Cincinnati Chili

Mediocre chili. It’s a plague running through households like gossip at a church potluck. And we’ve all succumbed to the ‘please don’t let this happen’ prayer while fast-paced shuffling to the stadium bathroom after being force-fed your uncle’s tailgating tradition. We need an intervention, and the answer hails from Cincinnati.

A Lovable Dish In An Unlovable City

Cincinnati Chili is the best thing to come out of Cincinnati since…ever. Granted, it’s not competing with much. You’ve got one of the worst NFL teams in history, high-caliber officials such as, Jerry Springer, who was elected mayor after he was caught writing a bad check to a prostitute, a murky intestinal-shaped slurry called the Ohio River, and we won’t even get into the westside. Just know it exists, and you don’t need to go there.

Formerly crowned ‘Pork Processing Capital of the World’ (please try to contain your jealousy) thanks to its large concentration of German immigrants, you’d think blood sausages and bratwurst would be Cincinnati’s crowning jewel. Now, when I roamed those dank streets in my early twenties you couldn’t turn a corner without running into a large flamboyantly dressed flying pig statue (dead pig angels?) or attend any event that didn’t include the term ‘Porkopolis’ or another play on words involving swine. But no, Cincinnati’s love for everything pork didn’t produce a dish that came close to shining as bright as the Greek stew meets chili meets spaghetti sauce created by Macedonian immigrants in the 1920’s.

The truth is it’s good. I mean damn good. So good, you’ll be willing to overlook the abnormal activity of placing chili on top of spaghetti noodles. Granted, you can forego the noodles and get the chili dog affectionately referred to as a ‘coney’ and equally as delicious. But the fun doesn’t stop there. You proceed to what is known as ordering via the ‘way’ system, which is as follows:

The Cincinnati Chili ‘Way’ Ordering System


  • Two-way: spaghetti topped with chili (also called “chili spaghetti”)
  • Three-way: spaghetti, chili, and cheese
  • Four-way onion: spaghetti, chili, and cheese w/ onions or cheese (Four-way w/onion is where it’s at!)
  • Five-way: spaghetti, chili, beans, onions, and cheese
You then add a good dose of hot sauce (crystals or franks) and serve up oyster crackers on the side.
You’ll find over 250 chili parlors in the greater Cincinnati area, all serving up their own variations of the original recipe. This iconic recipe separates itself from its distant cousins with two star ingredients: cinnamon and chocolate. In effect, creating the Mediterranean-spiced sauce Cincinnatians have come to love.


Techniques that make it tasty 

1. Browning not boiling the meat gives enhanced flavor and texture

2. Toasting the spices in oil adds complexity and richer flavor

3. Reducing via a slow simmer allows the flavors to marry while thickening the sauce

*Don’t forget to check seasoning and acidity (apple cider vinegar) before serving


4 (But I’ve witnessed 1 put this down alone)

Ready In:

1hrs 30min

Gear Needed:

Dutch oven or large pot



Step by Step Instructions

  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15oz can tomato sauce
  • 16 oz chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 oz unsweetened chocolate

Spice Mix

  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 2 bay leaves 
Step 1

Combine spices for mix and set aside.

Heat dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat and add oil.

Once oil shimmers, add beef and brown to develop flavor and texture – no need to cook through just develop browning.

Remove beef with slotted spoon or spider strainer. 

Step 2

Add onion and garlic – cook in beef fat and oil until translucent.

Add spice mixture to onion mix to toast lightly in oil. 

Step 3

Add beef, tomato sauce, and chicken stock to pot and bring to a simmer.

Once simmering, add chocolate, cider vinegar, and worcestershire and stir to combine.  

Step 4

Simmer and reduce until mixture has become homogeneous and thickened – about 30 – 45 minutes 

Step 5

When sauce is ready, cook spaghetti in large pot of salted water until al dente.

Drain pasta and toss in 1 tsp of oil. 

Plate up with spaghetti, meat sauce, onions and beans (if using), and shredded cheese. 

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