Cincinnati Chili is a traditional vintage Ohio recipe that unless you've actually had it, you won't understand the following. This chili isn't like your normal red chili. This slow-simmered recipe has unique flavors of chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and cumin.
Have you ever visited Cincinnati, Ohio? If so, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered the popular local dish called Cincinnati Chili. This unique and delicious dish has been part of the local culture for decades.
Cincinnati chili has become an iconic dish in the Queen City, but it can be hard to find beyond its home. The first chili parlor in Ohio opened in 1949.
I decided to take this classic Ohio recipe and add a few modern touches. Be rest assured though, it still maintains the original flavor and aroma of Skyline chili.
If you are looking for more old-fashioned chili recipes, then we recommend checking out our recipe for Slim Jim Chili, our Chili with Kielbasa, our Firehouse Chili recipe and our Old-Fashioned Chili recipe. And of course, if you have a beer, bean, and beef chili fan in your life, then this is a must-see recipe!
- I have found that using an 80/20 ground beef works the best for chili.
- Tomato paste in a squeeze tube is my new favorite discovery. You can just use what you need, place the cap back on and put it the fridge.
- Garlic cloves work the best, however, feel free to use garlic granules as an option.
- Don't use table salt to season your hamburger. Use either Kosher salt or sea salt.
- Adding a small amount of Cayenne pepper adds a nice bit of spice. You can add a bit more to fit your taste buds.
- Bay leaf is a special addition. Make sure to remove the leaf though when you are ready to serve it.
See recipe card for quantities.
To prepare the hamburger, boil the ground beef rather than searing it.
Dice the onions and garlic.
Hint: For this particular type of chili, we cannot stress enough that you BOIL the ground beef and smash it into as little of pieces as possible.
- Ground Beef - I used 80/20 for this recipe, however, feel free to use whatever mix you prefer.
- Onions - we used yellow onions, however, feel free to use your favorite.
- Cheese - the classic calls for a shredded cheddar cheese. If you prefer a white cheddar, feel free to use that.
- Beef broth - you can add this in addition to the water if you'd like.
- Cincinnati chili dip - You can make your own Skyline chili inspired dip for your next get together. Just add some cream cheese to the bottom of your serving dish (this would be in lieu of the spaghetti), then add the chili, then beans, onions, and cheese and serve with dipping chips or bread.
- Coneys - this chili turns a hot dog topped with chili into a fantastic coney dog as well! Just add some hot dogs, buns, chopped onions and mustard (do NOT serve up ketchup, that's a big no-no).
If you are looking for more ways to use hamburger in your meal plan, make sure to check out our post that's all about Chili Recipes that use Ground Beef.
This will keep for up to four days in an airtight container in your fridge.
You can freeze this too so you can enjoy it later! Once the chili has cooled, add it into freezer-safe containers and place in the freezer. This chili will be good for up to three months in the freezer.
To reheat, simply place the container in the fridge and let it thaw. Then place the chili in your microwave-safe soup bowl or a pan if reheating the whole thing. Heat up and enjoy!
Make sure to mark on the lid what's inside and the date you put it into the freezer.
🥣How to Serve
Serving up this Mediterranean-style chili is totally up to you. You can serve it up in a bowl, on a plate, or on top of a hot dog.
My only suggestion as to what type would be to make sure it has some type of a rim, so the sauce doesn't run off of the plate.
👩🍳How to Order
Once you learn how to order or serve up this chili at home, it will be a piece of cake.
Don't except to see the option of a "bowl of chili" on the menu. I've heard you can get it that way, but why would you want to? You will see the options of a 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way.
1. Two-way - this option will simply be chili over a mound of spaghetti.
2. Three-way - this is the same as the two-way, except, it will be topped with lots of shredded cheese.
3. Four-way - Spaghetti, chili, diced onions, and then shredded cheese complete this option.
4. Five-way - this my friends is the ultimate. Spaghetti, chili, kidney beans, diced onions, and then the cheese.
- Break up the ground beef with your hands in cold water before adding any of the spices that the recipe calls for.
- Do NOT brown or sear the hamburger. The key to this recipe is to BOIL the ground beef.
- To smash up the hamburger, you can use a potato masher, aka the utensil that gets hung up in your utensil drawer and stops you from opening up your cabinet drawer.
- To really bring out the flavor of the tomato paste, brown the tomato paste in a dry pan that is already heated up. Using a spatula or wooden spoon to continuously stir the tomato paste so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Do this for 3-5minutes.
- Let the chili rest in the fridge overnight so the flavors really marry together. And this way you can also scrap off the fat that will form on top of the chili.
- You MUST let the chili simmer for 3 to 3.5 hours before pulling it off of the burner and letting it cool.
- You do NOT twirl the spaghetti with your fork while using a spoon. For this hearty chili, you cut it with a fork, just like a casserole.
🥚What Makes it Unique?
If you see ANY of these things mentioned in a recipe for Cincinnati chili, then it's incorrect.
Cooking the beef: You do NOT sauté nor brown the ground beef. You boil it. Plan and simple. This is one of the KEY things about this recipe.
Beans: The beans are a side that you put on TOP of the chili. You do not mix them into the actual chili itself.
Chocolate: As I have already covered, according to the different chili parlors, when asked about the ingredients, the only thing they would confirm is that there is NO chocolate nor NO cocoa powder in the chili due to allergies.
Saltines: You serve the chili with a side of oyster crackers. Not saltines.
🥣Slow Cooker Recipe
To cook in the slow cooker, prepare the recipe following steps 1 - 6 in the recipe card. Then add everything into the slow cooker. Stir to combine and cook on low to 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.
🍨What food is Cincinnati known for?
Besides their famous chili, the Queen's city is also known for its:
- Buckeyes - you'd be hard pressed though to not find these in any part of the state. This classic candy is everywhere.
- Goetta - this unique breakfast meat, from what I can tell, is really only found around Cincy.
- Grater's Ice Cream - if you've had it, then you already know it's some of the best ice cream around.
- Montgomery Inn's Ribs and BBQ - the next time you are there, you gotta try it. You can find the sauce though at many different grocery stores.
- Bar scene - the city has quite a variety to choose from and if non-alcoholic drinks are your jam, then check out this post we found that shares the best places to get Cincinnati mocktails.
Besides the ingredients you will need to create the 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way, you will also need to serve it with a bottle of Tabasco sauce and a bowl of oyster crackers.
It's unique because you don't use the same ingredients as when you are making regular chili and you use seasonings such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. You also do not include the beans. They are a part of the toppings instead.
Because after my research, it appears that the true chili recipes do NOT have any chocolate in it at all. According to the article put out by Food & Wine, Katherine Nero, a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer couldn't find anyone to admit they used chocolate. And according to Dann Woellert, author of The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, there is "no chili parlor in Cincinnati that uses chocolate in it's chili".
There are over 130 Skyline locations and over 89 Gold Star locations.
If you have any leftover kidney beans or just have a few cans in the pantry and want some new dinner inspiration, make a bean salad, add them to other soups, and add them to pasta.
"authentic, indigenous" Cincinnati-style chili, which he called "a mutant hybrid" and a "topping gone wild." "This is the story of America,"Anthony Bourdain's thoughts on this iconic Ohio dish.
📚History Behind the Recipe
When Tom and John Kiradjieff, who had immigrated from a village called Hrupishta, came to Ohio, they wanted to create a stew that had more of a Mediterranean flavor to it. They first started serving it on top of hot dogs in 1922. Their first hot dog stand was next to the Empress theater and that is how they got the name for their business. Then they used the sauce and came up with chili spaghetti. And the rest as they say is history.
- cutting board
- Dutch oven
- potato masher
- food processor
- small heavy-bottomed saucepan
- non-stick skillet
- 2 lbs ground beef 80/20
- 1 quart water
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 3 yellow onions chopped
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 bay leaf
- Prepare the ground beef by smashing it up with your hands under running cold water. This will help you get the consistency you are looking for.
- Then add the hamburger to the Dutch oven and cover with water.
- Place a heavy-bottomed small saucepan on your burner and turn it to medium-high. Add the tomato paste and using a wooden spoon stir the paste and continue scraping the bottom of the pan. You don't want the tomato paste to burn. Once you start to get brown pieces off of the bottom of the pan, remove the pan from the heat and add it to the meat mixture.
- Next, dice up two cups of the onions and mince the garlic. Sauté them in a non-stick skillet to get them nice and translucent.
- Once they are soft and clear, add the garlic and the onion into a food processor and chop them up until they are very small.
- Add the onions and garlic to the pot. Then add in the rest of the ingredients, except the kidney beans, one cup of onions, and the shredded cheese.
- Simmer on medium-high and let everything cook for 3 to 3.5 hours. The mixture will reduce a lot.
- When it's done, let it cool and place in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, skim off the fat and serve up the chili anyway you'd like, 2-way, 3-way, 4-way or 5-way.
- Make sure to serve with oyster crackers and top with hot sauce.