Cook ground chuck, in batches, in a large skillet over medium-high heat about 5 minutes, stirring until meat crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Place meat in a 6-quart slow cooker; stir in onions, next 12 ingredients, and, if desired, beans. Cook, covered, at HIGH 5 to 6 hours or at LOW 6 to 8 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf. Serve with desired toppings.
Cooktop preparation: Cook ground chuck, in batches, in a large Dutch oven. Drain beef and return to Dutch oven. Add onions, next 12 ingredients, and, if desired, beans. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 4 to 6 hours. Remove and discard bay leaf.
To freeze: Let chili stand 30 minutes. Evenly divide chili mixture into 3 (1-gallon) zip-top plastic freezer bags; seal and lay each bag flat. Stack bags of chili in freezer. Freeze up to 1 month. Thaw frozen chili overnight in refrigerator or defrost in microwave. Pour thawed chili into a 9-inch square baking dish. Cover tightly with heavy-duty plastic wrap, and fold back a corner to allow steam to escape. Microwave at HIGH 6 to 7 minutes or until bubbly, stirring after 3 1/2 minutes.
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