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Give Chili Cheese Fries a Delicious Upgrade With *This* Secret Ingredient — Easy Air-Fryer Recipe

They’re perfect for any party and packed with flavor!

Nothing screams “guilty pleasure” like a steaming plate of chili cheese fries. Melted, bubbly cheese, chili and crispy potatoes topped with various herbs and condiments can make your mouth water just thinking about it. It’s an easy crowd-pleaser perfect for game night or a potluck— and it’s sure to disappear fast. Read on for our test kitchen’s secret to making this indulgent dish taste better, plus a healthier recipe that’s so easy to make at home. Here’s everything you need to know to make chili cheese fries!

Ingredients in chili cheese fries

Stop by most sports bars or family-style restaurants and you’ll find chili cheese fries on the menu. The dish is made of crispy fries layered with chili con carne, meaning “chili with meat,” a spicy stew consisting of chili (either peppers or powder), ground beef, tomatoes and often a bean, usually kidney beans. A chili is rich in flavor, with other staple ingredients including cumin, onion and garlic.

For more air fryer potato recipes, check out this cooking lesson on how to make Crispy Air-Fried Potato Slices that are oil-free and delicious!

The secret to the best tasting chili

It might sound surprising, but using unsweetened cocoa powder in chili can add a great boost of flavor. In fact, mixing chocolate and spices has a longstanding history in Mexican cuisine (think mole), because both chili peppers and chocolate are native to Central and South America. Unsweetened cocoa powder, sometimes labeled as “natural,” is not processed beyond the initial grounding into a powder. Unlike what you would use in baking, unsweetened cocoa powder is lighter in color, acidic, earthy and bitter.

Unsweetened cocoa powder gives “an instant richness, almost like an umami flavor,” to a chili sauce, says Susan Chuisano, Test Kitchen Manager at Woman’s World. This can be especially helpful with vegetarian, vegan, or leaner meat versions of chili, which tend to have milder flavor profiles. She adds that this unexpected ingredient is “an easy way to jazz up canned chili” already in your pantry.

Delicious chili cheese fries recipe

The Woman’s World test kitchen has created the perfect cocoa-flavored chili cheese fries recipe with a few twists. This recipe uses an air fryer to make crispy potatoes. New to air frying? It’s an easy and healthier cooking method that circulates hot air around food to create a fried exterior and tender interior. (If you’re looking for more quick air fryer recipes, click through for hot honey chicken and bacon wrapped hot dogs.) We also use ground turkey for a leaner source of protein, but you can choose any ground meat.

Chili Cheese fries

State fair Chili cheese fries
Adobe Stock



  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 15.5 oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed, drained
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder

Fries and toppings:

  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes, cut into ¼”-thick fries
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 6 oz. (2% milk) sharp cheddar, shredded
  • Optional: chopped fresh chives


Yield: 6 Servings

  1. Lightly coat air fryer with cooking spray, preheat to 375°F.
  2. For chili: In a large pot, heat 1 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often until just softened, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add turkey, chili powder and cumin; cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up meat with a spoon until browned, 8-10 minutes.
  4. Add beans, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, cocoa powder and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.
  5. Partially cover and cook until flavors blend, about 25 minutes. Uncover during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
  6. For fries: In a large bowl, toss potatoes with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, salt and pepper. In batches, if necessary, transfer to basket.
  7. Air fry until tender, about 15 minutes, shaking the basket halfway through cooking time.
  8. To serve: Transfer fries to a large plate or tray and top with chili and cheese. If desired, sprinkle chopped chives or other toppings and enjoy.

Note: If you prefer less heat, reduce chili powder for a milder taste.

Customizing your chili cheese fries

The best part about this dish is that you can make it entirely your own. “It’s a very versatile recipe that can be changed to suit different palates,” shares Julie Pollitt, blogger and author at Back To My Southern Roots. Any chili recipe is fair game to use, whether it’s Cincinnati chili, which uses cinnamon for sweetness, or Texas chili, which has no beans or tomatoes. And don’t forget toppings for the finishing touch — there are almost too many options to count! Fill your serving plate with these great topping ideas.

1. Sliced Jalapeños

If you’re into spice, these are sure to turn up the heat.

2. Finely chopped green onions

Add some freshness to the dish by sprinkling this green vegetable on top.

3. A dollop of sour cream

The ultimate creamy condiment that makes any chili brighter and tart.

4. Crumbled queso fresco

Why not add more cheese! Meaning “fresh cheese,” it’s made from cow’s milk and adds texture.

5. Sliced avocado

A healthy fat that cools your palette and adds even more flavor.

6. Diced tomatoes

A sweet and sour bite that pairs so well with the rich chili flavors.

7. Crispy bacon bits

The perfect salty crunch. Fry it, buy a pre-cooked package or use leftovers from breakfast. (Learn how to make crunchy bacon without the crumble.)

For more tasty fries recipes, read through the stories below:

Crab Fries Are The Spicy, Cheesy Twist On Regular Fries That You’ll Wonder How You Lived Without — Easy Air Fryer Recipe

Pizza Fries Are the Perfect Cheesy Snack Loaded With Flavor — and So Easy to Make!

Chickpea Fries Are the Perfect Crispy Snack That’s Packed With Protein — So Easy to Make in an Air Fryer

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