney beans in chili! To do this, simply swap out your chili beans for black beans, pinto beans, or a mix of both. Of course, you can also substitute other beans in your chili with whatever you have on hand, however, it is these substitutions that will typically work best.

What beans are chili beans?

Chili beans are usually pinto beans that are canned and flavored. If, however, you want to know what beans are best used in chili, the answer is that kidney beans are most traditionally used in a red or white chili though they can be replaced with black beans, pinto beans, or even all three bean types depending on your preference. 

Which beans are best for chili?

The best beans for chili are black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans. In fact, adding all three to your chili can amp up the flavor and texture of your chili turning regular chili into something truly special! 

By Anna

Anna Brooks, the voice behind, is a seasoned writer and editor with an insatiable love for food. While not a professional chef, her culinary adventures and unique insights have captivated readers for years. Anna believes in the transformative power of food, stating it "feeds the soul." Dive into her writings for a mix of inspiration, entertainment, and culinary wisdom. Author Pinterest Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Tumblr Reddit Quora

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