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How to Build the Ultimate Tailgating Chili Bar

Michael Maes / Getty

As the weather cools down and football games heat up, we head into the magical season of chili. Warm, comforting, and extremely easy to customize, it's hard to find someone who doesn't enjoy a bowl during the fall and winter months. Play on this universal love by serving up a DIY chili bar at your next tailgating party, complete with multiple stews, creamy toppings, and crunchy bits to sprinkle atop. 

Tailgates are notorious for indulgent dips and calorie-rich casseroles. You can't forget all the beer either. Keep things lighter—and much easier to prepare—with a DIY chili bar. You'll only need to prepare three to five chilis or soups, depending on the size of your crowd. Make a spread of toppings and breads for sopping up every drop. Your guests can do the rest of the work. These tips can help you make the most of your pre-game chili party.

Serve a Variety

Classic Beef and Two-Bean ChiliWhite Chili with Avocado CreamCan't-Believe-It's-Veggie Chili
Photo: Iain Bagwell; Photo: Iain Bagwell; Photo: Iain Bagwell

Variety is the spice of life, and chili is definitely meant to be spicy. Give guests multiple options by serving a trio of chilis. Beef-based recipes like our Classic Beef and Two-Bean Chili are always a hit, but also change it up by offering flavorful White Chili with Avocado Cream and a vegetarian option with Can't-Believe-It's-Veggie Chili

Make game day even easier by cooking the chili recipes the night before. This allows their flavors to meld and intensify, and saves you from running around the kitchen right before guests arrive. Heat up and then serve them in slow cookers as an easy way to keep them warm.

Keep It Cool

Cucumber and Radish Pico de Gallo Sour CreamSimple Guacamole
Photo: Jennifer Causey; YelenaYemchuk / Getty; Photo: Randy Mayor

We're all about spice, but a bowl of chili isn't complete without a little something to cool it down, too. Salsa is a tasty (and low-calorie) option, especially when you use fresh ingredients like in our Cucumber and Radish Pico de Gallo. Easy and extra mild, Simple Guacamole pairs especially well with the white chili. And don't forget the sour cream! To avoid calorie overload, just start with a small dab. For extra protein, offer guests Greek yogurt instead.

Add Some Crunch

Whole-Grain CrackersCrunchy Ranch Faux-Rito StripsChopped Vegetables
Photo Courtesy of Oxmoor House; Photo: Greg Dupree; Manuel Sulzer / Getty

The finishing touch to the perfect bowl of chili is a little crunch on top. Roughly chopped red onion, green onions, or red bell pepper are great healthy choices. Store-bought or homemade whole-grain crackers, along with roasted Crunchy Chickpeas, are also fiber-filled options to provide a satisfying crunchy texture. Or go all out, and easily replicate a chili-bar favorite, Fritos, with our Faux-Rito Strips.

Stack up bowls, spoons, and napkins at either end of your food display. Guests can mix and match chilis and toppings until they're filled and content. Your prep and clean up will be so easy you'll be able to join everyone just in time for the kick-off.