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Food & Drink Blog

Monday Meal: Cincinnati Chili

by Ted Scheffler
- Posted // 2012-03-05 -

One of my favorite comfort foods -- which I discovered when I lived in Dayton, Ohio -- is Cincinnati chili. It's a regional specialty that is somewhat misnamed, since it's not really chili. Or rather, it's MORE than just chili.  

A specialty of the greater Cincinnati area, Cincinnati chili is beef chili made with a mix of atypical spices (compared to Texas chili) such as allspice and cinnamon. Skyline and Gold Star are the best-known Cincinnati chili purveyors, but there are many throughout southern Ohio, each seemingly with its own secret recipe.

Cincinnati chili is typically served atop spaghetti (usually slightly overcooked; not al dente). When you order Cincinnati chili, it's helpful to know the following styles: 

2-way: chili & spaghetti

3-way: chili, spaghetti & shredded cheese

4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese & onions

5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions & beans

In addition, it's de rigueur to serve Cincinnati chili with oyster crackers on the side. Hot sauce is another typical accompaniment. 

As I said, there are a gazillion different Cincinnati chili recipes; this one is my favorite. Don't let the number of ingredients dissuade you from making it as it's actually very simple. Just dump everything into a pot and go! 


2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 qt. water

1 28-oz. can tomato sauce

1 28-oz. can peeled whole tomatoes

2 finely chopped onions

2 Tbs. cocoa powder

2 Tbs. chili powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground allspice

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. cinnamon 

1 tsp. ground black pepper

2 Tbs. white vinegar

2 minced garlic cloves

3 bay leaves

Optional toppings: finely shredded cheddar cheese, minced onions, kidney beans



Put all of the ingredients into a dutch oven or crock pot and cook slowly, barely simmering, for 4-5 hours. It's virtually impossible to overcook Cincinnati chili. If cooking in a crock pot, you might want to decrease the amount of water. Just eyeball it. You can always add more water, if needed. The finished product should be fairly "wet," - more saucy or soupy than Texas chili would be. Remove the bay leaves before serving. 


An important note: DO NOT brown the meat before cooking. Authentic Cincinnati chili requires that the meat stew with the spices. That's why I recommend lean ground beef, since you won't be able to drain off the fat.  


Serve on a bed of spaghetti, along with optional accompaniments like onions, beans, crackers and such.  


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Posted // October 5,2012 at 21:00

Great recipie, instead of the regular tomatoes I use stewed. Adds a nice flavor, I grew up in the Cinci area Empress chili always had the best in my opinion, sadly they have been gone for many years now.


Posted // October 6,2012 at 18:29 - Stewed tomatoes: good idea! I'll try that next time. Thanks for the tip. I used to live in Dayton many years ago and vaguely remember Empress.