Chili freezes exceptionally well, as long as you cool it thoroughly first 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 other foods in the freezer.
Modify Your Recipe
Modify your recipe to offset the ways freezing can alter certain ingredients in the chili. 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, quick-cool it by setting the pot in a sink of ice water. Stir the chili to cool evenly. Keep the water cold by replenishing the ice as it melts. Cool the chili to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
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 the Right 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’re often easier to store than block-shaped containers. Avoid aluminum-foil tins and wrapping, which become degraded by the acid in tomatoes, causing metal to seep into the food.
Freeze Small Portions
Small portions freeze and thaw more safely than large ones, 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.
To create really small portions, freeze chili in covered ice cube trays overnight. Transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag for long-term storage.
Freeze and Reheat Safely
Freeze the chili at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for as long as four months. After that, moisture and flavor decline and fat in the meat turns rancid.
When you’re ready to eat it, thaw the chili in a refrigerator. Reheat to a rolling boil, covered to retain moisture. Season the chili as needed.