Cincinnati Chili Recipe

Flavored with unexpected spices, serve this meaty Cincinnati Chili over cooked spaghetti with all classic garnishes: beans, onions, and tons of cheese! Scroll down for a video tutorial.

The first time I made Cincinnati Chili, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it.

Looking over a few different recipes as I went, I realized it was more meat sauce than soup. And the spices were weird! Cinnamon? Allspice? Cloves? 

I was skeptical.

Cincinnati Chili - A photo of spaghetti covered with meat covered with cheese on a blue background - click photo for full written recipe

I persevered, though, and you should too.

By the time you spoon it over cooked spaghetti and bury it in shredded cheese, you’ll be a believer.

This recipe is inspired by Skyline Chili. I’ve never been there, but I imagine it is to chili what Maid Rite is to loose meat sandwiches.

Or what Culvers is to Butterburgers.

In any case, Skyline has the ultimate Cincinnati Chili recipe and all the ways you might want to eat it. If you’re not living in Ohio, though, you can easily recreate this classic at home.

Cincinnati Chili - A photo of a fork in spaghetti covered with meat covered with cheese on a blue background - click photo for full written recipe

3-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese.

4-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions OR Beans.

5-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions AND Beans.

The beans are dark red kidney beans. The cheese is shredded cheddar. The onions are white and raw.

Not pictured but always a good idea: oyster crackers!

A photo of a plate if Cincinnati Chili topped spaghetti, garnished with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. There is a white linen napkin in the background, and the plate is on a dark blue counter top.
5 from 16 votes

Cincinnati Chili Recipe

Flavored with unexpected spices, serve this meaty Cincinnati Chili over cooked spaghetti with all classic garnishes: beans, onions, and tons of cheese!

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword chili
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 10 servings
Calories 294 kcal


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 (1 ounce) square unsweetened chocolate
  • 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
  • 2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds 85/15 ground beef
  • Cooked spaghetti for serving
  • Shredded cheese, dark red kidney beans, finely chopped onions, and oyster crackers for serving


  1. In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Cook onions until softened, about 5 minutes. 

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. Serve over cooked spaghetti with desired toppings such as cheese, beans, onions, and crackers.

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  1. Looks interesting! Ive never put chili over pasta, I usually put it over rice, so Ill have to try this!

  2. I’ve heard of Cincinnati Chili before, but I’ve never checked it out. This has some of the same seasonings (that we don’t normally associate with chili) that a Mole sauce does…the spices, specifically. I’ve added dark chocolate to chili before, and it adds a depth of flavor, but doesn’t taste chocolate-y of course. This chili sounds a bit more tangy (which I like) with the vinegar and worchestershire. This may be on the menu this weekend. I love chili, but I’m a bit tired of my same old-same old.

  3. Thank you Meggan for answering “What am I doing for dinner tonight?” I have read of this and it’s origins so it’s time to take the plunge. I’m hungry for pasta anyway. I’m giving this a five before I make it, because all your stuff is good. You’re really a country girl at heart. :-))

  4. I made this tonight and it was out of the park. Not that I doubted you, but, the amounts of cinnamon, clove, allspice, and oregano were a bit disconcerting, (I use Mexican whole oregano, so I did cut that in half because it is twice as potent as domestic, Italian or Greek.) BUT the spices DO work very well together in those amounts! So, continuing IN THE SPIRIT of the original Ohio recipe, I simmered (vice frying) my beef to just done in enough water to cover, then drained it to remove most of the grease – yeah, it dirties more dishes. The original calls for boiling it then leaving it sit overnight refrigerated and then removing the hardened fat, etc, etc….. With 85/15, there’s really not that much so boiling then draining works well. The original also calls for using fresh-ground whole spices – too much work for a single batch so your ground spices are much more practical. Anyway, Cincinnati would be proud and this is definitely a “5-star keeper” in my favorites. A home run! Good job kid!!!

  5. We don’t ever have this in Canada, that I know of. But yours is the best looking I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been a foodie for quite a few decades.

    • Thank you so much, Laura! We don’t have this in Wisconsin either, but my brother-in-law is from Ohio so I found out about it. And I felt like I just had to post it! It’s way too good not to share. :) Thanks again for reading and for the very thoughtful comment.

  6. I grew up by Cincinnati and ate at Skyline weekly! (Wednesday nights were kids eat free back in the day.) That said, the recipe I use actually has a bit of unsweetened cocoa in it too! (Weird, I know, but it taste so good- about a Tablespoon or 2). The man who started Skyline Chili was from a small village in Greece so the unusual spices make sense. Thanks for sharing this! I make this at least once a month, and when I go home to visit I ALWAYS go to Skyline!

    • Thanks for the suggestion Chrissie! One of my amazing readers is currently testing the recipe with different ingredients including chocolate and cocoa powder (in different batches, of course). I may be updating my recipe depending on his findings and my own upcoming tests. Another person recommended chocolate, too. Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. We must be in Cincinnati! I can smell the chocolate in the chili!

  8. So making this for dinner this week! Is the beef added raw to the liquid? Or is it browned 1st?

    • The beef goes in raw, you don’t brown it first. I’ll make sure that’s clear in the recipe! Thanks Denise.

  9. I’ve tried about 50 different Cincinnati chili recipes and this one comes closest to the real deal. The proportion of spices is perfect. I used a teaspoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder instead of raw garlic and an onion. I also used 4 cups of chicken stock because I let it simmer for a couple of hours. I boiled the beef in water and drained it in a colander because it gets the fat out. Thanks for not including chocolate! Cincinnati chili doesn’t have chocolate but so many recipes call for it.

    • Wow, this makes my day! Thank you so much! I love your tips about garlic and onion powder. I will have to try it and see, that would definitely make it easier for everyone. So clever to boil the beef in water, too! You have all the ideas. :) And yes to no chocolate! I feel like there is so much peer pressure to include it, ha ha. Thanks again, I really appreciate your thoughtful comment!

    • I just made this again using 97% lean ground turkey. (This is sacreligious for Cincinnati chili.) The extra lean turkey doesn’t boil down like beef so the texture and appearance of the meat is a little offputting at first but the broth is so delicious that it’ really doesn’t matter. I used to order cans of skyline chili online but this is so much better.

    • YES!!!! So fantastic! Thank you for recipe testing and reporting back. :) I should really try it with turkey. I’m super picky about how I eat ground turkey (pretty much just in buffalo meatballs and tacos and regular chili) but this gives me hope. Thank you!!!

  10. Hi! Growing up in northern Kentucky (right across the river from Cincinnati) we eat this a lot! Just some friendly info….
    2 ways are spaghetti and chili 
    3 ways are spaghetti chili and cheese
    4 ways are spaghetti chili cheese and onions or beans 
    5 ways are all the above 
    One chili parlor ( that’s what cincinnati chili restaurants are called here) makes 6 ways which are all the above with added fried pepper rings on top. 

    Just thought you might like to know :-)

    I can’t wait to try this version! 

    • I definitely want to know! Thank you Jill. You just can’t beat the knowledge of the natives. :) Fried pepper rings!!! Yes!

  11. I was looking at several different recipies of Cincinnati Chilli and when i came across yours, it was a definite yes! My husband and i both loved it!
    Thanks for the awesome recipie!

  12. You should be a part of a contest for one of the most useful sites on the web.
    I’m going to recommend this web site!

  13. This is so crazy because I just sitting here calculating amounts for a 3x recipe for Cincy chili for my husband’s birthday party this weekend and this recipe pops up on my feed! My husband is not even from Ohio (I am) but Cincy chili is his favorite! My mom’s recipe has the same suspect ingredients: allspice, cinnamon, cloves and she puts in unsweetened bakers chocolate. We live in NC now and I know our guests are going to wonder what the heck is going on with chili over spaghetti!  Anyways, it is really the best though and I always try to make a point to stop at a Skyline whenever I’m back home.

  14. I feel very wierd about boiling the ground beef. Could it be fried and then added? Or is this specific to Cincinnati chili

    • Hi Katie, I think this is specific to Cincinnati Chili. But I understand completely, and you’ll still get the overall gist of the recipe if you fry and then add the beef. I feel weird about boiling ground beef, too (but I tried it, I liked it). Feel free to do whatever you want! Consider this recipe a blank canvas for your own ideas. Thanks for the question! :)

    • A little late to the party I know, but I just wanted to say the reason for billing the beef vs. browning it first is for the unique texture, as well as soon the beefy flavor to the water. It creates a finer texture characteristic to Cincinnati chili (I also use an immersion blender after it’s cooked to break up any chunks).
      It’s best to boil the beef the day before, refrigerate it, skim the solid fat, then proceed with the recipe.

  15. I live in Cincinnati and love Skyline, and also make my own Cincinnati chili often. I feel I should mention that it seems very unlikely two pounds of raw ground beef will be cooked all the way through in 15 or 20 minutes, even at boiling. My recipe call for boiling an hour to an hour and a half, and that’s only using one pound of ground beef. Just be careful, make sure it’s fully cooked.

    • Hi Mimi, thanks for your comment. It has never taken longer than 20 minutes for me to cook that much meat – maybe it’s because I use a gas stove?? But then again boiling is boiling. I will read up on the subject and ask some of my chef instructors at culinary school and see what they think. Thank you!!!

  16. My family ate at Skyline while passing thru the Cincinnati area a couple of years ago. This recipe brought back all the delicious memories! It was just so good! I buy beef in bulk and thus used 80/20. A lot of grease floated to the top as it boiled, but I was able to skim off almost all of it while it simmered. I thought about boiling the beef in water first next time, as some other posters have done, but I think I’ll just do it the way it calls for. I’m sure the whole dish benefits from the meat cooking in the seasoned broth, and again, it skimmed easily. Thank you for a keeper!

  17. I see posts about boiling the meat but instructions don’f mention it

    • Hi Bob, Step #3 says “Stir in beef and bring to boil.” You’re not boiling it in water, but I think this is what everyone in the comments is referring to. If you have other questions just let me know. Thank you!

  18. Cincinnati Chili is one of my favorites so I was glad to try out your recipe. It was wonderful! Delicious AND easy to make, using staples I already had in the house. I will halve the amount of chili powder next time because I like my chili on the mild side. Perfect meal on a cold winter day! Thank you!

  19. 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.

    • 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!

  20. 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.

    • 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!

  21. 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?

    • 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!

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

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

    • 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.

  24. 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 nachos

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

    • 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!

  29. 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:)

    • 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

    • 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.

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

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