Wendy's chili was one of the OG menu items — how has it withstood the test of time?
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Wendy's Chili
Credit: Courtesy of Wendy's/Allrecipes

Ordering chili at a fast food restaurant may seem like a strange occurrence, but there's one restaurant that has been ruling the fast-food chili game for more than 50 years: Wendy's. In fact, Wendy's chili is so beloved that in just 2020 alone, the restaurant sold more than 83 million servings of this fan-favorite food.

So, what, exactly, makes Wendy's chili so good that it has secured a permanent place on the menu (and has been featured with other menu items as well)? And, maybe even more importantly, why does Wendy's even serve chili in the first place?

Why Does Wendy's Serve Chili?

Wendy's chili dates back to the very beginning of the franchise. When Wendy's opened in 1969, there were only five items on the menu: signature burgers, fries, soft drinks, chili, and the famous Frosty.

Dave Thomas didn't go into the restaurant business dying to have chili on the menu, it just sort of happened. We all know that Wendy's prides itself on using fresh, never frozen beef — the company uses that point against McDonald's and Burger King in ads again and again.

Because Wendy's uses fresh beef, it's more expensive and doesn't last as long as frozen beef, which is something Thomas learned very quickly in his restaurant journey.

When the lunch or dinner rush came through, the chefs were cooking up as many hamburger patties as they could to keep the line moving efficiently. However, because the hamburgers were already cooked and ready to serve, when the rush ended, there were patties left over. 

This meant that Thomas' restaurant was throwing away hundreds of pounds of fresh meat each week, according to The Food That Built America on History. In order to stop wasting food (and also save the company money), Thomas created a new product that used the leftover beef: chili

Thus, chili was added to the menu and became an instant success story — the rest is history. 

What Makes Wendy's Chili Taste So Good?

Besides the fact that Wendy's chili lowers food waste, it's also downright delicious. It has a great consistency, isn't too spicy, and is packed with hearty ingredients. What's not to love? 

The chili consists of chili sauce (made from tomatoes, chili peppers, sugar, and a few more spices), onions, celery, green peppers, ground beef, and chili beans (which are both pinto and kidney beans in this case), according to the ingredient list

The reason we love Wendy's chili so much really comes down to three things: the beef, the beans, and the fact that it's straight comfort food.

How Is Wendy's Chili Made?

Okay, so we told you that Wendy's uses its leftover hamburger patties to make its chili, but how does that work, exactly?

When a Wendy's chef makes a hamburger patty, it will stay fresh for a little while. However, if they make too many and leave them sitting out for too long, the meat will start to dry out. At that point, the burger won't be juicy anymore and can't be served to a customer. 

When that happens, instead of throwing the burger away, the employees wrap it up and place it in the fridge for the next batch of chili. But there's one more step before it can go into the chili pot.

"The next morning, the previous day's burgers are removed from the fridge and placed in a pot with water to boil off excess fat. The water is drained and the meat is chopped up and added to the chili," according to a former Wendy's employee on Reddit.

Boiling a hamburger patty may seem a little strange, but it ensures that your bowl of chili won't be bogged down with grease. It also breaks the meat up to give the chili its "meaty" consistency — referenced in its name: Hot & Meaty Chili.

The beans also play a role in the texture and flavor of the chili. Both pinto beans and kidney beans are used, which means they each provide their own unique properties. Pinto beans have a creamy texture and a nutty and slightly earthy flavor. Kidney beans have a dense texture and subtly sweet flavor.

Finally, customers love Wendy's chili because it's just good, old-fashioned comfort food. No matter if you're in a rush through the drive-thru or just have a hankering for something warm and filling, Wendy's chili is there for a tasty pick-me-up. 

There's just something about scarfing down a side of Wendy's homemade chili that warms your insides and your heart. And, obviously, other people feel it too considering Wendy's chili has made its way onto two additional menu items: the Taco Salad and the Chili Cheese Fries.

Pro tip: it might not be an official menu item, but topping a Wendy's baked potato with the chili is seriously out of this world. We bet your mouth is already watering.