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
Print RecipeBuy the Mast Brothers Chocolate cookbook

Want it? Click it.



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.

Print RecipeBuy the Mast Brothers Chocolate cookbook

Want it? Click it.

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.


#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. 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.

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

  3. 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…

  4. 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.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Rate this recipe!

Have you tried this recipe? Let us know what you think.

Upload a picture of your dish