Cincinnati chili is an animal all its own with unusual ingredients and flavors distinctly different from other recipes. Customization to personal taste is another hallmark of this chili and unlike other regional and state specialties, it’s expected. Order it your way, served without judgement from any no-bean or no-spaghetti nazis.
It begins with the base chili and builds from there with four additional ingredients. Cheese lovers will add their favorite for two-way and onion-heads add them for three-way chili. Beans or spaghetti are added for four-way and five-way chili includes a little of everything. All ways are served with oyster crackers to complete the experience.
Cincinnati Chili History
The Queen City is home to more than 100 chili parlors and many resemble 50’s diners and drive-ins. Menus go beyond chili with coney dogs, frito pies, sloppy jim’s and burgers, but most items include the base chili one way or another. Decorated with long counters, red vinyl stools and booths, they’re designed for quick turnover and large lunch crowds. They have jukeboxes and other accoutrements of the era, but how did Cincy become a hotbed for chili?
It all began with Greek immigrants in the 1920’s and somewhere along the way it spread downriver to my hometown of Louisville. Today two chains, Skyline and Gold Star still serve Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida.
If you’re visiting Cincy stop in at Blue Ash, Camp Washington Chili Time or Empress for the full Queen City chili experience. If you’re not, make it at home with all the fixin’s.
- 1–1/4 lb lean ground beef
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 5 cups water
- 3/4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 6 oz (1 can) tomato paste
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 TBL apple cider vinegar
For the “Ways”
- Mild cheddar cheese – finely shredded
- 1 yellow onion – diced
- 1 can kidney beans – warmed
- Thin spaghetti – cooked per instructions
- Oyster crackers
- Add the water and ground beef to a large soup pot
- Bring the water to a boil for about 5 minutes
- Stir and chop to break up the meat and lower the heat to medium
- Add the chocolate and tomato paste and stir
- When the paste is incorporated and the chocolate is melted lower the heat to a low simmer
- Continue to break up any chunks of ground meat and add all the remaining ingredients, chili powder, cinnamon, garlic powder, cumin, allspice, cayenne pepper, salt, sugar and apple cider vinegar
- Simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until it has thickened and add more water if it becomes too thick
- Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate overnight
- Skim off any fat and re-heat to serve
Serving the Chili
Two Way: Chili and Cheese
Three Way: Add Diced Onion
Four Way: Spaghetti or beans on the bottom then cover with the chili, onions and cheese
Five Way: Beans and spaghetti on the bottom, then cover with chili, onions and cheese
All Ways: Oyster crackers on the side
The Cheatin’ Way: Add a few deli jalapeno slices