Chili freezes exceptionally well, as long as you cool it thoroughly before freezing to promote food safety. Quick-cooling minimizes the time the food spends in the temperature “danger zone” for rapid bacterial growth, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooling it off also protects the integrity of the other frozen foods.
Modify Your Recipe
Modify your chili recipe to offset the ways freezing can alter certain ingredients. Ground pepper and herbs, for example, tend to become stronger and bitter when you freeze them. Salt loses flavor and may cause fat to become rancid sooner. Season the chili lightly or reserve seasoning altogether until you thaw and reheat the soup.
Quick-Cool the Chili
To prepare the chili for freezing, set the pot of just-cooked chili in a sink of ice water to quick-cool it. Stir the chili to redistribute the cooler soup near the sides of the pot. Keep the water cold by replenishing the ice as it melts. Cool the chili until it is 40 F or lower, according to a food thermometer. Do not quick-cool the chili in a refrigerator or freezer. Hot foods raise the temperature in a refrigerator or freezer temporarily, placing all of the other foods in the temperature “danger zone.”
Choose Plastic Storage Materials
Select moisture-vapor-resistant plastic containers or bags made specifically for freezing. Bags of chili laid flat freeze in broad sheets that are easy to stack; they are often easier to store than block-shaped containers. Avoid aluminum foil tins and wrapping, which react to the acid in tomatoes during prolonged contact. The acidity degrades aluminum and causes metal to seep into the food.
Freeze Small Portions
Divide the cooled chili into small portions that your family can consume in one meal. Small portions freeze and thaw more safely than large portions, and they’re easier to store. Scoop each portion into a container or bag, leaving about 1/2 inch of empty space at the top. Freeze chili in covered ice cube trays overnight to create smaller portions. Transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag for long-term storage.
Freeze and Reheat Safely
Freeze the chili at or below 0 F for as long as four months. Moisture and flavor decline and fat in the meat turns rancid after four months, even in well-packaged foods that remain below 0 F. Thaw the chili in a refrigerator. Reheat it to a rolling boil, keeping the pot covered to retain moisture. Season the chili as needed.
References and ResourcesNational Center for Home Food Preservation: Freezing Prepared Foods
U.S. Department of Agriculture: Leftovers and Food Safety
Real Simple: Aluminum Foil Do's and Don'ts
University of Missouri Extension: Quality for Keeps: Freezing Basics