This homemade Cincinnati chili recipe is a comforting gem from the Midwest that you can easily make in your kitchen from scratch! Its signature savory and sweet flavor is hard to resist.
You may also like my Easy Tater Tot Casserole for another cozy favorite.
Why it's so good
Cincinnati chili is one of those very regional dishes that deserves to have glory outside of that area, and I'm here to help showcase it. You might have tried it at Skyline Chili while passing through Ohio, but it's easy to recreate at home as a low-effort stovetop recipe. It has a wonderfully weird mix of seasonings that works so well!
So what is Cincinnati chili exactly? It was created by the Kiradjieff brothers, who were Macedonian immigrants, in 1922 as a sort of meaty, saucy stew with flavors and spices from their Mediterranean homeland to serve on top of hot dogs, or "Coneys", and later on spaghetti. Chili parlors became a big deal midcentury, and many others popped up serving this style of chili. It's very different from Texas chili and more like a Bolognese, but you'll love the unique flavors.
What you'll need
- Ground beef - I like at least 90% lean. It's inexpensive and full of flavor.
- Onion - Vidalia (sweet) onions are my go-to, but yellow is fine
- Tomato paste and tomato sauce - for that concentrated tomato taste
- White vinegar - for a slight tanginess
- Worcestershire sauce - this is such a versatile flavor enhancer that works great in this chili
- Seasonings - chili powder, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground cinnamon, garlic powder, ground allspice, ground cloves, and cayenne pepper. They work together to make magic!
What is the "way" system for Cincinnati chili?
- This refers to how you want it served, and each number represents the additional ingredients. Two way is chili spaghetti, three way is that plus cheddar, four way is all that plus onions, and five way is all that plus kidney beans. Think of it as food math that's really delicious.
How to make Cincinnati chili
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
In a large pot or Dutch oven, stir in all the ingredients (minus the toppings). Simmer gently with the lid ajar for at least an hour, up to two hours, until the liquid is reduced to your liking and the meat is cooked through. Serve your preferred way and enjoy! Yep, that's it.
- This recipe is simmered low and slow to build flavors. I don't recommend rushing through as it needs 1-2 hours to develop the rich flavors. It's very hands-off, though.
What to serve with this chili
- Choose your favorite "way" to serve it (described above) or as a Coney (on a hot dog with mustard and onions).
- It's also typically paired with oyster crackers if you want the whole authentic experience.
- This is a full meal on its own, but you can totally serve a salad with it. Try some mixed greens with my Classic Homemade Ranch Dressing.
Substitutions and variations
- This is a pretty classic recipe, so I would definitely make it as directed the first time around. The ingredients all work together to create a specific flavor combo.
- I use lean ground beef since the beef isn't browned first. Some recipes use regular, but keep in mind you may need to skim some fat off the top.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftovers of Cincinnati chili will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
- It freezes great! Store in individual portions for up to 6 months. Leave in the fridge overnight to defrost.
- Reheat in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Always make the spaghetti and toppings fresh when eating leftovers.
More simple chili recipes
Are you a fan of Cincinnati style chili? Did you enjoy making this copycat recipe? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below! You can also tag me #saltandlavender on Instagram.
Easy Cincinnati Chili
- 2 pounds lean ground beef see note
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Toppings, for serving: cooked spaghetti, chopped raw onion, red kidney beans, shredded cheddar, oyster crackers
- Add all ingredients (except for the toppings) to a pot/Dutch oven and give it a good stir. No, the beef is not browned first in Cincinnati chili.
- Simmer gently for at least an hour, up to 2 hours, but check to make sure there's enough liquid left that it's not burning to the bottom of the pot. Keep the lid slightly open (medium-low heat is what I use on my gas stove).
- Serve chili one of the ways below (top the bowls as desired, oyster crackers optional): 2-Way: chili + spaghetti 3-Way: chili + spaghetti + grated cheddar4-Way: chili + spaghetti + grated cheddar + onions5-Way: chili + spaghetti + grated cheddar + onions + red kidney beans
- Traditionally in Cincinnati chili, the fat isn't drained. You can use regular ground beef, but keep in mind you may want to skim some of the fat off the top as needed (it does add extra flavor, so that step is optional).
- Serves up to 10 depending on serving size and what else you serve with it.
- Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy only and should be construed as an estimate rather than a guarantee. Ingredients can vary and Salt & Lavender makes no guarantees to the accuracy of this information. Info doesn't include toppings.
Texas girl here. So I actually had all of the spice ingredients already. Only had to grind the allspice and cloves as those were whole. Everything about this was intriguing as it’s completely different to what I think when imagining a ‘chili’. I followed the recipe to a T and my kitchen smells delicious. I have to say it’s pretty freeing to just prep and chuck everything in the pot. Let you know how it turns out in a couple of hours! Gonna do the whole shebang with spaghetti, cheddar, onions and kidney beans.
Yes!! Let me know, Bianca!! I'm so excited for you to try it!
Well, I made the mistake of taste testing after an hour of simmering and could not stop myself from eating a whole plate. I really had wanted to let it simmer for two hours. It’s delicious! I wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks for another great recipe. I’ll definitely be adding it to my rotation.
Yay!!! That's so great to hear!! 😀
Hi Natasha - I made this last night. I really went back and forth because I was so curious to try a "chili over spaghetti" meal but was really taken aback by the amount of different spices included in the recipe. I made a promise to both my spice shelf and wallet after I did a massive spice clean out in 2020 that I would never again by spices for a "one off" recipe. So I did make it, but went without the cocoa powder, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. So I'm sure it wasn't anywhere near the flavor intended, but it was tasty nonetheless.
I substituted with lean ground turkey and by habit added the red kidney beans to the mixture to be cooked on the stove rather than as an add on. Only realized that when re-reading the recipe. Served on spaghetti with cheddar cheese and raw onion on top. I was also a teeny bit confused if the onion in the recipe was to be cooked with additional raw onion an add on. I went with that and am pretty sure that was correct. I can never get too much onion anyway.
In the end it tasted great and will be making again. My son enjoyed it over spaghetti while my husband put it over a hot dog and roll.
Yup, it's definitely a unique recipe haha. I agree on the onion, but I didn't make the rules on this one lol. I too love onion. In any case, I'm glad you enjoyed it with your adaptations. 🙂
Natasha, you owe you readers the truth. AngelaM took out every ingredient that makes Cincinnati chili famous.
Miranda @ Salt & Lavender says
Hi! Your original comment was not approved because it was rude and directed at a particular reader. The Salt & Lavender comments section is a safe space for readers to ask questions and share their reviews. Once a recipe goes out into the world, readers are free to follow it or make any adjustments they like. If something a stranger on the internet did in their own kitchen bothers you, I'd suggest getting some fresh air. Better yet, why don't YOU follow our recipe exactly and leave a positive and constructive review for others instead of negativity?
Can you do this in a slow cooker?
I would think so. Not entirely sure on timing since I haven't tested, but I'd say the usual 3-4 hours on high should probably do it.