This Cincinnati chili recipe features a hearty meat sauce that is flavored with tomatoes and spices, then simmered to perfection. Serve the chili in the classic style over spaghetti with a variety of toppings, then watch the rave reviews come in!
When I want comfort food that’s sure to please both the kids and adults, I turn to traditional recipes such as slow cooker pot roast, hamburger casserole and this savory Cincinnati style chili, which is also known as Skyline chili.
Traditional chili is great and all, but when I want a little variety, I make a big pot of Cincinnati chili. This chili is not served in a bowl like soup, instead it goes over spaghetti with shredded cheese, onions and even oyster crackers!
Cincinnati Chili Ingredients
This dish contains a lot of ingredients, but they are all very easy to source at most grocery stores. You will likely already have the various spices and seasonings in your pantry!
How do you make Cincinnati chili?
Start by sauteeing onions in a little oil until they are tender. Stir in an assortment of spices, beef broth, tomato products, a touch of brown sugar and unsweetened chocolate. Add ground beef, then bring the mixture to a simmer. While the chili simmers, you’ll want to stir it to help break up the meat into very small pieces. After the meat is broken up, let the chili cook for an hour or until it has thickened. Serve the chili over spaghetti with the toppings of your choice.
Tips for the perfect dish
- The type of ground beef that you use in this dish really matters because you won’t get a chance to drain the grease off, as the meat goes straight into the liquid without being browned first. I typically use 85% or 90% lean as it has plenty of flavor but is not overly greasy.
- Skyline chili will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, and can be frozen for 2 months.
- You can make this dish a day in advance. Prepare the chili as directed, then refrigerate. When you’re ready to eat, you can remove any fat that’s solidified on top, then place in a pan and heat until warm.
- I recommend using freshly grated cheddar cheese for the topping, as I find the flavor and texture is better than the bags of pre-grated cheese at the grocery store.
- It’s your choice whether you serve your chili over spaghetti or hot dogs, although my family prefers the spaghetti route.
This dish was created in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1920’s by Macedonian immigrants. While it contains ground meat like a traditional chili, the flavors and serving style differ greatly from what might be considered as an American chili.
Cincinnati chili contains an assortment of spices that you won’t find in other types of chili. The flavorings include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and even chocolate. It is also thinner in consistency, more like a thin meat sauce instead of a stew. Finally, you will find this dish served over pasta or hot dogs.
The terms Cincinnati chili and Skyline chili refer to the same dish. Skyline is a brand of restaurants that serve this type of chili.
Skyline chili ways
Cincinnati chili is offered in different preparations with different toppings. Typically if you were ordering this dish at a restaurant, you’d specify whether you want it two-way, three-way, four-way or five way. In addition to the toppings served under the “way” system, oyster crackers are often offered on top or on the side.
- Two-Way: Spaghetti with chili on top.
- Three-Way: A two-way with the addition of shredded cheddar cheese.
- Four-Way: Add either diced raw onions or kidney beans to your three-way.
- Five-Way: Add both onions and kidney beans on top of the cheese, chili and spaghetti.
This dish is a fun way to do chili night. Everyone loves to make their own creation, and the complex savory flavor of the chili just can’t be beat.
More chili recipes to try
Cincinnati Chili Video
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups white onion diced, divided use
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic minced
- 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate chopped
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 pounds ground beef 85% or 90% lean
- 4 cups beef broth
- 12 ounces spaghetti cooked
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 can dark red kidney beans drained and rinsed
- oyster crackers for serving
- Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add 1 cup of onion and cook for 4-5 minutes or until tender.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add the chocolate, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Next add the tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, brown sugar, bay leaf, ground beef and beef broth.
- Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Use a spoon to break up the beef into small pieces.
- Let the mixture simmer for one hour, or until it has thickened.
- Serve the chili over the spaghetti and top with the reserved 1/2 cup of onion, cheddar cheese, kidney beans and oyster crackers.
- The type of beef that you use in this dish really matters because you won’t get a chance to drain the grease, as the meat goes straight into the liquid without being browned first. I typically use 85% or 90% lean as it has plenty of flavor but is not overly greasy.
- This chili will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, and can be frozen for 2 months.
Could you cook this in a crock pot? Maybe with the onion, garlic browned already and the meat browned? for like 5-6 hours on low?
I think that would work fine!
Served this for dinner last night and it did not disappoint! Perfectly hearty and delicious; made a great Sunday dinner!
Total comfort food!
A favorite! This looks so good with the addition of all those spices and the pile of shredded cheese on top. Yum!
The spice mix in this is divine! Super easy and filling, too. 🙂
The chili is so good with pasta. I love the addition of chocolate, so unusual but works surprisingly well. This is probably great for hot dogs too!
So many great flavours in this chili. Love that you added chocolate – it makes such a difference.
I’m so excited to try this Cincinnati twist on chilli! The warming spices and chocolate sound amazing.
I love the flavours in this recipe, especially the chocolate and cinnamon, giving it a real richness. So delicious.
A favorite! So much flavor packed into this chili and I love all the different variations.
What a lovely recipe! We made it with pasta last night, but I am convinced it would go very well with rice too! Brilliant spice mix too! Highly recommend!