Cincinnati Chili

So, those of you who follow me on Facebook know that pretty much every morning I post what I am making for dinner as my Facebook status. (This started when I first got my Facebook page and I wasn’t posting any status at all. The teenager was aghast, and told me I HAD to post my status and change it every day, and dinner was the only thing I could think of that changed radically every day. That, my friends, is the scintillating life that I lead. Not that I am complaining.)

Anyway. Most days the Dinner Status gets a comment or two, or someone hits the “Like” button, especially if there is bacon involved. Then came the day that I changed my status to “making three-way Cincinnati Chili.”

Oh my goodness. I think it is currently up to 19 comments and STILL going on, and that was a week ago. Everyone from my friend H, who is an AMAZING food writer and editor (and if you are looking for one of those, click here), to my friends C and D who are from or who are married to Ohio natives and so have first-hand knowledge of Cincinnati chili, to various folks just want to know what it IS. It was a Facebook/Chili free-for-all, and I loved it. Who knew chili was such a conversation-starter? But obviously this one is, so let me break it down for you.

Cincinnati chili is served on spaghetti. Not rice, spaghetti, and very well-cooked spaghetti. This is not the time for al dente.

2. Cincinnati chili does NOT have beans in it, unless you are having Five-Way chili. More on that later. It’s complicated.

3. Cincinnati chili includes, among various other flavors and seasonings: CHOCOLATE. (I’m starting to understand the passion now.)

Now that we have covered that, let me explain the various ways you can have this particular chili.

THREE WAY: Chili, shredded cheese, spaghetti.
FOUR WAY: Chili, shredded cheese, spaghetti, chopped onions
FIVE WAY: Chili, shredded cheese, spaghetti, chopped onions, beans

My Ohio sources tell me that there is a variation on the FOUR WAY where you can swap out the beans for the onions. And that it is often served with oyster crackers. That is the sum total of what I know about this variation of chili, other that the fact that it is flat-out scrumptious, and if you let it mellow in the fridge overnight and have some the next day, it is even better.

So there you have it, Cincinnati chili, and all you Ohioans out there? Let me know if I got anything wrong, okay?

In my first-ever correction to a post, thanks to everyone who in various ways told me I was a big old skimper on the CHEESE. Here is a link to a chili advertisement that shows the correct amount of cheese. I promise to never, ever be a cheese miser again…
It takes a village…thanks, guys. :–)


Cincinnati Chili
Serves: 6-8 servings
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ square unsweetened chocolate
  • Two 10.5 ounce cans beef broth
  • One 15 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • At least one cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Garnishes: chopped onion, beans, sour cream, guacamole - go crazy!
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add ground beef and stir until browned.
  3. Add chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, chocolate, beef broth, tomato sauce, cider vinegar, and red pepper and stir. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low and cook for 90 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. If you like your chili on the thicker side, keep simmering it until it is the consistency you want.
  4. Remove the bay leaf. Serve over spaghetti and top with LOTS of shredded cheddar cheese for three way, add some chopped onions for four way, add some drained heated kidney beans for five way.


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  1. Andrea says

    I'm all about the bacon love on facebook, but can't wrap my brain around chili over spagetti noodles. We eat some strange stuff around here, but that one takes the cake!

  2. Kelly says

    Oh I'm a Cincinnatian and I think you did a good job on our beloved chili! There's two small imperfections though, most importantly – looks like you skimped on the cheese. And secondly, it's often served with hot sauce, Tobasco does the trick perfectly. Yum!

  3. Kate Morgan Jackson says

    I am MORTIFIED about the cheese skimping – never again!! And thanks for the Tabasco suggestions. Now I need to go make this again immediately. :)

  4. rous says

    Technically, you boil the hamburger in water. I never do as I like it sauted. Still, I do like to go to Skyline and eat it the proper way. And, just for the info, Gold Star is not the same and frankly, I do not like it. Skyline rocks!

    • Kate says

      Wow, I have never heard about the boiling in water part…must give that a try next time. And glad to hear about Skyline!


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