Cincinnati Chili

This post was originally published on May 3, 2011. Wowza! It got a little facelift in the form of new photos and a lovely printable recipe. Dig in, friends!

Rain, mixed precipitation, and more rain… This has been our weather pattern for the past three weeks.  Add colder than normal temperatures and you get an idea of the dreary outdoor conditions around here. Blech. Today, the boys and I hit the end of our proverbial rope and decided we wouldn’t take this rain lying down either literally -because puddles- or figuratively- because MEH. We combated the four billionth consecutive torrential rainy day by…

Wait for it…


Cincinnati Chili  or Coney Sauce or Chili Fries sauce from

That’s right. We avoided looking at the grey, nasty sky by fixing our gazes firmly on a big, fat, meaty bowl of Cincinnati Chili. Cincinnati Chili will make you believe the skies are blue even if they aren’t. Which they aren’t. Sigh.

Have you ever eaten Cincinnati Chili? Have you ever heard of Cincinnati Chili? Everyone in Cincinnati bear with me for a minute while I clue everyone else in on the glory that is your city’s chili, okay?

Cincinnati Chili is meat. Seriously. It’s meat, more meat, some onions, garlic, other stuff and meat. It’s not a vegetarian friendly option, so save it for nights when your carnivorous buddies are in town. Also? I’m just going to go ahead and get this out of the way. It’s made with chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg in additional to the things you’d usually think of; chili powder, salt, pepper, etc… Don’t walk away here. Don’t get weirded out. It is my favorite chili in the entire world. Break it down with me a bit. Chocolate (unsweetened), cinnamon and nutmeg are often combined in traditional Mexican foods. Think of Mole. Mole has those ingredients and roughly five hundred other crazy things. Allow me to reassure you. You don’t sniff it and say, “Wow! Cinnamon Chocolate Nutmeg Chili. That’s wild!” You sniff it and think, “That is complex. I can’t really identify what is in there, but DANG that smells good. Gimme a fork. Now.”

Cincinnati Chili with spaghetti and cheese from

This brings me to another important defining feature of Cincinnati Chili; You eat it on spaghetti with a fork. Huh? Seriously. Everyone who has had Cincinnati Chili has a favorite way of ordering it. You can choose from the following: (Thank you Wikipedia)

  • two-way: spaghetti and chili
  • three-way: spaghetti, chili, and shredded cheese
  • four-way: spaghetti, chili, shredded cheese, and diced onions
  • four-way bean: spaghetti, chili, shredded cheese, and beans
  • five-way: spaghetti, chili, shredded cheese, diced onions, and beans {and sometimes even oyster crackers. No joke.}

And dear heavenly father, help us. There is more. You can also order:

  • cheese coney: hot dog topped with chili, shredded cheese, diced onions, and mustard
  • chili cheese fries: French fries topped with chili and shredded cheese

BANG go your blood vessels. Who cares at that point? You’d go out happy.

I can tell you that I’ve eaten each of the above options and I don’t have to drive to Cincinnati (lovely city that it is…) to get them. My homemade Cincinnati Chili is a point of pride for me. The balance of ingredients is perfect. It is equally at home over spaghetti, fries or hot dogs.

A final word of advice: If you find yourself in a Cincy Chili parlor and you want the full experience, be a champ and don’t twirl your spaghetti. They’ll know you’re not native before you can Lady and the Tramp those noodles into your mouth. Cut it with the side of your fork and you’ll blend in like chili.

Real deal Cincinnati Chili from

Cook’s Notes

  • If you can stand it, make Cincinnati Chili the day before you want to eat it. It’ll be hard to withstand it, and I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t, but in the grand tradition of chilis and stews worldwide, Cincinnati Chili tastes even better on Day 2, 3, and 4 after being made.
  • Likewise, it holds up beautifully in the freezer, so don’t be tempted to reduce the recipe. Say hello to instant chili dogs and chili cheese fries all summer long…
  • I like to break the meat up as small as possible while browning it and continue breaking it up very finely while the chili simmers. This is because I like my Cincinnati Chili to be fine textured for more versatility.
  • While I would normally shut my own fingers in the door before telling you to rinse spaghetti that is to be served hot, the instruction here serves a purpose. It is how it’s served in Cincinnati and it keeps the noodles free to move around in the chili. It’s all part of the experience!


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4.0 from 4 reviews
Cincinnati Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Meaty, meaty, meaty! Cincinnati Chili is definitely hearty (and not vegetarian) fare. While the ingredients may sound odd, they're quite traditional and yield incredibly flavourful chili.
Serves: 8
Ingredients for the chili:
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3 pounds lean ground beef (or venison)
  • 1 quart cold water
  • 2 large onions, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or crushed
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1½ tablespoons cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch processed)
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (reduce if you don't like spicy foods)
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg (preferably fresh)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients for serving:
  • Cooked spaghetti, rinsed with hot water
  • Grated Cheddar cheese
  • Diced onions
  • Chili beans, heated
  • Optional: Oyster crackers to soak up liquid.
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot and brown beef, breaking up into very small pieces.
  2. Add onions and water and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce to a simmer and add all other ingredients and let simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours or until it is as thick as desired. We like ours quite thick.
  4. Adjust with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Remove bay leaves before serving.
  6. Serve over spaghetti with finely shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions and kidney beans on top.

 Originally posted on May 3, 2011.


  1. says

    Four-way. Every time. We used to get this all the time when we lived in DC, at a tiny restaurant in Old Town Alexandria that served Cincinnatti chili and Texas chili, and beer. That’s it. But who needs more than that?

  2. says

    Sounds SO delicious. And perfect for the crappy weather we’re having here (Toronto). HELLO SPRING?? Did you forget it’s MAY???

  3. says

    I had Cincinnati Chili for the first time 2 summers ago in Cincinnati and fell in love. The recipe I have is slightly different, but the spices are key. I live in the Detroit Metro area and people around here love their chili cheese Coney dogs. Sadly we don’t have that wonderful Cincinnati spiced chili around here, but that’s why I make it at home, over pasta :)

  4. Sam says

    I don’t want to send you running down the street screaming with your hair on fire or anything but, I just made this with BEANS and NO MEAT, served it up 4-way (with a coupla bottles of beer–thanks for putting that idea in my head, Nancy from previous comment), and it was AWESOME! I think I’m going to use the leftovers for–*gasp*– enchilada filling, since you brought up the subject of mole, or some other sort of casserole (maybe lasagna…? Ok–maybe that’s pushing it a bit…). Seriously, this is the best chili recipe I’ve found yet, and I’ve been looking for years.

  5. Lillie says

    So this sounds really great, especially since I am not a bean eater. But here’s a question: My husband is allergic to chocolate… will the recipe suffer too much without it, in your opinion?

  6. says

    Katie- Go for it!
    Nancy- I surely don’t need more than that!
    Mindy- I hear you. The weather has just started acting springlike around here. And none too soon!
    Sam- Nice! My hair, it is not on fire. That sounds really, really good. And goodness knows, I’m not bean averse, I’ve just never applied the flavours of Cincy chili to beans. Now that you mention it, though…
    Lillie- The recipe will definitely be different, but I suppose you could still give it a go! Let me know if you do. I’d like to know how it tastes for you (I might bump up the chili powder a bit to fill in the flavour gap left by omitting the chocolate.

  7. says

    Great post! I must share the “proper” way to eat 3/4/5-way:
    You never, I repeat never, spin your fork and eat it like spaghetti. Never. You start at one end of your plate, cut a bite off of the pile with your fork and scoop it. One bite at a time, cutting and scooping as you go. If you spin, you’re doing it all wrong. If you cut it all up with a knife and then eat it, heaven help you. And don’t forget the Frank’s hot sauce on top of the cheese. My mouth is watering. Skyline for lunch…

  8. Tim says

    Even better is to replace the spaghetti with home made Mac-n-Cheese, top with chili, onions, beans if you like and for a breakfast variation, top with a couple of over easy eggs.

  9. Shelly says

    We lived in Ohio for many years and fell in love with Cincy Style Chili. I used the seasoning packets for years while looking for the right recipe. I hate the sodium content of those packets. Enter your recipe, Thank Goodness! It’s perfect. The only thing I do different is I cook the onions and meat, add the garlic near the end, put through the food processor to get the right consistency, put it back in the pan and continue as directed. It’s WONDERFUL!! Thank you for sharing.

  10. says

    I like Shelly’s idea of putting the sauce through a food processor or blender to make it the consistency of true Cincinnati Chili. Plus we were told by one of the managers of a local Cincinnati chili franchise that they toss the pasta with a bit of tomato paste for additional flavor. At least they did several years ago. I’m looking forward to trying out this recipe because we’ll be visiting Ohio soon and will do a taste comparison with the “real” stuff. 😉

  11. Rie says

    Have been wanting to try Cincinnati chili for a while. Now that I see you have a recipe, will be making it.

  12. says

    Love your plate so pretty ! This looks so good, I want it for dinner! I once ordered chili at a place in Tennessee and it came like this a place of spaghetti , I was confused I had never hear of people making it like that. It was wonderful!

  13. Patricia Miller says

    Made this for dinner tonight and LOVED it! I was a little nervous about the fresh nutmeg – because often when I use fresh nutmeg in something, you can REALLY taste it. But this was awesome. And I love that it went together fast and was fast and easy to clean up afterwards too (not a lot of dishes, prep stuff, etc.). Thanks for sharing!

  14. Doodles says

    This in no way resembles Cincinnati Chili. First, the meat is NEVER ever browned. The meat for Cincinnati chili is always boiled. The onions are grated, not diced. There should be no lumps of anything in Cincinnati Chili, not even lumps of meat. It is perfectly smooth. This recipe is completely wrong, and so is the picture. The only cheese used on Cincinnati Chili is sharp cheddar, and it is in MOUNDS of finely shredded cheese. I think whoever wrote this article has never been to Cincinnati and had the real thing.

    • says

      Oh, thank goodness you’re here to correct me. 😀 Actually, I have been there, I’ve had the real thing, and this tastes pretty darned spot on flavour wise, even if I can’t manage the baby puree texture and finely shredded cheese. To each their own, dear Doodles.

      • says

        Well *I* can’t even bear to look at this PICTURE it’s so COMPLETELY WRONG that it BURNS MY EYES…probably from the DICED onions! Whoever wrote this article doesn’t seem to care that they’re making me TRIP AND FALL over the GIANT LUMPS of meat in this abomination.


        (Now I’m hungry.)

  15. Hanna says

    I have made this exact recipe a LOT for my very picky eaters and it is THE ONLY chili my kids will eat. Hallelujah. Amen.

    I have never been to Cincinatri though, so what do I know?


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