Classic Cincinnati Chili is a unique comfort food classic. It’s slow simmered and then served 1 of 5 ways. A midwestern favorite in a bowl, over spaghetti, or on top of a hot dog. Great lunch or dinner!
Classic Cincinnati Chili Recipe
A good friend of mine recently served us this Cincinnati Chili for lunch. I’d never had it before, but of course I love trying new foods. When I scanned the list of ingredients, though, I was like “Huh. Cinnamon? Allspice? Cocoa powder? What the WHAT?” She, being a Cincinnati native, swore by it and said, “Calm down. You’re going to love it.” Lol. And I did!
Of course I grabbed the recipe from my friend. Perfect comfort food for winter and game day!
What is Cincinnati Chili?
Authentic Cincinnati Chili is a hearty, rich, and uniquely spiced chili from…Cincinnati, Ohio, of course. It’s served by itself like regular chili, over hot spaghetti, or on top a hot dog with your choice of toppings, such as cheese, beans, onions, or all of them!
Cincinnati style chili is sort of known as “that weird spaghetti cinnamon chili” if you’re not from there. But if you are from Cincinnati, it’s like lifeblood. There are a couple hundred Cincinnati chili restaurants called “parlors” that serve this creation, so it’s no joke. While anyone from there would never describe it this way, since enjoying it, I often tell people it’s sort of like an unusual spiced-up take on Italian Bolognese sauce, served with cheddar cheese. It’s weird, but so good!
What Makes Cincinnati Chili Different?
There are three aspects of Cincinnati Chili that separate it from other kinds:
- The Seasonings: unlike most traditional chili recipes that always include cumin and chili powder, Cincinnati chili is also made with cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and even unsweetened chocolate.
- Ground Beef is Boiled: throw everything you’ve ever learned about sautéing and browning beef out the window. Instead, the beef is crushed up into tiny pieces and everything gets dumped into a pot and boiled. Then it sits in the fridge overnight to allow the fat to set, which is scraped off in the morning. Again, sounds odd (and honestly not all that pretty), but it works!
- Toppings: traditional toppings includ grated cheddar cheese, raw minced onion, and beans (but instead of beans being put in the chili, they’re put on top of it.) The chili parlors give you these choices referred to as “ways,” listed below.
How to Make Cincinnati Chili
Making this chili is a completely different process than traditional chili. Here’s a brief summary.
(Scroll down to the printable recipe card for details and measurements and don’t miss the video below.)
- Ground beef is covered with water and brought to a boil. It gets stirred and broken up into fine crumbles, then it’s transferred to the refrigerator overnight. The next day, the solid fat that has formed on top, gets skimmed off and discarded.
- All the other ingredients get added to the beef and then simmer for a few hours until thickened.
- It’s served 1 of 5 ways (see below.)
What to Serve with Cincinnati Chili?
You’ll often hear people say “My favorite is Cincinnati Chili 5 way!” What does that mean, though? Here’s what makes a 2-way plate of chili different from a 5-way:
- 2-Way: Chili served over spaghetti.
- 3-Way: Chili served over spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese.
- 4-Way: Chili served over spaghetti with diced raw onions and shredded cheddar cheese.
- 5-Way: Chili served over spaghetti with warmed canned red kidney beans, diced raw onions, and shredded cheddar cheese.
There are no traditional sides served with this chili, since most people opt for one of the “ways” which makes it quite hearty and substantial on its own!
Allow to cool completely and transfer to an airtight container. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days and in the freezer up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat on the stove or in the microwave.
More Comfort Food Recipes:
- Salisbury Steak
- Chicken Tetrazzini
- Chopped Cheeseburgers
- Chili Mac and Cheese
- Cornbread Hamburger Skillet
- Dill Pickle Sloppy Joe Grilled Cheese
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 quart water , or amount to cover
- 2 small sweet onions , finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic , minced
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- For serving: cooked spaghetti, shredded cheddar cheese, diced onions, and chili beans
- Place ground beef in a large pan, cover with the water and bring to a boil; stirring and breaking up the beef with a fork into a fine texture. Gently simmer until thoroughly cooked, about 30 minutes.
- Remove pan from heat and place pan in the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, skim off the solid fat from the top of the pan and discard.
- Place beef mixture over medium heat and stir in all the other ingredients; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours to absorb all the flavors and thicken. (Add a little water, if necessary, to avoid chili from sticking to the pan and/or burning.)
- Discard the bay leaf and cloves (if you can find them!)
- Serve 1 of 5 ways (see below notes) and enjoy!Note: calorie count does not include serving/topping suggestions.