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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Ingredients

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Directions

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.

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 cheeses, chopped onions, and warmed black beans on the side, and the family had fun making their plates to their individual likings.

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 simmering. 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.

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.

I love chili, and I’ve wanted to try Cincinnati chili 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. I didn't drain the onion and beef mixture before adding tomato sauce, which resulted in a soupier chili. I also substituted a balsamic 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.

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.

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.

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 this 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 the next time Cincinnati chili is calling your name.

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.

I don't purport to be a Cincinnati chili expert, but I am from Ohio and feel I do have some experience to draw from. Overall I thought this was good. This version doesn't add cinnamon, but the chocolate is critical to developing the richness of the spice blend. It has a mild heat and isn't oversaturated with cumin as I find many other types of chili recipes to be.

As I would with any Cincy chili, I strongly advise serving this with the pasta or another starch (we served ours over baked potatoes). You need something like that to counterbalance the deep, complex flavors. Of course, shredded cheese, sour cream, raw onion, and beans are must add-ins!

My only true recommendation to improving on this recipe was to add slightly more liquid--presumably more broth--as it got a little thick for my taste. You don't want it runny, but what I ended up with was fairly "stiff," especially after it sat for a period of time.

I have never been to Cincinnati, nor have I ever seen or eaten Cincinnati chili before. This recipe was fun, easy, one pot chili. I must admit that having never seen Cincinnati chili before, I needed a little (well, really, a LOT) of guidance and I thought about calling Larry about this chili.

I used grass fed beef at a 85/15 and I still drained off over a cup of fat and moisture. It's a good thing or it really would have soup. I blame my results on the tomato puree being too thin—I think that is what made the chili so thin. I will watch that the next time. For sure.

Now, down to the brass tacks. This chili had a good taste and i am wondering if the allspice is what makes it Cincinnati chili or what? I have never made chili with allspice as an ingredient—down here we use allspice in our crab boil and in crawfish dishes. So, that was our immediate reaction—what is this? This isn't right.

When I make this again, I will turn down the heat a bit—I used New Mexico Red Chile Powder and it has a kick along with that cayenne. And I will either eliminate the allspice completely or dial it back by half. But then, I would have Baton Rouge Chili and NOT Cincinnati chili! Over macaroni. With oyster crackers. And chives. And sour cream. And avocado. Now that's some chili!

My chili was more like chili soup. Advisors told me it was supposed to be, um, thinner than the usual chili. I took some of the chili from the pot after it had cooked the one hour and we tested for taste. It was good—for a soup! I then let it simmer for another hour and we were talking my idea of chili!

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Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    1. 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. Next time I will add vinegar, chocolate, allspice, and bay leaf in my chili—that sounds delicious. Thank you.

  7. I’ve been making Cincinnati 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 chili that I think really makes for that uniqueness!

      1. 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…

  8. 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’.

    1. 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.

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