canning chili starter

I absolutely love making chili starter, especially at the end of my summer garden season. It is full of vegetables and is an easy way to use those random vegetables that are still coming in at the end of summer. I have 2 varieties that I make and would love to share both! These recipes create the base of the chili. When you are ready to prepare your meal, you simply put the quart of chili starter in a pot and add whatever you’d like. We add 1 can of kidney beans and 1.5 pounds of ground beef, but you could add different types of beans or meats. It’s even good to use as the base of a taco soup!

For this chili starter, it’s a mixture of many recipes that I’ve tried over the years. I combined things that I loved from different ones and made my own unique blend. The addition of the pickling spices (it includes coriander, mustard seed, a tiny bit of cinnamon, and more) and a ton of other spices make it very flavor forward. If you love curries and Middle Eastern foods, you’ll love this one with all its flavor and a stronger vinegar base.

Melissa’s Chili Starter

32 ripe tomatoes

2 large green peppers

2 large red peppers

2 large onions

4 cloves of garlic, minced

4 stalks of celery

2 cups white vinegar

2 TBSP salt

1 1/3 cup brown sugar

Spice mixture:

6 TBSP pickling spice, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine

4 TBSP chili powder

4 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp onion powder

4 tsp oregano

2 TBSP paprika

1 tsp pepper

  • Scald, peel, and chop tomatoes and put in a large pot or Instant Pot. (I use the Instant Pot, but can only do half the recipe at a time.)
  • Chop peppers, onions, and celery and add to pot. Add minced garlic. I like to dice mine pretty small. Such pretty colors!
  • Pour in your vinegar, salt, and brown sugar, stirring until all is combined. Then add your spice mixture and stir.
  • Put your pickling spices into cheesecloth and use kitchen twine to tie it. (I have also used a stack of 6 coffee filters and tied it off and have never had it break.) Add it into your pot. I push it just beneath the surface.
  • If you are cooking in a normal pot, put it on the stove and cook on low/medium heat to simmer for about 5 hours. With the Instant Pot, you will cook it for 25 minutes and let it naturally release steam.
  • Have about 7 quart jars ready and sterilized. Fill each jar to 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rim of jar with a clean cloth and put lids on finger tight. Process jars in a boiling water bath for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from canner when done and let cool for 24 hours or until sealed.
  • Beautiful jars of chili starter, ready for warm fall and winter meals!

Wendy’s Copycat Chili Starter

24 ripe tomatoes

2 diced bell peppers (I did a mixture of red and green)

2 diced stalks of celery

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic

1 cup water

2 TBSP white vinegar

Spice Mixture:

4 TBSP chili powder

4 tsp cumin

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

4 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

This recipe is made the same way as above, but it makes about 4 quarts of chili starter. First, scald, peel, and chop your tomatoes. Put in your pot or Instant Pot. Add all your chopped veggies, water, and vinegar. Then add your spice mixture. I keep this spice mixture on hand anyway, so you can adjust it as you like. I actually added a bit more spices after it was cooked because I wanted even more of that chili flavor.

Cook in a pot for 4 hours or in an Instant Pot for 25 minutes with a natural release. Then water bath in your jars just as instructed above.

Hope you like this as much as we do! It really does taste pretty similar to Wendy’s chili!


  1. Marla Schnell

    Hi Melissa,
    Just read your copy cat recipe for chili starter and have a question. Do you add brown sugar to Wendy’s Copycat Chili Starter recipe, where the recipe makes about 4 quarts? I did not see brown sugar listed in the recipe.


      1. Marla Schnell

        Thank you much, Melissa! Made a batch of your recipe (not Wendy’s), since I had lots of tomatoes! I’m sure it’ll taste great as the cool weather moves in!!


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