Cincinnati Chili

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Cincinnati Chili

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Published prior to 2008

We’ve embarked on a quest to combine a bun of great flavor and holding capacities with one of the greatest of hot dog toppings: chili. It’s not a risky statement to say that there are as many styles of chili as there are chili makers, but several regions of the country have embraced distinctive recipes. To embellish our ultimate hot dog construction, we’ve chosen to go to Cincinnati.

Now, Cincinnati chili is famous in its own right. Forget about Texas (at least for the time being); Cincinnati chili is a whole ’nother story. A very smooth blend of meat, vegetables and spices, this chili is more a meat sauce than the robust, chunky dish you might be picturing in your mind. Depending on the number of added accompaniments, Cincinnati chili can be three-way (thick spaghetti topped with chili and cheese); four-way (add onions atop the chili, before the cheese); or even five-way (kidney or cannellini beans go over the onions, before the cheese).

When you’re talking hot dogs, though, this same chili plays a different roll… er, role. According to the American Museum of Natural History’s Web site, Cincinnati’s signature dog, the Cincinnati Cheese Coney (as in Coney Island, home of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs), features a Vienna Beef Frank topped with chili, cheddar cheese, diced onions, and a squiggle of yellow ballpark mustard. The chili ingredients may vary slightly, but most seem to include very finely ground beef (chuck is usually called for), tomato, a touch of vinegar, and grated unsweetened chocolate, with sweet spices like cinnamon and allspice in the background. All of these ingredients are simmered for three hours, to make a very subtle and balanced flavor.
Cincinnati’s chili is a fitting crowning glory for a fresh-baked hot dog bun and a nicely grilled hot dog. Here’s a recipe from the mother of one of my former students, an Ohio native and inveterate chili artiste.—S.R.

2 pounds ground chuck (ask the butcher to run it through the grinder a second time if you want your chili ultra-smooth)
6 cups water
1 bay leaf, 5 whole cloves, and 5 whole allspice, tied up in a piece of cheesecloth; or simply substitute 1 whole bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves and ground allspice, and skip the cheesecloth
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate or 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 onions (8 1/2 ounces total), grated or very small dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) vinegar
16-ounce can tomato sauce

Brown the beef in a large pan, and drain the fat. Stir the water into the beef, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Add the cheesecloth bag with the spices, and all of the remaining ingredients (start with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt). Simmer the chili slowly, uncovered, for 2 hours, until it’s thick. Cover and continue cooking slowly for another hour. Adjust seasoning, adding a bit more salt, ground black pepper or additional red pepper for extra kick, if you like. Discard the cheesecloth bag with the spices.

Serve atop hot dogs, or make it three-, four-, or five-way. Don’t forget plenty of napkins! Yield: 12 servings, when spooned over a hot dog.

Nutrition information per serving (a generous 1/3 cup, 240g): 231 cal, 17g fat, 14g protein, 6g complex carbohydrates, 2g dietary fiber, 56mg cholesterol, 569mg sodium, 410mg potassium, 67RE vitamin A, 7mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 28mg calcium, 131mg phosphorus, 2mg caffeine.

This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XIII, No. 5, Summer 2002 issue.


  • star rating 10/07/2014
  • Katie from Portland, OR
  • My husband is a Skyline pureist (even worked there in high school), but now lives in Portland where it's nigh impossible to get Skyline short of importing it yourself. I tried this, and, with a few tweaks, he said that some bites tasted "pretty close" to Skyline's chili--which is pretty high praise coming from him. I doubled the recipe and boiled the meat instead of browning it and used an immersion blender to get the texture. I only had one small onion on hand, so used onion powder and garlic powder (cheating, I know). I also didn't have allspice. After adding a can of tomato paste to the recipe, he said it was pretty close! Will tweak the recipe again the next time I make it, and maybe we won't have to check our baggage due to half a flat of canned chili next time we visit...
  • star rating 10/06/2014
  • SueC from Flushing, NY
  • This recipe for Cincinnati Chili was a big hit here. Even a picky eater ate this chili and said it had good taste. That is a big compliment coming from a kid who wasn't really a chili eater. Thank you for sharing a most delicious chili recipe.
  • star rating 12/30/2013
  • hybridgirl from KAF Community
  • This chili is so good. I have made it multiple times. I love how wonderful it smells while cooking. My husband loves it.
  • star rating 02/27/2013
  • Studio_Gal from KAF Community
  • I'm not a bean person so I do not like chili. But this recipe is fantastic - don't change a thing. And don't add beans. I made it a day ahead then served it on thin spaghetti topped with diced sweet onion and grated sharp cheddar cheese - the kind without any red or yellow food dye added. I'm making my second batch right now to serve to company tomorrow. Thanks for a great recipe!
  • star rating 09/24/2011
  • BakErin from KAF Community
  • I made this chili on a cold winters Football sunday and it was a huge hit! I think any chili fan will love this recipe, even if they aren't familiar with Cincinnati's slight cinnamon, clove, and chocolate flavors.
  • star rating 10/11/2010
  • Cincicake from KAF Community
  • Even though I lived in Cinti. for many years, I have never acquired the taste for chili on my spaghetti. But, I do love the chili dogs and the chili with beans. I have been making this recipe for years and it is my favorite chili recipe. I don't brown the meat, just boil it in the water. I also never serve the chili the day it is made. I place it in the refrigerator overnight and the fat rises to the surface and congeals. I then remove all the fat before re-heating and serving.
  • star rating 02/06/2010
  • Phil Sanzone from Osprey Fl
  • Being a native Cincinnatian, Cincy chili a also popular in the Detroit area. Most, if not all chili restaurant owners are of Greek Decent Where the recipe first came from, nobody could ever tell me. In my opinion, Empress Chili, right accross from the Greyhound Bus Station, on fifth Street is the best in Cinci. Please don't compair Cinci Chili buy what you get, frozen, in the supermarket made by Skyline Chili. MASS produced for it's chain of restaurants and frozen exports to you local supermarket. It should have never been allowed accross the Ohio River, for that mater out of Western Hills! This recipe is almost as good as Empress! As far as I know, nobody has ever been able to match Empress. And, as a final, Cincinnati had/has their own Coney Island Amusment Park. Best way to get there and back was to take the paddle wheel from the Downtown River Front Park to Coney Island. Ah, the memories of a well spent youth!
  • star rating 09/27/2009
  • Cassie from l
  • delicious. 5-way!
  • star rating 09/24/2009
  • bill from FWB
  • For ultra thin chili, boil meat instead of browning.
  • star rating 02/08/2009
  • Steve from Massachusetts
  • Best chili I've ever tasted. I had a dinner party and set it up so everyone made their own chilli dogs. Lot of fun.