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Authentic Cincinnati Chili: A Midwestern Classic

Dive into the savory depths of Cincinnati Chili! A unique blend of spices and rich flavors makes this Midwestern favorite truly stand out.

October 20, 2023
Authentic Cincinnati ChiliPhoto By Canva
Difficulty Medium
Servings 6 people
Preparation 15 mins
Cooking 90 mins
Total 105 mins



  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the ground beef over medium heat, breaking it apart with a spatula as it cooks. Once browned, drain the excess fat.
  2. Add the chopped onion to the pot and sauté until translucent. Stir in the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the beef broth and tomato sauce to the pot, mixing well with the beef and onions.
  4. Stir in the apple cider vinegar, chili powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, cloves, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf. Season it with salt and pepper.
  5. Reduce heat to low and let the chili simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. The flavors should meld together and the chili should thicken.
  6. Discard the bay leaf. Serve the chili with cooked spaghetti and add toppings of your choice.

Tomato Sauce Recipe

Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Tomato Sauce Directions

  • Chop the tomatoes into cubes. Add oil, onion, garlic and cubed tomatoes to the pan. Add tomato paste, salt and cook.
  • Nutrition Facts
    Serving Size 1 Authentic Cincinnati Chili
    Serves 6
    Amount Per Serving
    % Daily Value*
    Protein 25 g50%
    Total Fat 20 g25.6%
    Cholesterol 75 mg25%
    Sodium 500 mg21.7%
    *The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.


    • Meat Selection: Opt for lean ground beef to reduce the overall fat content without compromising flavor.
    • Consistency: Cincinnati Chili is more of a sauce than a stew. It should be slightly thinner than the typical chili consistency.
    • Spices: For a deeper flavor, you can lightly toast the spices in a dry skillet before adding them to the chili.
    • Longer Simmer: If time allows, letting the chili simmer for longer (up to 3 hours) will intensify the flavors.
    • Serving Suggestion: Try using freshly grated cheddar for the toppings, which melts beautifully over the hot chili and spaghetti.
    • Leftovers: This chili tastes even better the next day as flavors meld further. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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    Cincinnati Chili is a delicious meaty sauce that is a blend of Mediterranean-inspired spices served on spaghetti or hotdogs. It is one of the many culinary gems in Queen City.

    Delve into the world of Cincinnati Chili, where every forkful is a discovery and every meal is an experience to remember. Serve it with grated cheddar cheese and oyster crackers. With its distinctive flavors and unique serving styles, it's a dish that resonates with both locals and visitors alike.

    What Is Cincinnati Chili?

    Cincinnati Chili is a meat sauce made with ground meat (often beef), tomato sauce, and a blend of Mediterranean-inspired spices, including cinnamon and cocoa.

    One of the most popular ways to enjoy it is "Three-Way," where it's served over spaghetti and topped with finely shredded cheddar cheese. There are also "Four-Way" and "Five-Way" variations that add onions and kidney beans to the mix.

    Additionally, Cincinnati chili can be served on hot dogs, baked potatoes, or with other creative twists.

    What Are The 6 Ways At Cincinnati Chili?

    Cincinnati chili is famous for its "way" system, which denotes how the chili is served. Here's a breakdown of the "ways" you can order Cincinnati chili:

    • Bowl: This is simply a bowl of chili without any add-ons.
    • Two-Way (or Chili Spaghetti): This is chili served over spaghetti.
    • Three-Way: Chili and spaghetti topped with a generous amount of shredded cheddar cheese.
    • Four-Way Onion: This is a three-way with the addition of diced onions.
    • Four-Way Bean: This is a three-way with the addition of red kidney beans.
    • Five-Way: Combines all the ingredients: chili, spaghetti, shredded cheese, diced onions, and red kidney beans.

    It's worth noting that the exact order in which the toppings are added can vary from one parlor to another, but the general approach is the same. When you visit Cincinnati, knowing how to order chili by the "way" system can enhance the experience and ensure you get the perfect dish according to your preferences.

    What Is The Flavor Of Cincinnati Chili?

    Cincinnati chili stands out for its unique flavor profile that distinctly differs from the more traditional Southwestern-style chilis. Here are some of the key flavor notes of Cincinnati chili:

    Sweetness: Cinnamon and sometimes chocolate or cocoa gives Cincinnati chili a subtle sweetness that you won't typically find in other chili variants.

    Warm Spices: Beyond cinnamon, other spices like cloves, allspice, and nutmeg might be used, to give it warm, aromatic notes.

    Complexity: The blend of Mediterranean spices, along with more familiar chili spices like cumin and chili powder, creates a multifaceted flavor profile. The spices combine with garlic and onions, creating a rich base of flavors.

    Mild Heat: While traditional Southwestern chilis might prioritize heat, Cincinnati chili is generally milder, allowing the medley of spices to shine without being overshadowed by spiciness.

    Savory Meatiness: Ground beef is the main protein source, and it's simmered until it's finely textured, making the chili more sauce-like. This method infuses the meat with the various flavors of the spices and aromatics, ensuring a savory taste in every bite.

    Unique Accompaniments: Cincinnati chili is often served over spaghetti (known as "chili spaghetti") and can be accompanied by a mound of shredded cheddar cheese, onions, and beans, depending on the "way" you order it. These additions influence the overall taste, making it a hearty, savory dish with layers of textures and flavors.

    In essence, Cincinnati chili offers a harmonious blend of sweet, spicy, and savory flavors, making it a one-of-a-kind dish beloved by many both within and outside of Cincinnati.

    What To Serve with Cincinnati Chili?

    Cincinnati chili is often enjoyed on its own, or it can be served with a variety of accompaniments.

    Here are our delicious recipes that you can serve with Cincinnati Chili:

    The Origins of Cincinnati Chili

    Cincinnati Chili stands out as a remarkable fusion dish, distinct from its Tex-Mex cousin. Introduced to the United States by Macedonian immigrants in the 1920s, the recipe was quickly embraced and adapted by Cincinnati locals. Tom and John Kiradjieff, the original creators, introduced the chili at their Empress Theater hot dog stand. The dish’s unique blend of Mediterranean spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, is what sets it apart and gives it an unforgettable flavor profile.

    Ways to Enjoy Cincinnati Chili

    In Cincinnati, ordering this chili is an art form in itself. You'll often hear it ordered by "ways." Two-way means chili atop spaghetti; three-way adds cheese; four-way incorporates onions or beans, and five-way includes both beans and onions. It's not just a dish but a customizable experience. Moreover, the chili can also be enjoyed as a hot dog topping, commonly known as a “Coney.” Whether you're a purist or enjoy mixing it up, there's a 'way' for every palate.

    Cincinnati Chili: A Culinary Icon

    Over the years, Cincinnati Chili has transformed from a simple hot dog stand offering to a culinary symbol of the region. Its influence is substantial, even marked by an annual "National Chili Day" celebration, acknowledging its history and continued significance. Many chili parlors in Cincinnati, each with its unique take on the original recipe, highlight the enduring appeal of this dish. When you make and enjoy this chili, you're not just having a meal; you're experiencing a flavorful piece of American history.

    Is Cincinnati Style Chili Greek?

    Yes and no. Cincinnati chili's origins can be traced back to Macedonian immigrant brothers, Tom and John Kiradjieff, who opened a hot dog stand in Cincinnati's theater district in the 1920s. They introduced a distinctive chili made with ground beef and a blend of Mediterranean spices which they served over hot dogs and spaghetti.

    The spices and flavors in Cincinnati chili, including the use of cinnamon, cloves, and sometimes even chocolate, are reminiscent of certain Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. These are not typical in the standard American chili, and they give Cincinnati chili its unique taste.

    However, it's essential to note that while the Kiradjieff brothers were from the region historically known as Macedonia, which has had various political affiliations over the decades, their culinary influence is more broadly Balkan or eastern Mediterranean rather than strictly "Greek."

    Nevertheless, as Cincinnati chili parlors proliferated, many were operated by Greek immigrants, which might have contributed to the perception of the dish as having Greek roots.

    To sum up, Cincinnati style chili is influenced by eastern Mediterranean and Balkan flavors, and while it has been associated with Greek-American culture in Cincinnati, its origins are more complex.

    Why Is Cincinnati Known For Chili?

    Cincinnati is famously known for its chili, and the story behind its association is a blend of cultural adaptation, culinary innovation, and brilliant marketing.

    Immigrant Adaptation: The roots of Cincinnati chili trace back to the 1920s when Macedonian immigrant brothers, Tom and John Kiradjieff, settled in Cincinnati. They initially opened a hot dog stand in the city's theater district. Trying to introduce their native flavors and dishes to the locals, they served a unique chili made with ground beef and a blend of Mediterranean spices over hot dogs and spaghetti. This creative adaptation of their cultural food to suit American palates marked the birth of Cincinnati chili.

    Unique Flavor Profile: Unlike traditional Tex-Mex chili, Cincinnati chili boasts a unique blend of spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and chocolate. This distinct flavor profile sets it apart from other chili varieties and has made it a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

    Ways System: Cincinnati chili is often ordered using a “ways” system. This method allows diners to customize their dish, from "two-way" (spaghetti and chili) to "five-way" (spaghetti, chili, beans, onions, and cheese). This customizable approach not only offers variety but also makes the dining experience interactive and memorable.

    Proliferation of Chili Parlors: After the success of the Kiradjieff brothers’ chili recipe at their Empress Theater hot dog stand, numerous chili parlors began to spring up across Cincinnati. Each parlor claims its own variation of the original recipe, leading to a competitive yet friendly chili culture in the city. Some of the most notable establishments include Skyline Chili, Gold Star Chili, and Dixie Chili, among others.

    Cultural Integration: Over time, Cincinnati chili has woven itself into the city's cultural fabric. It's not just a dish; it's a point of pride. Locals celebrate "National Chili Day," and the dish has even made its way into sporting events, family gatherings, and city festivals.

    In essence, Cincinnati's association with chili is a testament to the city's openness to new flavors, its adaptability, and its ability to turn a dish into a celebrated tradition.

    Recipe byPetite Gourmets

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