Cincinnati Chili

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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 served 3 way style.

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.”

Two ingredients showing the ingredients before and after being cooked.

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.

Spaghetti topped with Cincinnati Chili, chopped onions, and shredded cheese.

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
5 from 1 vote
Review Recipe

Cincinnati Chili

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Author Holly Nilsson
Course Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine American
Easy yet savory dish full of complex flavors that will delight your family and win rave reviews.


  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 4 cups water
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 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
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
For Serving
  • spaghetti
  • cheddar cheese
  • white onion chopped
  • beans kidney or chili beans

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  • 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.

Recipe Notes

Nutrition information is for the chili only. 

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
Keyword cincinnati chili
Cincinnati Chili served 4 way with onions.
Top image - Cincinnati Chili cooking in a sauce pan. Bottom image - Cincinnati Chili served 4 way with onions.
Cincinnati Chili served 4-way with onion.

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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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  1. 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.

  2. 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