Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is a regional recipe favorite from Ohio, beloved by everyone who tastes it. Serve it on spaghetti or hot dogs just like Skyline Chili, the restaurant that made it famous.

Cincinnati chili on a black and white serving platter.

Ever been to the Skyline Chili in Ohio?

If that’s a no, leave everything you thought you knew about traditional chili behind, because this recipe will turn it all upside down, but only in the most delicious way.

The (secret) recipe calls for a combination of spices and ingredients that you might find a bit odd, especially for a savory meat stew. Allspice? Cloves? Unsweetened chocolate?

Stick with me (and our friends from the Buckeye state) because this recipe is perfect for the slow cooker and freezes beautifully, so you can have Cincinnati Chili any time, any place.

Recipe Ingredients:

Labeled ingredients for Cincinnati Chili.

Ingredient notes:

  • Unsweetened chocolate: Just one ounce is all you need, but the super fans swear it makes all the differences.
  • Ground beef: You won’t have a chance to drain the fat from the beef in this recipe. I think 85/15 is ideal for maximum flavor without too much grease, but you can choose something leaner if you want to.
  • Toppings: Build your bowl with spaghetti, chili, and cheese, then top it off with onions, kidney beans, or even oyster crackers if you want to. Here’s the official guide to the “ways” Skyline serves their chili:
    • 3-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese
    • 4-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions OR Beans
    • 5-Way aka “the works”: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions AND Beans

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. In a large Dutch oven or sturdy pot, cook the onions with olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add the chocolate, spices, and garlic and stir until they’re nice and fragrant.Cincinnati chili ingredients cooking in a silver pot.
  2. Next, add the broth, tomato paste, tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and some salt and pepper. Add the beef and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper) and serve any “way” you want it.
    Cincinnati chili cooking in a silver pot.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Freezing: Cool and portion into freezer-safe containers, label and date. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Slow cooker: Just like the regular recipe, start by sautéing the onions in olive oil over medium-high heat until softened. Add the garlic and oregano, chili powder, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. Add this mixture to a slow cooker with the chicken broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, and beef. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours or LOW for 6 to 8 hours.
  • Coney Dog: If you’re thinking a hot dog smothered with chili might be just the thing, you’re not alone. Eat it in the bun, or topped with cheese, mustard, onion, beans, you name it.

Cincinnati chili on a black and white serving platter.

More amazing Midwest recipes:

Cincinnati chili in a black and white serving dish.

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is a regional recipe favorite from Ohio, beloved by everyone who tastes it. Serve it on spaghetti or hot dogs just like Skyline Chili, the restaurant that made it famous.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 234kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped (plus more for topping)
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate (see note 1)
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 16 ounces tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds ground beef (preferably 85/15, see note 2)
  • Cooked spaghetti for serving
  • Shredded cheese, dark red kidney beans, finely chopped onions, and oyster crackers for serving (see note 3)

Instructions

  • In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Cook onions until softened, about 5 minutes. 
  • Stir in chocolate, garlic, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce.
  • Stir in beef and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper).
  • Serve over cooked spaghetti with desired toppings such as cheese, beans, onions, and crackers.

Video

Notes

  1. Unsweetened chocolate: Just one ounce is all you need, but the super fans swear it makes all the differences.
  2. Ground beef: You won't have a chance to drain the fat from the beef in this recipe. I think 85/15 is ideal for maximum flavor without too much grease, but you can choose something leaner if you want to.
  3. Toppings: Build your bowl with spaghetti, chili, and cheese, then top it off with onions, kidney beans, or even oyster crackers if you want to. Here's the official guide to the "ways" Skyline serves their chili:
    • 3-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese
    • 4-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions OR Beans
    • 5-Way aka “the works”: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions AND Beans
  4. Freezing: Cool and portion into freezer-safe containers, label and date. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
  5. Slow cooker: Just like the regular recipe, start by sautéing the onions in olive oil over medium-high heat until softened. Add the garlic and oregano, chili powder, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon. Add this mixture to a slow cooker with the chicken broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, and beef. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours or LOW for 6 to 8 hours.
  6. Coney Dog: If you’re thinking a hot dog smothered with chili might be just the thing, you're not alone. Eat it in the bun, or topped with cheese, mustard, onion, beans, you name it.

Nutrition

Calories: 234kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 62mg | Sodium: 298mg | Potassium: 417mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 532IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 40mg | Iron: 3mg
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  1. Dave

    This recipe rocks! Have made this several times and just love it! I make mine with 80/20. To make it leaner, partially fry the beef separately (to pink) to render out some of the fat. Drain that off then follow the recipe. Me, I love the flavorful fat. 😋5 stars

  2. Jeff s

    Was a great recipe though I might have gone a bit lighter on cinnamon and cloves. I suggest using 90-10 ground beef. 85-15 is hard to find in my area and 80-20 is too fatty.

  3. Johnnie SoCal

    OH MY GOODNESS! This recipe is spot on authentic! My other half has been begging me to make Cincy Chili forever. So I found my way to Culinary Hill and gave it my first go…even substituted TURKEY for the beef…and no one noticed! Not even my Ohio mother-in-law! Absolutely delicious and tastes like the original Skyline. 5-way all the way…thats the only way to roll! My first Culinary Hill recipe and I’m hooked! Thanks for the easy to read and follow directions and commentary, substitutions and multiple ways to cook (i.e.: Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Stove top, etc.)
    Tonight…on to Ground Turkey tacos…just don’t tell my family it’s turkey…my guess is they’ll be too busy gobbling it up to even notice!!
    Thank you again from your newest fan!5 stars

  4. Will

    As a Cincy area native living in LA, I always have a longing for the real hometown chili you can get at restaurants in the area there. I’ve tried many a recipe to recreate something close and I have to say this is the best I’ve found and delicious! It just seems to have the right balance of everything that makes Cincy chili great (and I used a 90/10 beef even to make it a tad healthier). Thank you!5 stars

  5. Martha Douds

    I haven’t made this yet. I’m considering the crockpot, but even if stovetop, do you grate or chop the chocolate before adding, or just add the square whole?

  6. Alex

    This is the best Cincinnati chilli I have ever made! Flavorful, smooth–the perfect mixture of flavors. So simple and quick to make. I forgot to buy onions, but I had one red onion at home which I substituted instead and still had great flavor.5 stars

    1. Meggan

      Wow! Thank you Alex! I’m so glad you liked it! -Meggan

  7. Verla Davis

    you know you’re in cinci when you can smell the chocolate in the chili….5 stars

  8. melanie jarvis

    Absolutely fantastic! The best chili we’ve ever had. Made it in an instant pot (20 minutes) and then moved the insert onto the stovetop to simmer and cook it down. Served over spaghetti with cheddar, chopped onions, and a little bit of jalapeno. Fabulous! Our dogs loved it too- they are still waiting in the kitchen in case we have some more plates to be licked 😆5 stars

    1. Megan McMahon

      What settings / times / release / etc. did you use to make this in the Instant Pot?
      I would like to try this recipe but want to use my Instant Pot.

  9. Roger Montgomery

    As a former Cincinatti resident you left out the chocolate! Non sweetened cooking chocolate makes the difference. Try it5 stars

    1. Dwight Andersen

      Did you miss the cocoa in the recipe!?

    2. Meggan

      Hi Dwight, I actually made a change to the recipe about a year ago. I previously didn’t have any chocolate in it, but many people thought I was crazy, so I tested it and added it to the recipe. :) -Meggan

    3. Juli

      I was also thrown off, because there’s no chocolate in the video…. but listed in the recipe.
      Trying this tonight, in the slow cooker, while I work.

    4. meggan

      Hi Juli, sorry about that. I have reworked the recipe to include chocolate, now I just have to make a new video! Hopefully in the next couple months it will be ready. And I’m going to include all the measurements in the videos from now on, too, so if you want to actually just cook from the video, you’ll be able to (more or less). Thank you! -Meggan

    5. Rhonna Moore

      No, the recipe says 1 oz unsweetened chocolate.

  10. Kate

    I’m making this tonight! Ironically, the first time I had Cincinnati style chili was in Milwaukee at Real Chili! Can’t wait for dinner:)5 stars

    1. Jeff

      Real Chili still exists…but I think you’re probably thinking of the Chili Bowl, which had an east-side location that indeed closed in the early ’90s. They definitely had Cincinnati-style chili (I worked there briefly), but I don’t think Real Chili does. The “regular” chili at both Real Chili and the former Chili Bowl is based on the recipes at Chili John’s in Green Bay, which (at least as of a few years ago) is still open and still has several varieties of chili, including Cincy-style.

    2. Kate

      I’m pretty sure Real Chili closed in the mid ‘90s 😔. The one I used to go to was near the Marquette campus. Dinner was delicious! Thanks for the great recipe.

    3. meggan

      I have never heard of Real Chili! I need to find it. I’m a Waukesha native. I hope you liked the recipe, and thanks for the restaurant suggestion! :D

  11. Tasha

    You explanation of 3,4, & 5 ways are incorrect! A 3 way is noodles, chili, & cheese. A 4 way is the same as a 3 way with the addition of either beans or onions. A 5 way is the same as a 3 way with the addition of BOTH beans & onions.5 stars

    1. meggan

      You are so right! I was like… how did I get this wrong, I copied it from the Skyline website?! I totally got it wrong. It’s fixed now. Thank you so much!

  12. Doober

    I would like to try this as soon as I get paid. I am thinking since I am allergic to beef to use ground turkey. That should be browned up in a frying pan instead of boiled.5 stars

  13. Chris

    One more little clue is to those who say and like how skylines chili is a little more creamier than other cinncy chili. Corn starch. This recipe would use about two tablespoons.

    1. Chris

      Sorry. 2 teaspoons

  14. Chris

    Hi Meggan. Great discussion on chicken vs. Beef. Im actually related to the Lambrinides by way of my great aunt married johnny Lambrinides , son of Nicholas the founder. I can remember growing up my grandfather talking about how they would get together and he would make some skyline. Never telling what was in it thow. My grandparents would always make their on version and swear theirs was better. Very competitive. See my grandfather favored a version of cinncy chilly called Dixie chili which uses more garlic and vinegar and which is less sweet. No one would ever write down the resipe. They added everthing by memory. One thing they did do while mixing the spices is the meat was added to the marinade of tomato paste, vinegar and water and let rest so the vinegar would tenderize the meat before adding the remainder of ingredients. Then everything was simmered together for hours. I always tried to get my grandparents to give me the recipe and all they would ever say is come on over and we’ll make up a batch. I was to naive to realize to write it down. But then again, no one ever did. I’ve been trying my self for years to replicate this recipe and this is close. One thing i will say is i remember asking my grandparents about the use of cocoa powder in it and alls i remember is their big old grins. That meant yes. See the big argument on the web over chocolate or not stems from some who say chocolate is an allergen there for must be disclosed on their packaging. Since its not on there, people say its not in there. Wrong. Cocoa powder is not chocolate. It is made from cacoa bean. It is not a nut. Chocolate is made from cacoa and coconut oil. Introducing the nut .
    Just a little known fact that i have found while researching this recipe.5 stars

  15. Jeff

    I will have to try this. I live in Cincinnati and LOOOOVE Skyline and the other favorite Gold Star. We also dump it over fries with shredded cheddar on top. We put it on cheese coneys (bun, hot dog, chili, mustard, onion, shredded cheese). And Skyline dip, layered in a pan, bottom layer is cream cheese then a layer of chili topped with, as always, shredded cheddar. Heat in oven until cheese on top melts. Served with Fritos scoops or nachos5 stars

  16. Chris M

    I’m just curious, why use chicken broth instead of beef broth?

    1. meggan

      Hi Chris! If you know Kenji from Serious Eats or have ever heard of his book The Food Lab, he talks about this sometimes. So the reason why I use chicken broth instead of beef broth is “because Kenji says so.” However, the reason HE says so is because, and I’m paraphrasing his book The Food Lab: “There is very little beef in canned beef broth. Food manufacturers are lazy and concerned about their bottom line… instead of simmering veal and beef bones, they use natural and artificial flavorings. According to the USDA’s guidelines, beef or pork broth only has to have 0.007 ounces beef protein present for every ounce of water. So beef broth doesn’t taste much like beef. Their flavor, if any, is enhanced with yeast and vegetable extracts. Chicken broth will have more/better flavor overall because it is cheaper to make.” I hope this is helpful! Here’s another article I found online which discusses this and also reference’s Kenji’s info on the subject. https://lifehacker.com/use-store-bought-chicken-broth-instead-of-beef-broth-fo-1755022375

  17. Jim D.

    I love all chili but try adding peanut butter its awesome.

  18. Sean Martin

    Hi there!!  Love Cincinnati Chili and super excited to try.    I don’t mind boiling the beef.   Just wondering if you skim off any fat as it simmers or if you leave it alone?

    1. meggan

      Hi Sean! So glad you found my recipe. Skimming fat is a personal choice. I would say a lot of flavor is in the fat, but I know it grosses people out too. I think it also depends on what type of beef you choose. In the recipe I recommend 85/15. To me, this is lean enough that I don’t feel compelled to skim the fat. If you were using 73/27, though, I’d probably skim some fat. Personal choice. Do what makes you happy! Thank you so much and I hope you love it, if you try it! Take care!

  19. Clayton

    I haven’t thrown it out! I normally eat things that most people find repulsive like Kim Chi. Curry both middle easten and Thai. Well people in this area that is. This is growing on me though the cinnamon, cloves and allspice on beef is interesting just not expecting it I guess. I’ll have to make it for my wife though. I’ve pampered her to much with the food I know she will like. I believe it’s time for her to branch out.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Ah yes, nothing like a stinky vat of Kim Chi on your counter to start the day off right! But seriously we made it in culinary school, that was my first exposure to it but I loved it. And all the curries, at least all I’ve had so far. I’m taking an International Cuisine class starting in February so I hope after that I have a clear understanding of all the curries. I’m basically stuck on Tikka and Vindaloo at this point! The Cincinnati Chili is weird for sure, “on the tails of the distribution” as my husband would say, but after a few bites I realized that I really liked it. I have to give those Ohio people credit for their madness! I can’t wait for your wife to try it – I’m just imagining her scowl now. :) Take care and have a great weekend, thanks for playing nice!

  20. Clayton

    I don’t know if it’s good but it’s not bad just different, I’m from the PNW. It’s edible which is good.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Edible is good, yes! Ha ha ha! I can’t tell if you’re giving a wry smile or rolling your eyes while you were writing your comment. But thanks for not firing me!

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