Cincinnati Chili

You may wonder what makes Cincinnati Chili so special. It definitely isn’t Texas-style chili. Special seasonings and a unique way to serve this chili makes this one amazingly good recipe.

bowls of Cincinnati chili topped with cheese, onions, and kidney beans

One of my favorite ‘famous’ recipes is Cincinnati Chili. If you have never had it, you’re missing out on something that’s not only unusual but great! Several places in Cincinnati specialize in it (Goldstar and Skyline are two of the majors). If you don’t live in Cincinnati, this style of chili may be referred to as “that weird chili on spaghetti.” But in and around Cincinnati, it’s definitely a part of the lifestyle.

Cincinnati chili is a spicy/sweet chili of Greek origin, typically served over spaghetti and topped with cheese, onions, and beans. Cincinnati chili has a much thinner consistency to it than Texas Chili. Some say the secret is not browning the ground meat beforehand but letting it cook in the sauce.

You may wonder what makes Cincinnati Chili so special. In 1922, Macedonian immigrant brothers John and Tom Kiradjieff opened their Empress Chili Parlor. They took a typical Greek stew, seasoned it with middle-eastern spices, gave it an everyday handle – chili – and served it over spaghetti. Spaghetti chili has been popular ever since.

Why Is Cincinnati-Style Chili Unique?

Cincinnati chili distinguishes itself from other kinds of chili in three ways:

  • The Seasonings: Practically any chili recipe is based on chili powder and cumin. Cincinnati chili goes way out with spices by incorporating cardamom and cloves, and possibly cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. A little unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder is controversial, but not unheard of.
  • No Browning or Sautéing: Any Cincinnati chili recipe that starts with “Heat the olive oil . . .” is inauthentic on two counts: there’s no olive oil, and there’s no sautéing. This goes against everything you’ve ever learned about building up layers of flavor in a stew or soup. But this is different – it’s diner food with its own spice caravan. Basically, you just dump everything in the pot and stir as it comes to a boil, and that’s that! You end up with a uniform, pasty texture instead of distinct crumbles of ground beef. It may not look pretty but stick with it – it’s delicious.
  • The Toppings: Repeat after me: You don’t put beans in Cincinnati chili. It’s perfectly ok, however, to put beans on top of the chili. Piles of finely grated mild cheddar cheese, minced raw onion, and oyster crackers are also traditional accompaniments. At an authentic Cincinnati chili parlor, these are called “ways,” as follows:

Two-Way Chili – Just chili simply served on top of spaghetti.

Three-Way Chili – Two-way topped with a pile of shredded Cheddar cheese.

Four-Way Chili – Three-way with the addition of chopped onions.

Five-Way Chili – Four-way additionally topped with kidney beans.

When it comes to serving this chili, you have more choices:

  • In a bowl, like regular chili: “That’s obvious!” you may say, and you are right.
  • On a hot dog: This is known as a Coney. Place a hot dog in a steamed bun and top it with chili, finely shredded cheddar, and diced onions. You can also choose to put a squiggle of yellow mustard on the chili before adding the other stuff.
  • Over French fries
  • On a burrito

Ultimately, Cincinnati Chili is many things at once. It’s chili, it’s pasta sauce, it’s hot dog sauce, it’s customizable, it’s American. It can be your new favorite thing if you let it.

You can make Cincinnati chili at home. You can buy packets of Cincinnati chili seasoning, but this copycat Cincinnati chili recipe made with good, fresh ingredients and spices is so much more flavorful. Your payoff for the extra effort comes when you tuck into a giant plate of grade-A comfort food.

Ingredients to make Cincinnati chili

Here’s what you need to make and serve the chili:

  • Ground beef
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Tomato sauce
  • Beef broth
  • Chili powder
  • Semisweet chocolate
  • Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Pumpkin pie spice
  • Salt
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground cardamom
  • Ground cloves
  • Kidney beans
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Fettuccine pasta
Cincinnati chili ingredients

How to Make Cincinnati Chili

  1. In a Dutch oven, cook beef, onion, and garlic until the beef is browned and onion is tender. Drain fat.
    browned ground beef and onions in a skillet
  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients except for the beans, cheese, and fettuccine.
  3. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover and simmer over low heat for one hour. Skim off fat.
    Cincinnati chili in a skillet
  4. Cook fettuccine and drain.
  5. Place fettuccine in bowls and cover with chili.
  6. Serve with kidney beans, cheese, and onions.
two bowls of Cincinnati chili and small bowls of cheese, kidney beans, and chopped onions

Love chili? Try these recipes:

Favorite Stew Recipes

Be sure to check out more of my easy soup and chili recipes and the best ground beef recipes.

bowls of Cincinnati chili topped with cheese, onions, and kidney beans

Cincinnati Chili

You can make Cinncinati chili at home. 
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate Add to Collection
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cincinnati Chili
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 10
Calories: 769kcal


  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 3 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoon semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 2 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 31 ounces kidney beans 2 cans
  • 4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 16 ounce fettuccine


  • In Dutch oven cook beef, 2 cups of the onion, and garlic ’till beef is brown and onion is tender. Drain fat. Stir in the remaining ingredients except for the beans, cheese, and fettuccine. Bring to boiling, reduce heat. Cover; simmer over low heat 1 hour. Skim off fat. Cook fettuccine; drain. Serve with beans, cheese, onions, etc… enjoy! 
  • Now you can serve up your chili in one of many different ways. Two-Way Chili – Chili served on spaghetti Three-Way Chili – Additionally topped with shredded Cheddar cheese Four-Way Chili – Additionally topped with chopped onions Five-Way Chili – Additionally topped with kidney beans One of my favorite ‘famous’ recipes is Cincinnati chili – don’t know if you’ve ever had it, but several places in Cincy specialize in it (Goldstar and Skyline are two of the majors). It’s a spicy/sweet chili of Greek origin, typically served over spaghetti and topped w/ cheese, onions, and beans. Brian Harper


Calories: 769kcal | Carbohydrates: 66g | Protein: 42g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 17g | Cholesterol: 150mg | Sodium: 927mg | Potassium: 1037mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 1140IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 415mg | Iron: 6.8mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of's Dining Out in the Home, and's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Cincy Julz

    For authentic Cincinnati chili start with meat in a pot covered with water & boiled. NOT browned in a pan.
    simply put meat in a pot cover with water (i use beef stock) 1 lb 80/20 and 1 qt beef stock bring to a low boil and cook half hour add chopped onion, garlic, rest of spices and simmer a few hours. also, authentic does not have honey or pumpkin spice but does have all spice 🙂

  2. John B.

    Try booming the spices in hot oil with minced onion before adding meat. Add a lot of allspice, cardamom and paprika to the bloom. Cut the clove to a tiny pinch or eliminate it. Makes a huge difference. It’s a breakthrough.

  3. Kevin Padfield

    5 stars
    Used to live in Cincinnati and went to both Gold Star and Skyline many times. The chili sauce over the hot dogs is to die for.

5 from 3 votes (1 rating without comment)

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