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!

4 way onion cincinnati chili topped with cheddar and onions

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.

  1. Sauté onions in a dutch oven. Add the uncooked beef and other ingredients to the same pot (the beef is not browned first).
  2. Simmer for 2 hours, skimming fat off the top as needed.
  3. 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.

cooked cincinnati chili in a dutch oven with a bay leaf next to cheddar cheese and onions

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.

close up of plated Cincinnati Chili with cheese

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

4.98 from 75 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
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Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati chili isn't your usual chili. This meaty sauce has unique blend of spices and is served over spaghetti with some special toppings!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 6 servings


  • 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

For Serving

  • spaghetti
  • 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 Chili

Start 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 is for the sauce only and does not include pasta or optional toppings.
4.98 from 75 votes

Nutrition Information

Calories: 220 | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.4g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 701mg | Potassium: 757mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1542IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 57mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.

Course Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine American
Cincinnati Chili in the pot and plated with writing
close up of Cincinnati Chili with writing
close up of Cincinnati Chili with a title
cooked Cincinnati Chili in the pot with a title


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About the author

Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!
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Recipe Rating


  1. Having lived in Cincinnati for years, there is 1 more way some of the MANY chili parlors did it up…they did a 6 way, which is a 5 way PLUS chopped garlic! NEVER tried that way, I love garlic, but that was TOO much raw garlic! Other than that this is THE BOMB!!!!!! Little hint…with the shredded cheese, IF you can find finely shredded, go with that, just blends in a little better. Happy eating y’all!

  2. 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.5 stars




  4. 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.4 stars

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Nancy! The traditional way to serve Cincinnati Chili is over pasta but over mashed potatoes sounds delicious too!

  5. 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.5 stars

  6. Have you ever made this in the crock pot or is stovetop best? Excited to try this tonight either way!

  7. 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.5 stars

  8. 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?

  9. 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!5 stars

  10. 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!??

    1. We found that skimming the fat over the two hour simmering period in step three removes all of the grease.

  11. 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.

    So thankful,

  12. 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.

  13. I want to make sure I read this correctly. The ground beef is NOT browned before all the ingredients are added?

  14. 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.5 stars

    1. Delores, you brought back a memory I hadn’t had for years….Graeters. My 2 faves were chocolate chunk/almond/coconut ice cream and black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream! :-)5 stars