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Do You Drain Canned Beans For Chili?

Do You Drain Canned Beans For Chili?

Most chili recipes call for canned beans – a product that contains pinto, kidney, or other types of beans in a salt-filled liquid that preserves them for years. However, many home cooks have the same question when they’re making chili with beans in the recipe – “do I need to drain the beans for my chili?”

In general, it’s good to drain and rinse your canned beans for chili. However, it’s not completely necessary. Draining your beans, and especially rinsing them, will lower the sodium levels of your final product.

Still not sure if draining your beans will make a difference?

Let’s dive a little deeper into what canned beans are, and what you can expect when you drain them for chili

What Are Canned Beans?

Created by a Paris chef named Nicolas Appert in the 1700s, canning started as a way to keep food safe over long periods. Appert’s experiments changed the way the world preserved food forever.

Canning typically requires salt in many of its recipes, especially when it’s being done by large manufacturing companies. This is to keep the food products safe for consumption while on the shelves.

Beans are no different – take a look at the sodium levels on the back of your favorite brand. You might be surprised by how high they are.

While homemade canned beans can have less overall sodium intake, storebought beans are often packed in a salty liquid that becomes thick thanks to the natural starches in the beans.

If you are sensitive to salt, many brands offer low-sodium alternatives.

What Are Canned Beans

Why You Might Want To Drain Canned Beans

One study from 2009 by the University of Tennessee saw around 35% of sodium could be removed if canned beans were drained, and 41% of salt was removed by rinsing off the beans as well.

Salt is a natural preservative, but some people are more sensitive to it.

If you have high blood pressure, for example, high levels of sodium can be harmful to your health. Draining and washing your beans before adding them to your chili can help reduce the overall salt content and allow for more seasonings that could enhance the recipe.

Why You Might Want To Drain Canned Beans

What Happens If You Don’t Drain Beans For Chili?

If you were to keep the bean water from your can, it could change the salt content, texture, and flavor of your chili.

Salt Content

As stated previously, the salt content of your chili will be changed by 30- 40% if you add the liquid from canned beans. Draining this liquid will help to lower the overall salt in your dish and put you more in control of the seasonings.

Review your chili recipe before you think about leaving the liquid in the final product. If you’re already adding a lot of salt, consider cutting back on what the recipe calls for, or draining your beans so you don’t overload the dish with sodium.


Salty food aside, adding the liquid from canned beans could make your chili more watery and less thick. Chili requires ingredients to not only add flavor but to keep the dish hearty.

Adding in extra water from the beans could compromise that stereotypical “stick-to-your-ribs” texture.


Chili is meant to have a slightly spicy, warming flavor. Once a family has a chili recipe, they often like it the same way every time.

If you don’t usually drain your beans but start doing it now, you could end up changing the flavor of that favorite family recipe.

If your chili recipe calls for water, however, you can make it more flavorful by adding the liquid from the beans instead of water from the tap. You’ll still have to adjust your seasonings, but it’s a good way to add flavor if you have to add liquid, anyway.

What Happens If You Don’t Drain Beans For Chili

How To Make Chili With Canned Beans

When you’re making chili with canned beans, follow your recipe carefully. The great thing about chili is that there are so many varieties and differences between recipes.

For example, a homestyle chili mix may ask for extra chili powder and ground beef while a professional chef’s chili could have more garlic and use ground pork.

Each recipe is crafted to appeal to a different demographic, so make sure you know your basic requirements for chili when looking for a recipe. Some chilis are spicier than others and use more seasonings, while chilis for children and individuals with sensory issues may be less chunky and have fewer seasonings.

Even if you find a recipe you love, it’s up to you whether you’d like to add beans. Another great thing about chili is that it’s easy to customize based on your personal preference.

Try it with and without draining your beans, and see what you like more!

How To Make Chili With Canned Beans

How To Make Chili Without Canned Beans

Some regions of the world (and, specifically, the U.S.) make their chili recipes without beans. Texas is well known for its “bowls of red” that focus more on meat and chilis than beans.

Thankfully, there are plenty of bean substitutes you can use to add texture and flavor to your hearty dish.

How To Make Chili Without Canned Beans

What Are Some of the Best Bean Substitutes?

There are a few ways to work around a lack of beans in a chili recipe. You could try bulking it up by adding extra meat. Doing so will help to maintain a thick and hearty texture, even without the natural starch from canned beans.

You can also consider some “bean alternatives” to make your chili more unique. Grains like rice or quinoa may not add much flavor, but they can contribute to the texture, keeping your chili thick and rich. Things like lentils, split peas, or whole peas can also be added.

They’ll provide a similar texture to beans while offering a slightly different flavor. Finally, consider going vegan with your chili.

It’s not often the first dish people think of when they’re opting for a meatless meal. But, adding tofu, seitan, or tempeh can mimic the texture of beef and pork, and add a lot of bulk to keep the chili hearty and filling.

What Are Some of the Best Bean Substitutes

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Still not sure about draining your canned beans for chili? Let’s cover a few frequently asked questions, so you can determine the right move for your recipe.

Should I Drain My Canned Beans for Chili?

It’s always best to either follow a recipe’s directions or do what you’ve always done for your family chili.

When in doubt, however, it’s better to drain the beans and have control over your seasoning than put them in without draining and risk the dish being too salty.

Why Should I Drain My Canned Beans?

Draining and washing your beans removes excess salt. If you’re sensitive to sodium or have a health issue that could be exacerbated with too much salt, it’s best to drain (and rinse) your beans.