If you’ve never had Cincinnati Chili, you’re in for a treat.
This beefy seasoned sauce is different from our usual chili recipe because it has a special blend of spices and is cooked and served in a unique way!
Served over hot spaghetti, Cincinnati chili is traditionally served with toppings like cheese, onions and/or beans!
Unlike a typical chili recipe, Cincinnati Chili is made with unexpected seasonings that include cocoa powder, cinnamon, and allspice!
What is Cincinnati Chili?
Named for the city of Cincinnati, this chili has a unique flavor and is served differenrlt than our traditional chili recipes.
It has been around since the 1900s and has been tagged as one of the “moist iconic foods in America” by the Smithsonian. It was made popular by the Skyline diners chain and if visiting their restartants, you must try Skyline Chili!
Seasonings: Some belive the seasonings are derived from the Greek dish moussaka or other similar Greek dishes. The seasonings include cocoa powder (or sometimes unsweetened chocolate), cinnamon, and allspice. Some use cumin or a pinch of ground cloves. It’s usually served over spaghetti with special toppings as below.
How to Make Cincinnati Chili
This Cincinnati chili recipe is easy to make. It does take some time, most of which is hands off as it simmers on the stove.
- Sauté onions in a dutch oven. Add the uncooked beef and other ingredients to the same pot (the beef is not browned first).
- Simmer for 2 hours, skimming fat off the top as needed.
- Serve over spaghetti Cincinnati style (more serving info below).
You can adjust the spices and add a bit of Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce for extra flavor if you’d like.
Ways to Serve Cincinnati Chili
To serve Cincinnati-style chili, traditional toppings include shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and/or chili beans (or kidney beans) to name a few. Not only are the flavor and toppings unique, but instead of twirling the spaghetti like spaghetti and meatballs, pile on the toppings and cut the spaghetti with a fork.
Here are the traditional ‘ways’ to top Cincinnati chili:
- 2-way: topped with chili.
- 3-way: topped with chili and shredded cheese.
- 4-way onion: topped with chili, shredded cheese, and chopped onions,.
- 4-way bean: topped with chili, shredded cheese, and beans.
- 5-way: the works! Top with chili, shredded cheese, chopped onions, and beans.
Serve this with the toppings on the side and let your family choose their own way! Don’t limit yourself to these ways, add your own toppings from hot sauce to oyster crackers.
What to Do With Leftover Chili
Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to four days or in the freezer for up to four months.
To reheat, just replace in a pot on the stovetop or in a dish in the microwave and heat until bubbling hot. No need to thaw in advance.
Stretch the leftovers by serving them with a hot dog in a bun. Top with chili, mustard, and other toppings.
If your family loves chili but hasn’t tried the Cincinnati version yet, they’re in for a real treat!
More Ways to Love Chili
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
- 4 cups water
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoons cider vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- cheddar cheese
- white onion chopped
- beans kidney or chili beans
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender.
- Add the uncooked beef and the remaining ingredients.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer skimming any fat that rises to the top. Simmer for 2 hours or until the sauce has thickened.
- Remove the bay leaf and discard.
- Serve over hot spaghetti with toppings per the notes below.
How to Serve Cincinnati ChiliStart by spooning the chili over hot spaghetti and then add the following toppings:
- 2-way: topped with just chili.
- 3-way: topped with chili and shredded cheese.
- 4-way onion: topped with chili, chopped onions, and shredded cheese.
- 4-way bean: topped with chili, beans, and shredded cheese.
- 5-way: the works! Top with chili, beans, onions, and cheese.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.
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Hi Holly, I followed the recipe exactly as written, and this is an excellent dish! I just served this over spaghetti but looking forward to trying the other ways as well. This is highly recommended! Family loved this. Thank you for a great recipe.
I am so glad you enjoyed this recipe Lee!
STOPPED IN MY TRACKS WHEN I NOTICED YOUR CINCINNATI CHILI ………… YAY !
THEN WONDERED IF YOU HAD BEEN REMISS IN ADDRESSING OYSTER CRACKER TOPPER.
BUT FOUND IT TUCKED AWAY ………..
I’M CANADIAN & HAVE ONLY HAD THE EXTREME PLEASURE OF TASTING CINCINNATI CHILI ONCE WHILE VISITING THE NAMESAKE CITY. SO GOOD !
We loved the meat sauce but not the noodles. Will put it on mashed potatoes next time! I also added some sugar to pull the bitter out.
Glad you enjoyed it, Nancy! The traditional way to serve Cincinnati Chili is over pasta but over mashed potatoes sounds delicious too!
This was so bitter. I had to add a teaspoon of sugar. Other than that, it was awesome!
I’m not sure what would cause it to be bitter. Good save Julie!
Love new recipes! Cook all the time.
Taste just like chili from skyline if you know where Cincinnati is a you should know what Skyliner so it taste amazing and they taste just like it.
Have you ever made this in the crock pot or is stovetop best? Excited to try this tonight either way!
I’ve only made this recipe as written Amy. I sure hope you love it!
This sounds delicious, but I have a question. If you add the beef raw, doesn’t it just stay in one big chunk? Or will it crumble apart as it cooks? Thanks.
If you give it a stir, it will crumble apart because of all of the liquid.
I used my chopstir tool to break it up as I stirred it :)
I’m into my 3rd hour of simmering…uncovered…and it still seems too thin. I added a bit of brown sugar as well cuz it seemed a bit bitter. I’ve made Cincy chili twice b4 from different recipes. One was excellent…other not so much. Hoping for the best here. What should the consistency be?
The consistency should be similar to a meat sauce.
made it tonight – snowy in the Northeast – and it was very like the Cincinnati chili I know!
At first, I made it exactly as written. Definitely needed the time to simmer. to thicken After tasting halfway through, I did add cayenne and more salt and pepper. Cincinnati chili is not known for spiciness but needed more uummph. Hubby loved it and remarked that it was authentic!
So glad you both enjoyed it Lynn! Thank you for the review.
I have not made your recipe…yet…but tried a different one a few years ago. Since the ground beef was not drained of its grease, the chili tasted very greasy and was not pleasant. Do find spooning off the grease as it cooks is enough?
Love Cincinnati chili and hoping this one is great!??
We found that skimming the fat over the two hour simmering period in step three removes all of the grease.
This is the best chili I have ever made. The cinnamon was amazing and I attempeted to add more coco because I didn’t notice it as it cooked. I can wait to try your other dishes, I think “garlic butter baked salmon” is up.
Do you simmer covered or uncovered?
Hi Adrienne, I would simmer covered. :)
I have a quick question, if I have concentrated paste, what do you think my measurement would be? I don’t use paste a lot but I also keep a tube of the concentrated one on hand because typically my recipes I use don’t call for a whole can and I hate to waste. Also I can’t wait to try this! My best friend and her family grew up in Ohio and always rave about skyline chili. I am a chili lover, seriously it’s one of my favorites. Hopefully I’ll hear back soon and be able to make this gem & come back with my review.
If it’s just for the tomato paste, you can use the same amount. I hope you love it!
I want to make sure I read this correctly. The ground beef is NOT browned before all the ingredients are added?
Correct, the ground beef is not browned, it is added raw with the water and other ingredients.
Wow. You came as close to the original Skyline as possible. Being from Cincinnati (now in Florida) my family has sorely missed Skyline. Now I don’t have to bring cans of Skyline back after each visit. Skyline also makes a great hot dog (mustard, chili, onions and shredded Cheddar. Now if only we could make Graeter’s ice cream (another Cincinnati delicacy). Thanks again.
I’ve never had Graeter’s… but it’s now on my list!!