Cincinnati Chili

In Cincinnati they heat things up with heaping bowls of chili cooked until practically melted, with additions such as warm spices like cinnamon, cocoa powder, allspice, and cloves, and a touch of sweet molasses. Served over spaghetti and topped with hearty beans, cheese, and onion, it’s like no chili you have had before, but definitely one you’ll make over and over again.–Ellie Krieger

LC Three Way, Four Way, Five Way, Oh My! Note

Are we all familiar with Cincinnati-style chili? This unique and saucy take on chili is traditionally and ubiquitously plopped atop spaghetti and, if you please, glopped with Cheddar cheese, red onions, and/or beans. Mind you, there’s proper Cincinnati chili terminology to describe exactly how you like yours…

Two Way: Chili plopped on spaghetti

Three Way: Chili plopped on spaghetti and smothered with cheese

Four Way: Chili plopped on spaghetti and smothered with cheese and diced red onions or beans

Five Way: Chili plopped on spaghetti and smothered with cheese, diced red onions, and beans

One last thing. This rendition is made with ground turkey, which is hardly traditional, although you can’t really tell the difference. Honestly. That said, we’re not going to try to stop you from making it with ground beef. As if we could stop you.

Cincinnati Chili Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 2 H, 45 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened natural cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • One 15-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • One 15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 ounces spaghetti, preferably whole-grain, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 cup canned kidney beans, preferably low-sodium, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup grated, lightly packed extra-sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 4 teaspoons finely diced red onion

Directions

  • 1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the turkey and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon into small pieces, until just cooked through and no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  • 2. Add the bell peppers and cook until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the chili powder, cocoa, paprika, cumin, oregano (if using), cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and cloves and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • 3. Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes with their juice, water, molasses, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, partially covered, until the mixture has thickened considerably but is still somewhat soupy, about 2 hours.
  • 4. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Serve the chili over the spaghetti, topped with the kidney beans, cheese, and diced red onion.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Carol Anne Grady

Jan 04, 2012

This is a rich and meaty chili recipe, with a really deep flavor from all the spices. I gave it an extra half hour of cooking time and made it the day before, so by the time we came to eat it, it was deliciously thick. You might want to make your own decision on how much pasta, cheese and red onion you want to serve — once you have a forkful, you might realize that you want a bigger bowl…

Testers Choice
Leanne Abe

Jan 04, 2012

I’ve never made a turkey chili with cocoa before, but I really enjoyed the warm notes it added to the flavor. I thought the cumin came out a little strong, but all the other spices seemed to blend in just fine. I did simmer the pot with the lid half on, just to keep the liquid from evaporating too quickly, which worked. With all the spices, I didn’t even miss the ground beef. And I enjoyed it over spaghetti, but also on its own, with a baguette, over salad, and mixed in with spaghetti squash. As with most chilis, the flavors deepened the next day, but it was delicious hot out of the pot. Definitely a winner, and I am going to mix up a batch of the spices to keep in a jar so I don’t have to measure so much next time.

Testers Choice
Lynne Brenner

Jan 04, 2012

I was pleasantly surprised at the depth and richness of flavor produced by this recipe. I was wary of the ground turkey and by what seemed an excessive amount of green pepper, but the wide spectrum of spices, the cocoa powder and the molasses produced a hearty and satisfying chili. I included the oregano and the bay leaf, and also put the kidney beans into the chili, since I prefer my beans to be warmed. I served the chili over multigrain spaghetti and topped it with cheese and red onion — delicious! I also ate leftovers the following day without accompaniments and still loved it. This just might become my standard chili recipe since it is so healthy and tasty.

Testers Choice
Sheri C.

Jan 04, 2012

This smells just like the Cincinnati chili I’ve made for years. I think the version I make is pretty authentic — it’s just like the one served at a local restaurant that specializes in it. This version is flavorful, slightly spicy, but a little thicker than I’d like. I’d prefer broth in place of water, and more of it. Also, I think the beans should just be added to the chili — otherwise, it’s an extra step to heat them before adding them to the pile of pasta.

Testers Choice
Ellen Fuss

Jan 04, 2012

I am a dietitian with utmost respect for Ellie Krieger and her recipes. This is a perfect example of reduced fat combined with tons of flavor. I knew that Cincinnati Chili would be different from the Texas varieties that I usually make, but I thought that this healthy dish was worth a try. Glad I did. The flavors came together in a delicious way, though it’s important to note that the flavors are not at all like Texas chili. I followed the recipe as written and included all of the spices, even the ones that I am not usually a fan of, like allspice and cloves. It was perfect. Served it on whole wheat spaghetti and used all of the toppings as directed. I used reduced-sodium tomatoes and found that the chili was perfectly seasoned. I am thinking about visiting Cincinnati just to do some chili research!

Testers Choice
Deborah H.

Jan 04, 2012

I enjoyed making the Cincinnati Turkey Chili. It was quick and easy to prepare, and tasted as though a lot of effort had gone into it. I would say it benefits from being made in advance and left for a while before eating. The recipe was straightforward. I did include the dried oregano and the bay leaf, and I cooked it in a partially covered pan. I don’t know what a dutch oven is, and I don’t have a soup pot, so I used a large saucepan but found I needed to stir from time to time. A good preparation tip would be to put the herbs and spices all together in a little dish, ready to add all at once after the peppers. Instead I had the jars all lined up and measured each as I went, which meant some of the spices came close to being a bit burnt before all the others were added, and although More experienced cooks would probably do this as a matter of course, I didn’t think of it until afterwards. I would use less cocoa next time if I was to serve it straight away, as I found I could taste it. However, leaving it for a few hours, then reheating and eating, the taste of the cocoa wasn’t nearly so prominent.

Comments
Comments
  1. Curt says:

    I love the cinnamon, allspice and cloves in that chili. I’ve never seen that before, but it sure sounds good. This is one I’m going to have to try out!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Do try it, Curt, and let us know what you think. I’m quite smitten with the warmth these spices bring to chili, and how a cooling dollop of sour cream makes a sharp contrast–hold the beans and cheese. But that’s just me…

  2. Jeanette says:

    I just made a similar recipe last night for my kids – I served it over whole grain pasta and they loved it. I used unsweetened chocolate instead of cocoa and a little bit of vinegar.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Sounds terrific, Jeannette. I can see how the multigrain pasta would work exceptionally well here–without even noticing it–and same goes for the chocolate in place of the cocoa, its extra richness helping to meld all the spice flavors a little more than the cocoa. I may play around with this recipe just a touch, tweaking it per your comment, and see what happens…

  3. Christine Chronis says:

    This recipe looks delicious and healthy, however, as an ex-Cincinnatian, I can assure you that green peppers never make it into the iconic Cincinnati Chili Parlor dish, let alone ground turkey!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We sort of danced around the heresy of the turkey in the note above the recipe, Christine, although you caught us. And veeeerrrrrrry good to know about the bell peppers. We’ve seen various recipes alternatively rely on them or ignore them, so we’re glad to have the info straight from the source! Many thanks.

  4. Back in the days before so much airport security I used to deliberately schedule flights through Cincinnati, giving myself a 2- to 3-hour layover. The plan was land, grab cab, rush to Dixie Chili Parlor, stuff down 4 or 5 chili dawgs or a 4-way, then hotfoot it back to the airport to catch my flight out. I always wondered what my outbound seatmates thought of this brilliant plan…so thanks, I’ll make a batch this week.

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