If you’ve never had beefy, seasoned Cincinnati Chili, then you’re in for a delicious treat. Different from any chili you’ve ever had, this dish has a meaty sauce with an unusual blend of spices. It’s all simmered until thick and delicious and piled high on a bed of spaghetti. 

It’s a savory dish full of complex flavors that will delight your family and win rave reviews.

Cincinnati Chili on a plate

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 its origin, Cincinnati, this chili is a deliciously spiced meat sauce typically served over spaghetti, not in a bowl like typical chili. It is a famous regional specialty; in fact, the Smithsonian has honored this dish by designating it as one of the “20 Most Iconic Foods in America.”

Cincinnati chili was invented in the 1900s and some have said it is a variation of moussaka or similarly spiced Greek meat dishes. It was spread and popularized by the Skyline diner chain and remains a staple on its menus. No visit to one of these eateries would be complete without ordering a plate of “Skyline Chili.”

Sauce for Cincinnati Chili in a pot

How to Make Cincinnati Chili

This yummy recipe is easy to prepare but it takes time, most of which is spent simmering away. There are a few unique parts to this recipe.

  1. Sauté onions. 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).

Go ahead and vary the spices according to your preference. Cumin would add another level of character to the dish. Tabasco or Worcestershire sauces would add a little more zing, if you need it.

Cincinnati Chili on a plate with cheese and onions

Ways to Serve Cincinnati Chili

The traditional toppings for Cincinnati style chili are kidney beans or chili beans, shredded cheddar and chopped onions. When it comes to eating this dish, pile it high with toppings and cut the spaghetti with a fork (instead of twirling it like you would an Italian spaghetti and meatballs dish).

For the ‘way’ system,  always start with a base of spaghetti.

  • 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 chili, beans, and shredded cheese.
  • 5-way: the works! Top with chili, beans, onions, and cheese.

The best way to serve this dish is with the toppings on the side and to let your family choose their way!

What to Do With Leftover Chili

Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer 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.

If your family loves chili but hasn’t tried the Cincinnati version yet, they’re in for a real treat!

Chili Favorites

Cincinnati Chili on a plate
4.96 from 46 votes↑ Click stars to rate now!
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Cincinnati Chili

Easy yet savory dish full of complex flavors that will delight your family and win rave reviews.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients  

  • 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

Instructions 

  • Add onion and olive oil to a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until onion is tender.
  • Add remaining ingredients including uncooked beef.
  • Bring to a boil and skim any fat off the top. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours or until thickened.
  • Remove bay leaf and discard. Serve over hot spaghetti.

Notes

Nutrition information is for the chili only. 
4.96 from 46 votes

Nutrition Information

Calories: 463 | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 116mg | Sodium: 1105mg | Potassium: 1063mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 2300IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 6mg

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

Course Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine American

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Cincinnati Chili with writing
Cincinnati Chili and sauce with writing
Cincinnati Chili on a plate with writing

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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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Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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

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

  4. 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

  5. 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?

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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,
    Tiffany

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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