Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cincinnati Chili

This post is dedicated to all of my readers who have ever lived in Ohio. You know what this stuff is, and I bet you are drooling. For the rest of you, I suspect you are scratching your heads and saying something along the lines of, “Cincinnati chili? What the heck is that?!”

We’ve all heard of Texas chili, white chicken chili, chili with beans, chili without beans… But what is Cincinnati chili? The short answer? It’s unlike any chili you’ve likely ever had, and you should try it right away. The longer answer is, well, a little bit longer. Cincinnati chili is thinner than your average chili with a unique flavor profile. True Cincinnati chili includes seasonings such as cinnamon, allspice, and chocolate or cocoa powder. These additions don’t make it sweet, they just give the chili its distinctive aroma and flavor.

Cincinnati chili is typically served over spaghetti. Prepared as such, it’s known as a Two-Way. Pile a mound of bright orange shredded cheese on top, and you have a Three-Way. Adding either diced raw onions or beans makes it a Four-Way, and adding both gives you the ultimate Five-Way. You can also serve your Cincinnati chili on top of a hot dog with cheese, onions, and mustard. That particular culinary masterpiece is known as the Cheese Coney. And for some reason or another, Cincinnati chili always comes with oyster crackers on the side.

This particular recipe is pretty close to the authentic taste I was looking for. I don’t think it’s 100 percent spot-on, but one of my Cincy chili-loving friends thought it was close to perfect. For those of you who grew up (or learned to love) eating this stuff, let me know how you like it. And if you have another recipe, please share it with us. I’d be more than willing to stage a Cincinnati chili taste test and post the results.

Cincinnati Chili
Adapted from Saveur

2 T. olive oil
5 clove garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, grated
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 ¼ - 1 ½ lbs. ground beef
2 T. chili powder
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
½ tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 dried bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups tomato sauce
1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1 lb. (16 oz.) dried spaghetti
15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2-4 cups cheddar cheese, finely shredded
Oyster crackers (optional)

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and grated onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add beef, chili powder, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, celery seed, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain out any accumulated fat, if necessary. (I used lean ground sirloin, so I did not have anything to drain out.)

Add tomato sauce, cocoa powder, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook, partially covered, until somewhat thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes.

While chili is cooking, prepare spaghetti according to package directions. Heat beans in a small pot or in the microwave until warm.

Divide spaghetti between 4 or 5 plates and top with chili, cheese, chopped onions, and beans. Serve with oyster crackers, if desired.

Serves 4 or 5.


  1. My favorite: Frito Chili Pie. Serve chili on top of instead of spaghetti, with all the stuff that goes on a four-way, plus sour cream. mmmmm.

  2. Mmm.. that sounds like a delicious belly ache waiting to happen.

  3. Oh Katie....I just LOVE this recipe! Making it tonight for new husband! :) Hope you and Stan are doing well! HUGS! Marie

  4. Thanks Marie. I'm glad you like it so much. I have another version I've been meaning to try out as well. Once I make it I'll let you know! (P.S. Congratulations on your marriage!!)

  5. I was all set to make this for dinner (hence my looking at an old post), only to discover that I have no cinnamon. Or oregano. And only a tiny bit of cocoa powder.

    On the plus side, that means leftover pot roast!

  6. Sounds delish!! Will definitely have to try this!! Living in Central Texas, though, I'll be waiting until the 100 degree days are BEHIND us!!!

  7. Allison - Thank you! This is definitely a great recipe for cooler weather.



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