(Almost) Award-Winning White Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili Recipe via Worthy Pause

My friend Keith has been organizing the annual Chilly Chili Cook-Off for eight years now. We gear up in our winter best, make cornbread on bonfires, eat a ton of food and vote for our favorite chili in a blind-ish taste test along the snowy banks of the Mississippi River. There's a trophy and a lot of trash-talking — it's serious business.

This year, I finally decided to make a chili and enter the competition.

And I won't go into all the shameful details of what transpired on Saturday, but this white chicken chili was completely robbed of first place.

There was an unprecedented three-way tie for first place between mine and two others. And then, in a rigged tie-breaker, our friend Erik whipped all the votes from his bajillion family members in attendance.

If you can't tell, I'm a very graceful loser. :)

White Chicken Chili Recipe via Worthy Pause

What is chili?

I have no clue what truly constitutes a chili. Even at our cook-off, we were trying to define what chili is at it's most common denominator and we couldn't agree. My husband made this thing he called chili, but was not chili (he based it off of fesenjan, which is this Persian pomegranate-walnut chicken stew that is totally delicious — but decidedly not chili-like).

I think of chili as having some kind of chili powder or actual chilies in it... and usually cumin and usually beans but not always. I don't know though — maybe you just know it's chili when you taste it.

Yeah, let's stick to that.

What is white chili?

Most chilis are tomato-based, but a white chili skips the tomatoes. Typically, a white chili will also use white beans and chicken instead of beef or pork. Some white chilis are broth-y, while others are creamy (with cream cheese, sour cream or milk added near the end). My recipe is more on the broth-y side, but there's actually a nice creaminess that comes from a top secret step that involves beans and onions. And I have a few tips at the end of this recipe on how to make it even more creamy, if that's your thing.

P.S. I definitely cooked this batch in a gigantic, ugly, utility stock pot and then I reheated some in the cute white pot for the photos. Trust that there is a lot more chili that is not pictured because it is in my friends' bellies already.

White Chicken Chili Recipe via Worthy Pause

(Almost) Award-Winning White Chicken Chili

dairy-free, gluten-free recipe | serves 8+


  • 4 onions
  • ~4 T olive oil
  • 3 cans cannelini beans, drained
  • 3 poblanos, chopped (no seeds)
  • 3 jalapeños, minced (no seeds)
  • 7 garlic cloves  
  • 2 T cumin
  • 1.5 T chili powder 
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 (4.5 oz) cans green chilies
  • 2 (32 oz) boxes chicken stock
  • 1.5 lbs chicken, cooked and shredded
  • 2 bunches cilantro, chopped
  • zest of 2 limes
  • salt, pepper and cayenne, to taste
  • additional garnish options: chopped green onions, cotija cheese, sour cream


  1. Sauté the onions with some olive oil in a very large stock pot on medium heat. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper.
  2. Once they are cooked, puree the onions and one can of cannelini beans together in a food processor or blender.
  3. In the same stock pot, add some more olive oil and sauté the poblanos and jalapeños. Add another pinch or two of salt.
  4. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano and paprika. Stir until fragrant.
  5. Stir in the bean-onion puree and the green chilies. Add another pinch or two of salt.
  6. Add the chicken stock, chicken, the remaining two cans of cannelini beans and half the cilantro. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust spices, salt, pepper and cayenne (if it's not spicy enough). 
  7. When you're about ready to eat, add the zest from two limes and taste. 
  8. Top with chopped cilantro and additional garnishes, as you like.





  • In the version I made for the cook-off, I also added about a cup of frozen sweet corn and stirred in a package of cream cheese close to serving time (which makes it extra creamy). I left those out to keep this recipe dairy-free and grain-free, but feel free to play around!
  • Chili is a great crockpot contender. I wouldn't recommend making this recipe fully in a crockpot (it just wouldn't be the same), but you could always switch over to a slow cooker to keep it simmering or to bring it to a party. That's what I did for the cook-off.
  • If you're making a big batch to keep in the freezer for later, leave out the beans and any dairy you might be including and incorporate those when you are ready to eat.
White Chicken Chili Recipe via Worthy Pause
White Chicken Chili Recipe via Worthy Pause

Do you have a winning chili cook-off recipe that actually won? Share it here — I need a win next year!