Chili is one dish for which it seems like everybody and their dog has their very own recipe, and that recipe, of course, owes its success to a super-secret ingredient that makes all the difference. Most of them sound pretty decent — beer, sriracha, ghost peppers — while others are more kind of "hmm, maybe," like coffee, Coke, or whiskey. Still others are a bit questionable… if you really want to put cauliflower or cranberries in your chili, well, you do you.
There is one secret ingredient, though, that is so secret no one will ever guess it's in your chili. You're probably not going to want to brag about adding it, either, but it really will work wonders to make sure the meat in that chili stays moist and tender. It's plain, ordinary baking soda. Not baking powder, but baking soda. The stuff in the yellow box.
Baking soda helps meat hang on to its moisture. It works especially well when used in conjunction with salt, another ingredient with the same moisture-enhancing properties as baking soda but which is a lot less, well, secret. What recipe doesn't use salt? Together, though, these two secret (or not-so-secret) ingredients work meat-enhancing magic, and the result is a thick pot of chili, not a watery, weepy mess.
America's Test Kitchen (via AP News) recommends using 3/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt to treat 2 pounds of ground beef. The beef is mixed with these dry ingredients, plus 2 tablespoons of water, before being used in your chili recipe. Allow the mixture to sit for about 20 minutes before proceeding. This trick should work for any chili recipe, as long as you adjust for proportion.
And if your chili pot is a mess after you're done cooking, relax. Baking soda can fix that, too. What more could you ask for in a secret ingredient?