Easy Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati chili is found at chili parlors throughout Ohio. We often serve this with noodles and shredded cheese.–Rick and Michael Mast

LC Cincinnati Chili Cheat Sheet Note

If you’re either from Cincinnati or have ever experienced Cincinnati chili, you can skip straight to the recipe. Everyone else, listen up. This here chili is different than what you’re accustomed to calling chili. It’s spicier—as in full of warming spices like allspice, cloves, and the like. It’s dicier—as in punctuated with wee bits of ground beef rather than hulking behemoth chunks of chuck. It’s runnier—as in much soupier than the stick-a-spoon-in-it style of chili to which you may be accustomed. It’s chocolate-ier—as in graced by the enveloping and oh-so-slightly sweet goodness of dark chocolate that rounds out the spices and lends a slight mole-like character to the whole shebang. It’s funnier, too—in a good way. In the best possible way, actually. Because really, doesn’t it make you giggle to learn that they plop Cincinnati chili atop spaghetti in its namesake city? Sorta seems like something they’d put in a comic strip. Oh, it’s less bean-ier, too—they get added later, as an optional afterthought. Still, despite its questionable right to the name “chili,” we really, really like this little number. Here’s how you’ll find it in Cincinnati:

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

Cincinnati Chili Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 1 H, 40 M
  • Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/4 cup chili powder, or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato purée
  • 2 to 4 cups beef stock (for a less runny chili, start with just 2 cups)
  • 2 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 pinches sea salt
  • 2 pinches black pepper

Directions

  • 1. In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the ground beef and cook until browned. (If you feel you must, go ahead and skim most of the fat rendered from the beef, but we encourage you to leave it and skim it after the chili has simmered. Fat equals flavor, don’t you know.)
  • 2. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaves, cayenne, and tomato purée. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • 3. Add the beef stock and stir. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. If desired, skim any fat from the surface of the chili.
  • 4. Add the chocolate and vinegar and stir until combined. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season the Cincinnati chili with salt and pepper. (For instructions on how to serve this here chili, take a gander at the LC Note above the recipe.)
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Larry Noak

Jan 20, 2014

This chili is the very best that I’ve ever had, and my wife is in complete agreement. Try it for yourself—whether you've had Cincinnati Chili or not, you’ll fall in love with it. Having recently moved from Cincinnati myself, I’m thrilled to report that this chili recipe, while not an exact copy of the Skyline and Gold Star chili of Cincy, is in my estimation, a perfect tribute. The only difference is that there’s perhaps a bit more chocolate and no cinnamon. It may be tempting to skim the fat at the beginning, but a bit of fat won't kill you, and it’ll be far easier to remove after it cools and rises to the surface. I served this wonderful chili over spaghetti with finely grated sharp Cheddar cheese. I also prepared all-beef hot dogs in butter and traditional cheese coneys. Put your hot dog on a bun, add a nice squirt of yellow mustard, a generous amount of chili, some finely grated onion, a mountain of grated cheddar, and a bit of hot sauce, if you please. This chili, like most one pot concoctions, improves dramatically with age.

Testers Choice
Alexandra M.

Jan 20, 2014

This is a fabulous recipe, and it's incredibly simple to make. I loved that the most preparation I had to do for this Cincinnati chili was chopping an onion. The magic is really created during the nearly hour and a half of simmering time. The end result was a luscious, velvety chili with a hint of chocolate. After browning my lean beef, there wasn't that much fat in the pan, so I just left it in, and I think it lent a richer flavor to the chili. All in all, this is a delicious recipe, and you can make it in a cinch. What I especially like about it is that it's not too heavy. A bowl of bean-laden chili can be a lot to get through, so I prefer this bean-less recipe. My boyfriend and I needed a little bit more spice, so if we make it again, we'll definitely double, if not triple, the amount of cayenne pepper. However, it’s lovely without the heat as well—it just depends on personal preference.

Testers Choice
Linda Pacchiano

Jan 20, 2014

This Cincinnati chili recipe was quite tasty and very easy to prepare. The combination of spices with the chocolate and sherry vinegar resulted in many interesting layers of deep, dark, luxurious flavors. My one suggestion would be to add the chopped chocolate about midway through the 1-hour simmer. This will allow the chocolate to be better incorporated into the chili. We found that adding it at the end of the cooking period made the chocolate flavor a bit too pronounced. We served the chili with some plain orzo and grated Gruyère cheese, which paired very well.

Testers Choice
Kristen Kennedy

Jan 20, 2014

And here I thought I had the best Cincinnati chili recipe! This one is simpler and tastier. I followed the directions precisely and served the chili with buttered pasta, grated Monterey and Cheddar, chopped onions, and warmed black beans on the side, and the family had fun making their plates to their individual liking.

Testers Choice
Anna Scott

Jan 20, 2014

This recipe for Cincinnati Chili was spot-on—a perfect blend of deep flavor and richness. I fell in love with Cincinnati chili when I was in college in Kentucky. I had some good friends from the Cincinnati area, so I was quickly introduced to this spiced chili containing chocolate and warm spices. I love the options for toppings as well: Cheddar cheese, red onion, and sour cream. This is a chili rich in tradition that I'll certainly be making time and time again. I served it over whole wheat spaghetti, and there was nothing but compliments around the dinner table.

Testers Choice
Allison J.

Jan 20, 2014

I love chili, and I’ve wanted to try this recipe ever since I sampled the famous Skyline Chili in Cincinnati this summer. This recipe is easy to make and tastes even better the second day because the extra time allows the rich chocolate and chile pepper flavors to really develop. While it isn’t exactly the same as Skyline's chili, I think this recipe reflects the spirit of the Greek-influenced chili. Things to note: I didn't drain the onion and beef mixture before adding tomato sauce, which resulted in a soupier chili. I also substituted a balsamic/wine vinegar for the sherry vinegar, which didn't seem to make a huge difference. My final modification was based on my recollection of the Skyline version: I added 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, which rounded out the flavors. The chili is delicious served on spaghetti with kidney beans, onions, and Cheddar cheese. However, it’s not your traditional chili recipe—with the chocolate, it reminded me more of mole.

Testers Choice
Gene C.

Jan 20, 2014

I saw Cincinnati Chili featured on a cooking show some time ago and didn't give it a second thought until this recipe came up for testing. I did a little research and found that this style of chili is famous in what are called "chili parlors" in Ohio, which are numerous and each serve their own versions. I served it over spaghetti with pinto beans and Cheddar cheese, and my tasters said it was awesome. I found this recipe to be the perfect blend of spices and will be including it in my rotation of regulars. Some purists may feel that the recipe isn’t the traditional preparation, but we all cook in our own way, and I found this interpretation to be very appealing. It can be prepared quickly and doesn’t require a lot of attention. A couple of notes: When browning the meat, I used the back of a spoon to break up the chunks since the meat should be very fine. I didn’t find it necessary to drain the fat, as most of it had cooked off, and I figured what was left would add flavor. I used 73% lean ground beef and added only 2 cups stock and I personally thought the consistency to be perfect (similar to a good homemade tomato sauce). I’d suggest starting with 2 cups and letting it simmer before adding more to taste. I used red wine vinegar instead of sherry vinegar, as that's what I had on hand. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days or frozen for later use then reheated slowly.

Testers Choice
Kara Vitek

Jan 20, 2014

If you’re looking for a delicious, easy-to-prepare Cincinnati chili, this fits the bill perfectly. There are a lot of flavors going on in the recipe, but they all meld together well. I’d make this the day before you intend to serve it for added complexity. I served this with macaroni, Cheddar cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. I encourage you to make this next time Cincinnati Chili is calling your name.

Testers Choice
Karen Depp

Jan 20, 2014

This Cincinnati chili recipe makes a fun, easy, one-pot dish. I’ve never been to Cincinnati or eaten Cincinnati chili before, so I needed a little (well, a lot) of guidance. I followed this recipe to the letter, but my chili was more like chili soup. I was told that it was supposed to be thinner than the usual chili, but soup? I don’t think so. I tasted it after the chili had cooked 1 hour, and it was good...for a soup. So I let it simmer for another hour—that's when we were talking my idea of chili! I used grass-fed 85/15 beef, but still had to drain off more than a cup of fat or the chili really would’ve been soup. I think my tomato purée was too thin, which in turn made my chili thin. I’ll definitely watch out for that the next time I make this. The chili had a good taste, but it surprised me at first because I’ve never made chili with allspice. Down here, we use allspice in our crab boil and crawfish dishes. The next time I make this, I’ll either halve the allspice or eliminate it completely. I’ll also turn down the heat a bit; I used New Mexico red chile powder, and it added an extra kick to the cayenne. Although these changes would probably make it a Baton Rouge chili instead of a Cincinnati one, which I’d serve over macaroni with oyster crackers, chives, sour cream, and avocado.

Testers Choice
Ralph Knauth

Jan 20, 2014

This is a pretty straightforward recipe for Cincinnati Chili. I served it over spaghetti with onions, cheese, and beans. The addition of sherry and chocolate at the end is a nice touch. I only used 1 tablespoon oil to sweat the onion. I didn't discard any fat from the ground beef, but since I used an 80/20 mixture, there wasn't that much fat. I used Roast Chicken Stock, as I didn’t have any beef broth on hand, and with so many spices, I don't think it made a big difference.


Comments
Comments
  1. colleene says:

    Any suggestions for the gluten intolerant people in the crowd? I thought of spaghetti squash, but then I thought that definitely increases the work quotient (from chopping an onion)…just sayin’.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      There are so many quite nice gluten-free pastas on the market now, colleene, you could easily swap one for standard spaghetti and be quite happy (and, I dare say, not even notice the difference with so many lovely flavors jumbled together). White rice would also be lovely here in place of spaghetti. I can even see dumping the chili on some tortilla chips in Frito-pie fashion. If you prefer something a little more au naturel than all those, I suggest a simple roasted sweet potato, whose richness would go terrifically with the warm spices. But honestly? I’d be satisfied with a bowl of this chili straight up, nothing else. If anyone else has suggestions, kindly drop them here. And colleene, do let us know which route you decide to go.

  2. I’ve been making Cincinatti Chili for years since meeting someone from there when we first moved to Denver. It is unique but my family has always loved it. Your recipe has a lot of similarities but NO cinnamon? It’s the one spice that’s in Cincinnati chile that I think really makes for that uniqueness!

    • David Leite says:

      Barb, cinnamon wasn’t in the original recipe, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be added. Especially with all these warm spices.

      • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

        Cinnamon does make an appearance in many a Cincinnati-style chili recipe, Barb, as you well know. We’ve no objections to you adding some here. For some reason these authors chose not to include it, and our testers—including someone who’s lived in Cincinnati for years and years—still really liked the result. But we love when readers take a recipe and make it their own. So go right ahead with our blessing, and kindly let us know how it goes…

  3. joanne says:

    Next time I will add vinegar, chocolate, allspice, and bay leaf in my Chili that sounds delicious. Thank You.

  4. I just was getting ready to post this when I saw this! Love this cookbook–great fudge by the way–and this chili is killer. Love the way the flavors grow as you add them to the chili.

  5. Ellen in Providence says:

    About forty years ago I was a cub reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer and described the chili as “marinate Alpo in kerosene, add a dash of cinnamon, and voilà! You’ve got it.” I was almost run out of town. But if you’re in Cincinnati you MUST try Graeter’s ice cream.

    • David Leite says:

      I can’t imagine why you were almost run out of town, Ellen. Hmmmm? Yes, Graeter’s ice cream in on my list. Christine C. made me make a solemn vow that if I ever get to Cincinnati, I must try it.

  6. SusanCooksin says:

    David, I’ll never forget my first Cincinnati Chili–I was charmed by the cinnamon, and went on to report about it for the NYT. I tasted it recently, albeit at the Cincinnati airport. I had to, and it was delicious! Thanks for the post.

    • David Leite says:

      You’re more than welcome, Susan. Actually there’s a restaurant in New York called Edward’s that once a month has Skyline chili and Graeter’s ice cream shipped in from Cincinnati. We’re going next month!

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