can you use pasta sauce for chili

When you’re short on condiments in the kitchen, you may be looking at your pantry and wondering: Can you use pasta sauce for chili?

Pasta sauce can make an excellent substitute for common ingredients in both red and white chili recipes. It can even add some extra flavor to a lifeless dish.

Read on to learn more about how to use pasta sauce in your favorite chili recipe.

Whether you’re out of a key ingredient or looking to spice up your meal, pasta sauce can make a flavorful addition to your next chili dinner.

You can adapt pretty much any chili recipe to use pasta sauce instead of components such as cream or tomato paste. Just keep in mind that most store-bought pasta sauces contain herbs and spices that can impact the final flavor of your chili.

Can You Use Pasta Sauce for Chili?

use pasta sauce for chili

Whether you’re a pro chef or a complete beginner, there’s a good chance you’ve wondered: Do you put pasta sauce in chili?

Pasta sauce makes a good substitute for a variety of wet ingredients commonly found in chili recipes.

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You may need to substitute pasta sauce for different ingredients depending on whether you’re making red or white chili.

Tip: You should always opt for a red sauce or marinara with a tomato-based chili and white or Alfredo sauce for cream-based chili.

If you are making red chili, tomato sauce can make a good replacement for any tomato components of the recipe.

Some of the best ingredients to sub out for pasta sauce include:

  • Tomato sauce
  • Tomato puree
  • Canned or fresh tomatoes
  • Ketchup
  • Crushed or pureed bell peppers
  • Mild chili paste
use a pasta sauce for chili

For white chili recipes, pasta sauce makes a good substitute for dairy ingredients instead of vegetables.

The best ingredients to switch with pasta sauce in white chili include:

  • Sour cream or creme fraiche
  • Milk or heavy cream
  • Soft and grated cheese
  • Cream of vegetable soups
  • Chicken stock

In many instances, pasta sauces contain one or more of the exact same ingredients needed in chili recipes.

Because of this, it’s one of the closest possible substitutes in many cases, giving you an authentic-tasting recipe.

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If a pasta sauce contains more than one of the ingredients you need, including specific herbs and spices, you may be able to substitute it for multiple ingredients to save time, money, and frustration.

Tip: Check the label to see if the herbs and spices in a store-bought sauce match with the ones you need for your recipe.

The Different Types of Pasta Sauce

types of pasta sauce

If you plan to swap out wet ingredients in your chili recipe, you need to make sure that you choose the best pasta sauce for the job.

While some store-bought options may be appropriate, others may not pair with the flavor profile of your chili.

The type of pasta sauce that you use should depend primarily on your chili recipe, whether you’re making a tomato-based red chili or a cream-based white one.

It’s essential to choose a sauce that will lend authentic flavor to your recipe, even if you’re limited by what’s in your pantry.

Here, we will go over some of the most common styles of pasta sauces available on store shelves and when to use them in a chili recipe.

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Marinara Sauce

Marinara is one of the most popular pasta sauces amongst American home cooks and features Italian dishes ranging from spaghetti to chicken parmesan.

the marinara suce

It’s a tomato-based red sauce typically served without meat. Most marinaras include garlic and Italian herbs for flavoring.

You can use marinara as a substitute in many red chili recipes for tomato-based components such as pastes or purees.

However, keep in mind that it may add aromatic flavors such as garlic, oregano, basil, and thyme. 

If your recipe already calls for Italian herbs, marinara will make an especially good addition. Flavors such as thyme can quickly overpower a dish, though.

You may want to avoid adding any additional herbs to your chili until tasting the end product.

Tip: The majority of nonperishable red sauces that you see in the supermarket are likely to be marinaras, making it one of the easiest (and cheapest) sauces to get your hands on.

Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese is another popular red sauce used in a variety of Italian pasta dishes.

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Unlike marinara sauce, bolognese contains ground meat in addition to tomatoes and spices.

a bolognese sauce

In fact, most traditional bolognese recipes have more protein than tomatoes.

Thanks to its meat component, you can use bolognese sauce to replace multiple ingredients in your chili recipe.

If you like to add extra protein in the form of ground beef, pork, lamb, or turkey, the meat in a bolognese sauce will make a juicy and flavorful replacement.

Because bolognese sauces are light on the tomato, they may not contain enough liquid to flesh out your chili recipe.

Tip: You can include some extra tomato puree to add liquid to the dish without thinning out the flavor. 

If you find yourself short on tomato products, a little bit of water will ensure that your chili mixture does not end up too thick.

Alfredo Sauce

Alfredo sauce is a white sauce made of butter, cream, and cheese.

While Alfredo sauce may contain some spices, it’s typically a very light sauce reserved for delicate dishes such as chicken and seafood.

an alfredo sauce

You can use Alfredo sauce as a substitute in many white chili recipes.

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Thanks to the cheese, you can expect to see a thicker, heavier base than you would with milk or heavy cream.

You may need to add stock or water to thin your chili to the desired consistency.

Carbonara Sauce

Carbonara sauce is another white sauce that boasts a similar taste to Alfredo sauce.

Carbonara also contains butter, cream, and cheese, but unlike Alfredo sauce, it also includes eggs.

Slippery egg whites give the sauce a thicker consistency and help it stick to wet pasta noodles.

the carbonara sauce

In most cases, Alfredo sauce makes a better substitute in white chili recipes than carbonara sauce.

The eggs in carbonara sauce can cook in your chili and become thick or lumpy.

However, in a pinch, carbonara sauce will still offer a suitable cream base for most chili recipes.

Tip: When using carbonara sauce as a substitute in chili, cook low and slow to avoid the egg cooking in clumps.

Pesto Sauce

Pesto sauce is neither white nor red but instead is a green oil-based sauce with a zesty flavor.

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It usually contains basil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan or pecorino cheese mixed with olive oil.

In most cases, pesto sauce will not go with either red or white chili. It adds a strong basil flavor that can overpower the more subtle aspects of a chili recipe.

If you want to add a bold twist to your chili, you can try substituting pesto sauce for other herbs and flavorings.

It works well with recipes that call for Italian herbs such as oregano, thyme, rosemary, and, of course, basil. You can also add a dash of pesto at the end for a zesty kick.

Substituting Pasta Sauce in Chili Recipes

substituting pasta sauce

Every day, home chefs and chili enthusiasts alike ask the question: can you use pasta sauce to make chili?

Pasta sauce makes an ideal substitution for chili ingredients (as long as it doesn’t gone bad yet!) ranging from tomato paste to heavy whipping cream.

As long as you choose the right sauce for your recipe, you’ll end up with delicious, authentic-tasting chili.

You can typically substitute pasta sauce for tomato-based components in a 1:1 ratio. When it comes to white chilis, sauces such as Alfredo or carbonara can be too thick.

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You may have to add pasta sauce closer to a 1:2 or even 1:3 ratio.

Tip: If you need to thicken your chili, add some extra meat or beans. If you need to thin it out, add water or broth.

Wrapping Up

Plenty of home chefs find themselves staring at an empty pantry, wondering: Can you use pasta sauce for chili?

If you’re short on pantry staples such as tomato sauce, tomato paste, or whipping cream, you may still be able to whip up your favorite chili dish.

The answer is you can adapt most chili recipes to include pasta sauce instead of other liquid components.

Both red and white dishes will taste authentic as long as you choose the right type of sauce to use.

Just remember to account for the extra herbs and spices found in store-bought options for the best possible results during your next chili cookout.