Good Winter Chili

It’s winter here in northeast Tennessee, and this Florida girl is not having it. My rule is that my husband not ask me to do anything outside if it’s colder than 65 degrees, which is almost every day of winter here. Imagine his surprise when a recent sunny day that topped at 50 degrees led me to ask him to join me on a hike! We have a trail just down the road from our house that is perfect for a quick nature fix and has a few points of interest no matter the season. 

Jump to Recipe

The last time I hiked in the height of the leaf change, a gaggle of juvenile cormorants had settled around the lake, undoubtedly on their way south for winter. I thoroughly enjoyed watching and photographing these birds hanging out in the canopy all along the shoreline. This time I was surprised to find a handful of cormorants decided to settle on the lake for winter … but why not?  I hear there’s pretty good fishing on that lake, and the competition right now is slim.

When I’ve been out in the cold, a warm, hearty dish hits the spot. I was out of some ingredients for Hot Italian Chili, but I had some Italian sausage to cook. I thought about just pan frying the links with onion and bell peppers, but I really wanted a chili, so chili it was … and it did hit the spot when we returned from our hike. When I told my husband I wasn’t sure what to call it he said, “I’d call it ‘good’.” So, there it is … Good Winter Chili.

Dear sweet husband actually had a lot to say about this chili, each time ending with “delicious.” Suffice it say, you’ll discover how Good Winter Chili tastes like a classic chili … until the Italian sausage and bell pepper speak up to tell a slightly different story. It’s full, rich, and satisfying. As with other chili recipes I’ve shared, vegetarians might want to use a plant-based Italian sausage or other meat substitute. If you go with a plant-based protein, I’d recommend adding a little olive oil for fat content. You can use links or ground sausage. Whatever protein substitute you choose, a little ground fennel or even a few whole or crushed seeds will add a little more Italian sausage flavor to the mix. To lower sodium content, eliminate salt and use low sodium versions of the ingredients. 

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” 

Edith Sitwell
good winter chili in crockpot

Good Winter Chili

Lisa Kamolnick / Food Passages
A classic chili with Italian overtones. A blend of classic chili ingredients is complemented by mild Italian sausage and bell pepper. It’s a warm and hearty dish for a chilly winter’s day.
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 25 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 cups


  • Slow Cooker


  • 1 ½ lb Mild Italian sausage or plant-based protein
  • ½ C (8 oz.) cooked black beans drained
  • ½ C (8 oz.) cooked pinto beans drained
  • ½ C (8 oz.) cooked cannelloni beans drained
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 small white or yellow onion chopped (about 1/2 C)
  • ¼ C green bell pepper chopped
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • ½ tsp coarse ground salt
  • ½ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 TBSP chili powder
  • 1 TBSP paprika
  • 1 TBSP sweet basil dried or chopped
  • 1 TBSP red pepper flakes adjust to taste
  • 1 TBSP brown sugar dark or light, raw sugar ok
  • 16 oz tomato sauce
  • 15 oz diced tomato fresh or can
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 1 C water
  • Toppings
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Diced tomato
  • Diced onion


  • Cook sausage in pan on medium heat, drain, and place in large crockpot.
  • Add all other ingredients except cheese to crockpot and stir.
  • Best cooked on low setting about 4 or 5 hours, then set to warm or remove from heat. Will tolerate faster cooking on high setting. Can also be cooked on stovetop on medium to heat then on low setting to simmer, stirring occasionally.


vegetarian version
For my vegetarian version I use plant-based Italian sausage. It captures the flavors well, but the texture is a little different.
Serving Suggestions
Serve warm with desired toppings. Shredded cheddar and fresh diced tomato or onion work well. Combines well with a salad and a baguette or corn muffin.
Keyword chili, gluten free, Italian sausage, plant-based protein, vegan option, vegetarian option

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