Cincinnati Chili Recipe

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.

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.
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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
    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.

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:

  • Garlic
  • Chili powder
  • Dried oregano
  • Cinnamon
  • Allspice
  • Ground cloves
  • Ground beef (85% lean, 15% fat works best)
  • Unsweetened chocolate
  • Olive oil
  • Onions
  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    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.
  3. 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).
    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.
  4. Finally, adjust the seasoning and serve over cooked pasta.

How to make Cincinnati Chili in the crock pot or slow cooker:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. Line a glass baking casserole with a 1” cream cheese base, then add chili.
  2. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and beans.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese melts, then allow to cool a few minutes before serving.
5 from 18 votes

Cincinnati Chili Recipe

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.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword chili
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 10 servings
Calories 271kcal
  • 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 271kcal

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  1. Roger Montgomery

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

    1. 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.

    2. 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

    3. Rhonna Moore

      No, the recipe says 1 oz unsweetened chocolate.

  2. 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. 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.

    2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. Jim D.

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

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. Cyndi W.

    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!5 stars

  14. Bob

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

    1. meggan

      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!

  15. HEATHER

    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!5 stars

  16. Mimi

    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.

    1. meggan

      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!!!

  17. Katie Jo Casados

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

    1. Alissa

      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.

    2. meggan

      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! :)

  18. Mo

    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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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!5 stars

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