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. Jill

    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! 

    1. meggan

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

  2. TRDenver

    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.5 stars

    1. Trdenver

      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.5 stars

    2. meggan

      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!!!

    3. meggan

      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!

  3. Denise

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

    1. meggan

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

  4. verlace

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

  5. Chrissie W

    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!5 stars

    1. meggan

      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!

  6. Laura M

    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.

    1. meggan

      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.

  7. Dave

    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 stars

  8. Dave

    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. :-))5 stars

  9. Mimi

    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.

  10. Looks interesting! Ive never put chili over pasta, I usually put it over rice, so Ill have to try this!5 stars

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