Easy Cincinnati Chili

This easy Cincinnati chili is made with, as main ingredients, ground beef, onions, spices, and dark chocolate, and is served on spaghetti and smothered with cheese. (You heard us right.) And folks are calling it the best Cincinnati chili they’ve ever had.

White bowl of dark beef chili with chocolate on a black slab

One of the most popular chains of Cincinnati chili parlors—yes, they call them parlors, isn’t that quaint?!—in Ohio is Skyline Chili. If you’re ever driving past, we suggest you make a detour and dally long enough to sit down and have a bowl full.] The chili is served atop spaghetti and is smothered with shredded cheese. And the chili itself 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. 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—and need to order 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–Rick and Michael Mast

Cincinnati Chili

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 20 M
  • 1 H, 40 M
  • Serves 8
5/5 - 1 reviews
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In a large pot, heat the 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.)

Stir in the chili powder, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaves, cayenne, and tomato purée. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the beef stock and stir. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour. If desired, skim any fat from the surface of the chili.

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 Cincinnati chili, look at the headnote above. Originally published January 20, 2014.

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

This Cincinnati 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, 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.

This is a fabulous Cincinnati chili recipe that's incredibly simple to make. I loved that the most preparation I had to do was chop an onion. The magic is really created during the nearly 1 1/2 hours 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.


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  1. Skyline, Gold Star, Washington Chili, so many great Chili Parlors in and around the Cincinnati Area!

  2. Cincinnatian here! The recipe looks good, but I have to take issue with the description of your “ways.” Cincinnati chili is too watery to “plop.” “Poured over” is better. And the cheese is piled on top, not “smothered.” It should be finely grated and rise at least an inch and a half above the rest of the plate. No thick grated or melted cheese. This would offend any homegrown Cincinnatian.

    Additionally, a pro tip: the hot sauce served at Skyline most closely resembles Catalina hot sauce for anybody trying to make this outside the Cincinnati area. If you’re in the 513, you can buy the original Skyline hot sauce at Kroger.

    Finally, it should also be known that Cincinnati chili is an adventure for your digestive system. Don’t plan any intimacy afterwards and only sleep in trusted company.

    1. Laughs. We stand corrected, Ellen! Thank you for sharing your homegrown Cincinnati knowledge! (We’re going to have a talk with our favorite Cincinnatian who tested this recipe and withheld this information with us!) Seriously, though, we GREATLY appreciate your careful attention to the recipe and clarifying things for us. Also appreciate your shopping tricks and your post-dinner cautions. Grateful to you!

  3. This looks great but I have a question: the recipe calls for dark chocolate. Does that mean semisweet, bittersweet, or some other kind of chocolate?

    1. Matt, it means the kind of chocolate that’s not in the baking aisle but the kind that you stash in your desk at work for a chocolate craving! It’s usually labeled dark, which has a range of percentages cocoa but preferably look for one that’s right around 70%. Semisweet chocolate is going to be a little too sweet for this. Glad you’ll be trying the recipe!

  4. I cannot tell you how many times we’ve made this recipe. And this might be the ONLY chili recipe I make as it’s printed. Nothing added and nothing removed – although I do play with the heat on occasion. We serve it as three-way chili, but it also gets plopped on baked potatoes and on pizza crust. Don’t tell, but it makes a fantastic filling for homemade hot pockets.

    1. Susan, I love the different ways you use the chili, but I’m freaking flipping over the homemade hot-pocket idea. At this very minute, I’m on a plane somewhere over the midwest. The One just got a text of ingredients to buy for Saturday’s dinner: Susan’s homemade hot pockets.

  5. 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.

    1. 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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