Three bowls of 3-ingredient turkey chili.

3-Ingredient Chili with Leftover Turkey (+ variations)

Warm up with this effortless 3-ingredient chili using cooked turkey, a can of beans, and a jar of salsa. It’s so simple and requires no chopping–especially helpful if you’ve been cooking up a storm for the holidays!

Many of us make sandwiches with our leftover turkey. But let’s be honest, that can get boring especially if you already eat sandwiches on the regular. Enter this chili recipe.

This basic 3-ingredient chili recipe is not only a great way to use up leftover turkey or meat, but it’s also incredibly customizable, too. Add chili powder if you want more heat, optional toppings if you’d like, or try different beans.

You’ll appreciate how fuss-free and versatile this recipe is. After you make it once, you won’t have to look at the recipe again. It’s that easy!

WHY THIS WORK

  • Requires only 3 main ingredients
  • A basic, easy to memorize recipe that you can easily experiment with
  • No chopping required
  • No special equipment needed
  • Filling and nutritious
  • Great way to use up leftover turkey or other cooked meat or chicken
  • Spiciness can be adjusted with the kind of beans and salsa you’re using or add chili powder for more heat
  • Add another layer of flavor with optional toppings
  • Can be eaten with a variety of carbs

INGREDIENTS AND NUTRITION

Ingredients for chili: cooked turkey, canned kidney beans, and salsa.

Cooked turkey

First raised by Native Americans in Central America and Mexico, the turkey is a large bird that’s nutritious and consumed worldwide.

For many Americans, turkey is an iconic symbol of Thanksgiving and is enjoyed alongside various side dishes featuring seasonal flavors.

Two thick slices of turkey contain 24 grams of protein. For reference, most adults need about 0.8-1.0 grams of protein or more, depending on activity level and medical conditions. Older adults, in particular, need more protein to maintain muscle mass, bone health, and strength.

In addition, turkey is a great source of vitamins B3 (niacin), B6, and B12, selenium, phosphorus, and zinc (1).

Vitamin B3 supports the digestive system, nervous system, and skin health. It also plays a key role in turning food into energy.

Vitamin B6 is involved in brain development and keeping the immune system and nervous systems healthy.

Vitamin B12 plays an important part in red blood cell production, DNA formation, cell metabolism, and nerve function.

Another nutrient found in high amounts in turkey is selenium. It plays an essential role in DNA synthesis, reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, and protection from infection.

Turkey is also an excellent source of phosphorus, a mineral that’s a vital component of bones, teeth, DNA, and cell membrane structure. Additionally, phosphorus has a major function in metabolism, heart rhythm, muscle contraction, and the transmission of nerve signals.

Lastly, turkey is loaded with zinc, a mineral needed for many bodily reactions and for supporting the immune system.

Canned beans

Canned beans in general are especially filling and have an impressive nutritional profile that includes plant protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

What’s more, canned beans are shelf-stable and easy to mix with a myriad of dishes. They’re cheap and healthy and check off all the boxes in my book!

I’m using kidney beans in this recipe, but you can use any kind of canned beans you want. A 3.5-ounce (100 grams) serving of kidney beans contains the following nutrients (2):

  • 9 grams of protein
  • 6 grams of fiber. For reference, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories of food consumed.
  • Copper – A mineral involved in making energy, blood vessels, connective tissues, and maintaining the immune and nervous systems.
  • Folate (AKA folic acid or vitamin B9)- An important nutrient especially during pregnancy.
  • Iron – An essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body.
  • Manganese – A trace element involved in metabolism, bone formation, immune response, and reproduction.
  • Molybdenum – A trace element that supports processing of proteins and breaking down toxic substances that enter the body.
  • Potassium – A vital mineral electrolyte that supports total body functioning, helps regulate body fluid and muscle contraction and supports nerve signaling. Potassium has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure.
  • Vitamin K – A nutrient responsible for blood clotting.

Salsa

Traditionally made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lime juice, salsa is one of the best ways to boost flavor and nutrition in a meal.

Low calorie and rich in vitamin C, salsa also contains a good amount of lycopene from tomatoes. According to research, lycopene is linked to reduced cancer risk.

Another benefit of salsa is the anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin–an antioxidant in tomatoes and onions.

Use any kind of salsa you want for this recipe: mild, medium, or hot.

Optional ingredients

3-ingredient chili is a flavorful spicy dish especially if you’re using chili beans and hot salsa. But if you want to spice it up some more, add chili powder.

Other optional ingredients you can top your chili with include the following listed below. And if you’ve been stocking up your kitchen for Thanksgiving prep, you probably have some of these ingredients on hand already.

  • Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • Grated cheese
  • Chopped green onions
  • Chopped chives
  • Cilantro
  • Tortilla strips or crushed tortilla chips
  • Chopped avocado
  • A squeeze of lime

EQUIPMENT

All you need to cook this chili is a medium pot and spoon for cooking.

STEPS TO MAKE 3-INGREDIENT CHILI

  1. Firstly, start by shredding the turkey.
  2. Next, drain and rinse the kidney beans or whatever canned beans you are using. If you are using chili beans, don’t rinse them or you’ll wash out the spicy flavor!
  3. Then add all the ingredients–the shredded turkey, beans, and salsa into the pot.
Shredded turkey, canned kidney beans, and salsa in a pot, ready to be cooked.

After you add all the ingredients to the pot, stir to combine and cook on the stove over medium heat, bringing it to a boil. When the chili starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

If you’re adding toppings to the chili, get that ready while the chili is cooking. Shred the cheese, chop the green onions or herbs, and prep any other toppings.

Once the chili is cooked, remove it from the heat and serve in bowls along with optional toppings. See FAQ for serving suggestions.

3 bowl servings of 3-ingredient turkey chili.

FAQ

What can I use in place of turkey?

Use any leftover meat, chicken, or sausage you have.

Of course, if your protein is not cooked yet, you’ll need to cook it first.

Ground beef or turkey are typically used in traditional chili recipes. Use the same pot you’ll cook the chili in to cook ground beef or turkey and once it’s cooked, follow the rest of the instructions.

What kind of beans can I use in place of kidney beans?

Any of the following canned beans work in chili recipes:

– White kidney beans
– Black beans
– Pink beans
– Pinto beans
– Cannellini beans
– Great Northern beans
– Navy beans
– Chili beans. Do not rinse these beans or you’ll wash away all their spicy flavor!

You can also try a mix of different canned beans.

What can I serve 3-ingredient chili with?

The best part thing about chili, in addition to the awesome punch of flavor, is the variety of carbs you can serve this with:

– Grains such as rice and quinoa
– Cornbread
– Tortilla chips
– Toast
– Crackers
– Top a baked potato with a scoop of chili
– Use chili as filling for tacos and quesadillas

Can I use a can of Rotel or seasoned tomatoes?

Yes, these canned tomatoes will work, too.

Unlike salsa which typically contains onions, there are no onions in Rotel and canned seasoned tomatoes.

You may prefer no onions but if you want some onion flavor in your chili, just add some chopped onions into the mix. Sauté the onions first until they’re almost tender in the pot you’re using to cook the chili. Look out for pre-chopped onions at your local grocery store. Additionally, you can also add onion powder if you don’t have any onions on hand.

How do I add more flavor if I’m using plain canned tomatoes?

If you’re using plain canned chopped tomatoes, try experimenting with the following flavors. Add these flavors to the pot along with the tomatoes, cooked turkey or meat, and beans, and follow the rest of the instructions.

– 1-2 tablespoons of chili powder

A teaspoon of these other flavors:
– oregano
– cumin
– coriander
– salt

In addition, you can also start by sautéing 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped bell pepper then proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

As always, taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.

How do I make this chili taste milder?

If you want to tone down or remove the spice completely, replace the salsa with plain canned chopped tomatoes. By doing this you have complete control over if you want to add chili powder and how much. I recommend starting with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon if you want it mild.

How do I store leftover chili?

If you’re using leftover turkey or meat that’s been sitting in the fridge for 2-3 days, you can store leftover chili in the fridge for another day. You want to eat cooked meats of any kind within 3-4 days of cooking.

You can also freeze chili. Once the chili has cooled down, freeze it in a large freezer-safe zip-lock bag or container. You can also freeze in smaller bags or containers for easy portion control. Store in the freezer for 1 month. When you’re ready to eat your chili, thaw it in the fridge overnight and reheat it in the microwave or a saucepan over the stove.

Three bowls of 3 ingredient turkey chili

3 Ingredient Chili with Leftover Turkey

Warm up with this effortless 3 ingredient chili using cooked turkey, a can of beans, and a jar of salsa. It's so simple and requires no chopping. A great way to use up leftover turkey, this chili recipe is customizable, too. Add chili powder if you want more heat and optional toppings if you'd like or try different beans. You'll appreciate how fuss-free and versatile this recipe is. After you make it once, you won't have to look at the recipe again. It's that easy!
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 5
Calories 224 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 medium pot
  • 1 spoon for cooking

Ingredients
  

  • 5 cups leftover cooked turkey, shredded (or any leftover meat or chicken)
  • 1 16 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or any beans you prefer, see note if you're using chili beans*)
  • 1 16 oz jar salsa
  • Optional for more heat: 1 tsp chili powder
  • Optional toppings: sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheese, chopped green onions or chives, cilantro, tortilla chips or strips

Instructions
 

  • Shred leftover cooked turkey (or any leftover meat or chicken) and add it to the pot.
  • Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pot along with the salsa. Add chili powder for more heat if you'd like or you can wait until the chili is all done cooking, taste, and add chili powder then.
  • Stir all the ingredients together and cook on medium heating, bringing to a boil.
  • Once the chili mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • When the chili is done cooking, serve it in bowls with optional toppings. Enjoy with rice, quinoa, toast, crackers, cornbread, or on baked potato.

Notes

*If you’re using chili beans, do not rinse as this wash away the spicy flavor. 
 
Nutrition information is an estimate based on the ingredients used. 
Keyword 3 ingredient, chili, turkey

Tried this recipe? Share in the comments how it worked out for you and how you made it your own with variations or adaptations you made.

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