Cincinnati Chili

2 lb ground beef
28 oz can diced or crushed tomato in tomato juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

To serve:
1 lb cooked spaghetti pasta (hot)
sour cream
chopped onions
dark red kidney beans (heated through)
shredded cheddar
oyster crackers

Directions: In a large skillet saute onion, garlic, ground beef, and chili powder until ground beef is slightly browned. Drain off any excess fat. Add all of the remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Then remove the cover and simmer for an additional 1/2 hour or until most of the liquid is absorbed or evaporated but the mixture is still a little runny. Remove from heat. Arrange spaghetti on plates.
Now there are several ways to eat Cincinnati style chili:
3-way: Spaghetti topped with chili, covered with shredded cheddar cheese
4-way: Spaghetti topped with chili, then cheese, then onions
5-way: Spaghetti topped with beans, chili, cheese & onions

Serve the crackers on the side.

My thoughts:

When people think of chili, most people think of Texas. But did you know that Cincinnati has more chili parlors per capita than any other city in the US? While I’ve never had the good fortune to visit Cincinnati but I love their unique style of chili. Cincinnati chili is basically a thin chili (almost more of a meat sauce) that is flavored with some unusual spices for chili, namely cinnamon, cocoa, and allspice and is served over cooked spaghetti. You can buy flavoring packets to make it, but it is almost as easy to make your own. Not to mention how difficult it is to find those packets outside of the immediate vicinity of Ohio. After some experimentation, I think I’ve cracked the Cincinnati chili code.

It did require some research; I read dozens of old newspaper articles about the chili (Greek immigrants Tom and John Kiradjieff began serving this chili in 1922 at their hot dog stand the Empress which explains the oddly Mediterranean flavor of the chili) and read dozens of recipes, the majority of which were either conflicting or not very well written. Beyond a basic agreement on spices, there are some disagreements about the best way to make Cincinnati style chili. Some of the various conflicts include boiling the meat vs. sauteing (I find that sauteing the meat yields a meatier tasting chili while still maintaining a “loose” texture), whether to use diced tomatoes or tomato paste or tomato juice or tomato sauce (diced has a better flavor and the pieces almost melt away during cooking), if onions belong in the chili or just on top (again, the onions add flavor and nearly melt away), whether to use chopped chocolate or cocoa (I think cocoa mixes in better), some recipes use broth and others cook the chili for 3 or more hours (hard to keep all the liquid from evaporating). There is also a purported 6th way of serving: spaghetti, beans, chili, cheese, onions & sour cream. Despite there being more ways to make it then there are citizens of Cincinnati, I’ve come up with this “master” recipe which I think yields the best result of all of the methods I tried with the strongest, truest flavor.

Can’t get enough? Make this slow cooker version, Cincinnati Chili Mac and even Cincinnati Chili Dogs and Cincinnati Chili-Inspired Sloppy Joes.


  1. I actually want to visit Cincinnati because of their chili joints! I remember reading an article and seeing a bunch of photos and it looked kind of awesome. This chili looks good too!

  2. What a fantastic looking chili. I never thought to add Worcestershire sauce to a chili but I bet that lends a great depth to the flavor. Great job on all the research.

    My Mom doesn’t like beans, so this could be a great chili option when my parents come over for a football game.

  3. I used to babysit two kids whose parents were from Cincinnatti. They ate this at least once a week, but they made it in the crockpot (working parents, dontcha know) and used angelhair pasta, which was mixed in. (No beans or onions, though, probably because of the rugrats.)

    Di. Vine.

    It’s the only time I ever ate supper with the kids!

  4. I just got back from Cincinnati, where my boyfriend (a native)insisted I experience not only “real” Cincinnati chili, but understand the proper methodology for eating it – cutting straight through the layers with the side of your fork, then scooping it up so you get even distribution of all the flavors in every bite. I think I’ll try and make it for him and see what his verdict is 🙂

  5. This looks good. I suggested eating our [vegan] chili over pasta the other night, but Chris was horrified.

  6. while this looks good… im horrified that people would put chilli on spaghetti!… i know its a tradition to this region!

  7. *swoon* This looks hearty and amazing. Never had an intense desire to go to Cincinnati…until now!

  8. Though Cincinnati Chili is not anything like most Texas chilis, let’s not be food snobs and NOT let it be called chili. After all, Websters defines “Chili” as “a sauce of meat and chilis.” Different people like different things, so blantantly declaring that this chili is terrible is quite closed-minded. I happen to LOVE Cincinnati chili (as well as most traditional Texas chilis), and thank you for the recipe!

  9. Chili Lover: Thanks for your support! I deleted the comment you are referring to though, I think that person is just trying to get a rise out of people. She leaves similiarly bizarre comments on other food blogs and I prefer not to engage with people like that.

  10. Amazing photo—especially love the shreds of white cheddar:) Chili sounds like a winner on this dreary winter day!

  11. I was born, raised, and currently live in Cincinnati, so I’m surrounded by this stuff. There are a ton of chili restaurants (with individual recipes, of course) around here: Price Hill, Camp Washington, Dixie, Gold Star, Empress, Skyline, etc. My mom swears that Empress is the best.

    After braving the 3/4/5-ways, you should try chili dip: I’m now vegetarian so I don’t eat is anymore. :-/

  12. looks good, having grown up on a more Texas style of chili, I admit it does seem weird to serve it with pasta and beans as a garnish. I do make a comfort food called Chili Mac every now and then and it’s basically a chili base with some veggies and elbow noodles, so I guess this isn’t really that far off.

  13. hello, everyone! i’m from detroit and used to arrive for weekends in cincinnati well past midnight. my ex-boyfriend always drove me to skyline at 3 in the morning, where i’d get the four-way (no beans for me!). i slowly began to come around, finally learning to devour the stuff.

    however, for anyone who wants to visit cincinnati and finds skyline truly repugnant (i wouldn’t blame you; it took me about a dozen visits), a later boyfriend introduced me to the marvelous camp washington chili, which i had meant to visit years before and was (very long, winding) blocks from my apartment building. it’s open 24/7 and very easy to get to; it’s right off the highway.

    basically, camp washington chili looks like homemade chili. the stuff at skyline looks like fast food. (besides, chili cheese fries are good and camp washington chili belongs on those delicious crispies!)

    thanks for letting me ramble; as a NYCer i miss truly good food that costs a decent amount. (ambar india in cincinnati has every indian place here beat).

  14. I just discovered your blog and this is the first recipe I tried. I made this last night – it smelled amazing cooking, and my boyfriend kept raving about how good it was. It’s a fantastic chili, spicy and hearty and very filling. Yummmm!!

  15. My only complaint about your chili is that there isn’t nearly enough cheese on it. Half the pleasure of a 3, 4 or 5-way is the contrast of layers of cold cheese, melted cheese, chili and spaghetti.

    My favorite chili in the area isn’t Skyline, it’s Dixie Chili, which is actually in Kentucky.

  16. Well, Julie, the cheese is up to you-putting a load of melty cheese on a pile of meat isn’t exactly photogenic, so I had to keep it at a miminum.

  17. You need the special Cincinnati Chili filter for Photoshop. 😉

  18. As a Cincinnatian and a “self proclaimed Cincinnati chili expert”…I will say that Camp Washington is the best. The convenience goes to Skyline- with at least one store in every neighborhood in town- but if you want the best, you must venture to Camp Washington!