Any way you want it, Cincinnati Chili, aka Cincy chili, is a delicious food phenomenon hailing from Ohio and loved by everyone who tastes it. Served on spaghetti noodles or hot dogs since the 1920s, this unique style of chili may just be your new favorite regional food.
Slow cooker recipes like this are so great to come home to, like Slow Cooker Beef Brisket, Slow Cooker Ham and Beans, or even a rich, decadent Slow Cooker Lava Cake that will knock your socks off with every heavenly bite.
This recipe is based on the Skyline restaurant’s secret recipe, so leave everything you thought you knew about traditional chili behind. This recipe will turn it all upside down, but in the most delicious way.
Secondly, it calls for a combination of spices and ingredients that you might find a bit odd, especially for a savory meat stew: allspice? Clove? Unsweetened chocolate?
Hold on a minute!
And finally, beans aren’t exactly in the chili, but they are served on top of it. Deep dark red kidney beans, or sometimes even the cute little chili beans. But you don’t have to have them, either. That’s up to you.
Best of all, this recipe is perfect for the slow cooker and freezes beautifully, so you can have Cincy Chili no matter where you live.
Making a double or quadruple batch of Cincinnati Chili? Smart! Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What exactly is Cincinnati Chili?
Basically, this delicacy is based on a Mediterranean spiced beef stew originating from Greece or Macedonia, which uses oregano, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. It was developed by immigrants new to the area and originally served on hot dogs.
Some recipes call for using unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder, which gives the chili a wonderful depth of flavor similar to a Mexican mole.
Toppings are a must: raw onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and kidney beans or refried beans. Sometimes even oyster crackers, for crunch.
If you’re ever in the chili capital of Ohio, the restaurants use a “way” system to determine the ingredients each customer wants on their chili. Here’s how to order it:
- 3-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese.
- 4-Way: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions OR Beans.
- 5-Way (otherwise known as “the works”: Spaghetti, Chili, Cheese, Onions AND Beans.
- If you’re thinking a Cincinnati Chili Coney dog might be just the thing, here are the options:
- Bun, Hot Dog, Chili
- Bun, Hot Dog, Chili, Cheese
- Bun, Hot Dog, Chili, Mustard OR Onion, Cheese
- Bun, Hot Dog, Chili, Mustard and Onion, Cheese
Cincinnati Chili Ingredients:
People pay good money for Cincinnati Chili packets that hold the secret chili ingredients, so they can make their beloved chili at home. Here’s the spices in Cincy chili:
- Chili powder
- Dried oregano
- Ground cloves
- Ground beef (85% lean, 15% fat works best)
- Unsweetened chocolate
- Olive oil
- Chicken broth
- Tomato sauce
- Tomato paste
- Cider vinegar
- Brown sugar
- Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper
For serving Cincinnati Chili:
- Cooked spaghetti
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- Cooked dark red kidney beans or chili beans
- Chopped raw onions
- Oyster crackers
- Hot sauce
How do you make Cincinnati Chili?
Now you’re talking! (Psst! If you're a visual learner, these pictures show you what's up--but for the actual recipe with specific amounts, look towards the bottom of the page!)
Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of generously salted boiling water. Why do you salt pasta water? Salting the water increases the boiling point of the water, but it also gently seasons the pasta, which means that you can use less salt overall in the recipe.
It’s really great! Use about a tablespoon of salt to every pound of noodles you cook, but make sure you’re using a lot of water.
- To make the chili, find a large Dutch oven or other large pot, and cook the onions with olive oil over medium heat until softened.
- Then add the chocolate, spices, and garlic and stir until they’re nice and fragrant. Next, add the broth, tomato paste, tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and some salt and pepper.
- Then 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).
- Finally, adjust the seasoning and serve over cooked pasta.
How to make Cincinnati Chili in the crock pot or slow cooker:
- In a skillet, sauté the onions in olive oil over medium-high heat until softened. Add garlic and stir, cooking one minute more. Then add oregano, chili powder, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon.
- In a large crock pot, add chicken broth and beef. Stir the raw beef until broken up. Then add tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, chocolate, and cooked onion spice mixture from the skillet. Add a little salt and pepper.
- Next, cover crock pot and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. That’s it!
How do you thicken Cincinnati Chili?
Authentic Cincy chili is definitely on the thinner side, but if you’re needing a little more substance, you can thicken up the chili by making a slurry with flour and adding it to the chili.
Pull out about 1/4 cup of liquid from the chili, and whisk it up with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Then mix the slurry back into the pot and stir. You may need to do this a couple times before you get the consistency that’s right for you.
Vegan Cincinnati Chili:
Believe it or not, you can make this recipe vegan-friendly!
- Substitute two 15-ounce cans of chili beans or kidney beans for the beef, or use the equivalent amount of HVP (hydolyzed veggie protein), mushrooms, or soft tofu. Look for vegan baker’s chocolate and vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth.
- Skip the cheese, or use your favorite non-dairy cheese in its place.
Cincinnati Chili with ground turkey:
Ground turkey makes an excellent stand-in for beef! Try it and write about it in the comments, if you do.
Leftover chili? Make Skyline Chili Dip:
Cincinnati Chili is perfect for parties as the key ingredient in Skyline Dip, which can be devoured with corn chips.
- Line a glass baking casserole with a 1” cream cheese base, then add chili.
- Top with shredded cheddar cheese and beans.
- Bake at 350 degrees until cheese melts, then allow to cool a few minutes before serving.
Cincinnati Chili Recipe
- 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 apple 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
- 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.