Over the Top Chili, often referred to as OTT chili, brings together the wood-fired flavor of slow-smoked meat and the bold, spicy flavors of chili into one tantalizing dish.
How does it do this? By cooking a giant meatball directly over a pot of bean and vegetable chili simmering on your Traeger as shown in the image above. As the meatball cooks, it gets subtly infused with smoke, and its flavorful drippings get deposited right into the pot below. Then, when the meatball is fully cooked, you crumble it into the perfectly stewed chili for a one-two punch of smoky and savory flavor.
Over the top chili resembles traditional chili in most aspects, boasting a combination of meat, an array of aromatic spices, tomatoes, and typically, a generous inclusion of beans.
What sets OTT chili apart from the conventional variety, however, is its distinctive preparation method and how the smoked meat imparts a unique flavor. When selecting meat for OTT chili, ground beef is always a reliable choice, and we prefer one that is 80% lean. Another option is a blend of beef and pork, as is called for in our version of the recipe. More adventurous types might try adding some ground lamb, elk, or bison.
The exact spices you use for your chili is be up to you, but we recommend seasoning the meat with our new Fajita Rub, which provides the essential kick of chili peppers as well as garlic and other flavorings.
Other commonly used aromatics include garlic, onion, and bell peppers as well as chile peppers.
Tomatoes and beans will form the bulk of your stew. You can use regular or fire-roasted tomatoes, with or without chiles. As for beans, there’s a wide variety of options. We’re big fans of using a mix of beans, including red kidney beans and pinto beans. Canned beans will also work just fine in this recipe.
When you’re making over the top chili, you’re really cooking two separate things — your chili base and your big meatball over the top of it.
A Traeger Grill with multiple grates at different levels, such as in our Timberline series of grills, makes the whole process quick and easy; you can simply place the meatball on a high grate and the pot of chile on a low one. If your grill does not have multi-level grates, you can place a wire rack over the chili pot, and cook the meatball on it.
You can start cooking the chili base on your stove or Traeger Induction cooktop, then transfer it to the bottom grate of your Traeger Grill set between 225°F and 275°F. Postion the meatball on a rack directly above the pot, close the lid on your grill, and get the whole party smoking. When the meatball is fully cooked, crumble it into the chili and let everything simmer together for a bit to meld the flavors.
If you are cooking a 2-pound meatball, the chili can take 2 to 4 hours from start to finish, depending on the temperature at which your grill is set. But don't be scared as most of that time is hands-off. In addition to the time it takes the meatball to become fully cooked (more on that in the next section), the meat, once crumbled, simmers in the chili pot for about another half hour for optimum wood-fired flavor.
For a more detailed recipe on over the top chili explore our page.
The meatball is cooked through when it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F. For easy hands-off monitoring of the meatball, use a leave-in meat thermometer, such as Meater.
Which pellets to pick really depends on how strong you want the smoke flavor to be. For a subtle smoke flavor, go with one of our fruit pellets, such as cherry or apple. Another good choice is our Traeger Signature Blend pellets, which is a combination of hickory, maple, and cherry hardwoods. If you prefer a stronger smoke flavor, opt for hickory or mesquite.
Once you learn this method for making chili, you can have fun making tasty variations of it. Start with just about any chili base that you’d like, turn the meat in that chili into a meatball, and smoke it over the top.
Below are some of our favorite Traeger chili recipes that, with a little experimentation, could be adapted into OTT chili.
Starting with Eva Shockey’s recipe for Smoked Venison Chili, you can switch the steps around when it comes to cooking the meat. Form the ground venison into a meatball, add in a few of the spices called for in the recipe to make it even more flavorful, then cook it until done.
For an OTT variation on Bennie Kendrick’s recipe for Smoked Pork Chili Verde — use ground pork instead of chunks of pork shoulder for the meatball. Then cook it over the top of the green salsa-based chili for a rich and chunky chili with a distinctly south-of-the-border flavor.
Over the top chili is delicious on its own — but it’s even better when served with a handful of toppings and a side or two. Here are some suggestions on how to dress up your OTT chili.
There are many options for toppings to boost the flavor of this meal. Try any or all of the following ideas to make your over the top chili truly special:
With the many different options for OTT chili toppings, we think the best way to serve this meal is by serving them on the side so that each person who’s enjoying the chili can pick and choose toppings to suit their own taste. Plus, this variety of colors, flavors, and textures of toppings makes for a nice presentation at the dinner table.
Last but not least, what goes best with over the top chili? It all comes down to adding some starches to your meal to complement the smoky and meaty flavors of the chili. Consider serving any of the following sides:
Like most chili, OTT can be made a day or two ahead of serving and reheated whenever you're craving it as leftovers hold well over time. Here’s how best to store and reheat your chili for maximum flavor.
If you cooked your over the top chili in a Dutch oven with a lid, storing it can be as simple as letting it cool down then putting that lid on and storing it in the fridge. Otherwise, find the right size containers to store your chili in, and tuck them safely away in the fridge for up to a few days. Chili also takes well to freezing and will keep frozen well for up to 2 months.
Additionally, there are many ways to reheat over the top chili: On your stovetop, in the oven or Traeger, or in the microwave.
If you’ve stored your OTT chili in the same Dutch oven you cooked it in, the stovetop and Traeger methods will be the easiest. Simply place the whole batch on top of the stove or inside of a preheated Traeger Grill, add a splash of water to compensate for any evaporation that’s happened while the chili has been in the fridge, and reheat it on medium heat.
For a quick reheating, though, you’ll want to dish out individual portions into microwave-safe bowls and reheat them for about a minute at a time. Stir and taste in between one-minute heatings, as the exact amount of chili in each bowl will change how long each bowl needs to be reheated in the microwave.
If you don’t want to eat the exact same meal twice consider repurposing your OTT chili as a topping for nachos, chili dogs, or loaded tater tots. Any way you serve it, this deeply flavorful chili will make for a delightful meal.
Whether you're a fan of light chicken flavors or bold Texas ones, explore Traeger's top 5 most popular chili recipes.
Here’s the Traeger take on a popular internet recipe. Ground meat is cooked on a rack positioned above a pot of bean chili for optimum smoke penetration. As the meat cooks, it drips fat and flavor into the pot below. The wood-fired meat then gets crumbled into the chili. It’s truly a fun way to make an old favorite. Note that our Traeger Spicy Fajita rub is, well, spicy. If yours is not, add the optional chili powder and, if you want more heat, some cayenne pepper, too.
Chorizo and ground beef combine to create a one-of-a-kind chili that the whole family will love. Our recipe features a tasty combo of meat and ranch-style beans, all melded together with veggies and spices inside a Dutch oven that cooks directly on the Traeger.
When you are hankering for chili but don’t have a lot of time, try this quick yet satisfying version. Canned beans and cooked chicken (a store-bought rotisserie chicken works well) give you a head start. (Don’t rinse the beans as the starch on them helps to thicken the dish.) Feel free to adjust the garnishes as you like. Charred corn kernels, sliced scallions, or pickled jalapeños are also great options.
Tender, smoked pork shoulder meets rich and flavorful chile verde. Serve with warm tortillas or over rice for some south-of-the-border comfort in a bowl.
This is chili, Traeger-style. All the classic chili components cook to savory perfection in a pot on the grill. Load it up with your favorite toppings and dig in!
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