This dish is super controversial, you either love Cincinnati Chili or you hate it, but we get a ton of requests from people asking how to make it, so we want to make sure we share how we recommend making Cincinnati Chili!
In Wisconsin, when we say “we’re making chili tonight,” we usually mean we’re making some type of chili con carne, which is a stewed dish with meat, chili seasoning, tomatoes, and sometimes other vegetables or beans. It’s delicious, easy to make, and perfect for cold Wisconsin winter nights. We have a ton of recipes for chili con carne, including our very popular Slow Cooker Chili recipe and our Smoky Chipotle Chili recipe.
Cincinnati Chili is nothing like these recipes. Instead of a thicker, stew like dish, Cincinnati Chili is more of a meat-based pasta sauce that’s served on top of noodles and topped in various ways. If you’ve ever been to a “chili parlor” in Cincinnati, you’re probably aware of the “way” system that determines what you’d like on top of your sauce. If not, let’s enlighten you on all things Cincinnati Chili.
What are the “ways” I can serve Cincinnati Chili?
The “ways” are an ordering system that helps everyone communicate in a busy restaurant. They also are now the language used to describe what you’d like on top of your Cincinnati Chili. Here’s a way-by-way breakdown of everything you can add to your Cincinnati Chili:
- Two-way: spaghetti topped with chili.
- Three-way: spaghetti topped with chili and shredded cheese on top.
- Four-way onion: spaghetti topped with chili, diced onions, and shredded cheese on top.
- Four-way beans: spaghetti topped with chili, red kidney beans, and shredded cheese on top.
- Five-way: spaghetti topped with chili, diced onions, red kidney beans, and shredded cheese on top.
We’re going to write this recipe as a “five-way” Cincinnati Chili with all the toppings. You can omit whatever toppings you don’t like, but if you want the full Cincinnati Chili experience, go five-way!
Oyster crackers are also an optional topping, if you’d like to add something crunchy on top.
There is no searing in this recipe, surely that can’t be right!
You noticed correctly, there is no searing! Just throw everything into the pot and let it cook. By not searing any ingredients, we help give this recipe its unique texture and separate it from a chili con carne style dish.
This recipe has chocolate in it???
Yes it does! The little bit of unsweetened baking chocolate helps bring all the spices together. If you don’t have baking chocolate at home, you can skip this ingredient, but we promise it really helps make the dish taste great!
I’m not feeling making this seasoning…can I use a premade mix?
We tried to create an authentic blend of spices to use, but it can be a bit much to mix it all together. If you don’t want to measure all of the spices, here are alternatives:
- Just use whatever salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder you have sitting around the house. It’s okay.
- Use your favorite chili seasoning mix.
- Or purchase this authentic Seven Hills Cincinnati Chili seasoning mix.
Are there other ways to serve this Cincinnati Chili?
Yep, there are a ton of other uses for the cooked Cincinnati Chili. Check out these ideas:
- Cheese Coney – Cincinnati Chili, diced onion, and shredded cheese on top of a hot dog in a bun!
- Cincinnati Chili Fries – load up your favorite fries with Cincinnati Chili and shredded cheese!
- Loaded Chili Rice Bowl – this is great if you’re gluten free, just fill a bowl with cooked white or brown rice, then top it with Cincinnati Chili and any of your favorite toppings.
Can I just buy Cincinnati Chili?
Ha, yes you can! If you don’t feel like making this recipe at home, you can buy a pre-made can of Skyline Chili, probably the most famous maker of Cincinnati Chili in the world. And by the world, we mean the greater Cincinnati region.
We hope we’ve answered all the answers you have about this uniquely Cincinnati dish. If you want to know more, we highly recommend the book “The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili” by Dann Woellert. it’s an interesting read about an interesting piece of American culinary tradition.
If you have questions or comments, made tweaks to the recipe you want to share, or have tips for your fellow home cooks, we’d love for you to leave us a comment or rating below. We appreciate the feedback. Have a great day, and we’ll see you soon at Lake Geneva Country Meats!
- 5 cup Water
- 2 lb Ground Beef (85% lean or similar)
- 1 can Tomato Paste (6 oz)
- 1/2 oz Unsweetened Baking Chocolate (optional)
- 1/4 cup Chili Powder
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Ground Cumin
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp Dried Oregano
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper (omit if desired)
- 1 lb Spaghetti (cooked, for serving)
- 1 White Onion (diced, for serving)
- 1 can Kidney Beans (15.5 oz, drained and warmed, for serving)
- Shredded Cheddar Cheese (for serving)
- Oyster Crackers (optional, for serving)
Pour the water into a large pot like a Dutch oven. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well with a sturdy whisk to combine all of the ingredients and break up the meat into crumbles.
Heat mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. The sauce should reduce to a thick sauce texture before serving.
Once sauce reaches desired thickness, serve your Cincinnati Chili over cooked spaghetti noodles and top with diced onion, drained and warmed kidney beans, and shredded cheese. Add oyster crackers if you like. Enjoy!