Cincinnati chili now added to our household rotation

cincinnati chili 3 way

This dish has walked through my viewfinder several times, in increasing frequency, such that I just had to try it out.

I first heard about Cincinnati chili when I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode about Cleveland, where one of his best buddies, Michael Ruhlman, a food writer and BIG Ohio Fan, resides. They went to Skyline chili and tucked into this dish: chili atop spaghetti (yes you heard right), topped with cheese and beans and other goodies. Judging by the way they gorged themselves on this dish, I figured, “Wow, that must taste good.”

Cincinnati chili can be presented 3-way (chili, beans, cheese), 4-way (chili, beans, cheese, onions), 5-way (chili, beans, cheese, onions, sour cream…) and beyond. Wowee. It seemed bizarre and good, like Frito Pies are bizarre and good. I shelved the images in my mind. Must try this someday.

Cue the Whole Foods Budget Recipe Challenge, where Rachel of Coconut and Lime‘s Cincinnati chili recipe was showcased as a finalist. There it was again! It was like being in the know–and boy did it look delicious. I bookmarked the page.

And most recently, I got an email from Cooks’ Illustrated highlighting a Cincinnati chili recipe. I watched the video and became entranced.

You know how they say it takes people three tries to like a food? I guess after running into Cincinnati chili three times, I just gotta make it.

My husband’s a big chili lover and he was excited about me making chili (I’ve never made homemade chili before so sue me!). I announced my intentions on making Cincinnati chili on Facebook and was met with mixed reviews. “Ugggh,” they said, “Cue the Jaws music.” Why? I asked. Does it taste bad?

“No,” my friend replied, “It’s just not chili. It has COCOA in it! And it doesn’t have beans in it!” After pushing them further they said, “It’s an acquired taste.” Hrmmm. “You either love it or hate it.”

Oh. Did I mention that the chili has cocoa powder in it? I was astonished but reassured that it was indeed an integral part of Cincinnati chili. (And really, chocolate can only make things yummier, right?).

Still, I forged on, hoping that we’d be in the love it camp. I had to keep telling my husband, “This is NOT your Texas chili! Don’t expect it to be CHILI!” I wanted him to be in the “love it” camp, and expectation-setting, I felt, was key in preparation.

There are variations on this recipe–Rachel of Coconut and Lime sautes her ground beef. I chose to boil my ground beef, following the America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks’ Illustrated recipe more closely. Rachel’s recipe included cloves. The Cooks’ Illustrated recipe didn’t include cloves. I like cloves. So I added cloves. I tasted as I went, and the following is the recipe I came up with.

The result? It was a hit. The hubby said it was like a really interesting spaghetti. I took it to work and offered it to a couple of Ohio natives, who gave it a thumbs up.

We’re in the “love it” camp. Thank you, Ruhlman and Rachel and America’s Test Kitchen. πŸ™‚

Update: Recently, we tried the chili atop poached eggs. Delicious; and if you like yolks, the yolks combined very well with the chili. Great lower-carb option to putting the chili atop spaghetti.

cincinnati chili over marin sun farms poached eggs

Recipe follows after the jump…

(adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated and Coconut and Lime)

1 lb. ground beef (80% lean or thereabouts is what was advised, I used 85%)
2 medium onions
2 T vegetable oil
1-2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp dark brown sugar
2 T cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce (I used Pomi strained tomatoes)

shredded cheddar cheese
1 can red kidney beans (rinsed, drained, warmed)

In a large saucepan, boil water and add ground beef. Boil ground beef for 2-3 minutes breaking up strands until you see foam. The ground beef should look “wormy.” Remove from heat and drain into a colander. Set ground beef aside.

Wash pot (you will make the chili in the same pot, so you don’t have to scrub it–just wash it enough).

Cut 2 medium onions and chop finely. In the saucepan, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil. Then add onions. Add about 1-2 tsp of salt (this is called “pre-loading”–adding salt early on with vegetables helps draw out their flavor and moisture). Cook down until soft and golden 8-10 min.

Then add:
2 cloves garlic
2 T chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp dark brown sugar

(Adding spices to a dry pan with a little bit of fat in it will draw out the flavor of the spices).

Then add liquid:
2 Tablespoons of vinegar
About 2 cups of water
2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce (the Pomi)

Then add blanched beef and bring to simmer for about an hour.

To assemble: boil pasta and cook and drain. You can optionally put 2 teaspoons of butter in the pasta. Then spoon Cincinnati chili over the pasta.

Garnish with cheddar and kidney beans or sour cream or chopped onions or whatever you prefer with your Cincinnati chili!

Mrmmm. Tastes even better the next day. πŸ™‚

cincinnati chili "3 way"

17 responses to “Cincinnati chili now added to our household rotation

  1. Could this be modified for a slow cooker?

  2. Hrmm! I checked around and yes it could:

    In that recipe you brown the beef first and then add to the crockpot with all the chili ingredients (except the spaghetti and toppings)…so if you want to take THIS recipe and put it in the crockpot, you could boil the beef first and then add to the crockpot with all the ingredients, I think. πŸ™‚

  3. Made this recipe for dinner tonight, and it was delicious! Unexpected flavor(s) but very good. My husband and toddler gobbled it up. I halved the chili powder to 1 tablespoon, and it was just spicy enough and plenty flavorful. (The Galbijjim recipe has been my go-to-recipe for company since I spotted it here.) Thanks, Christine!

  4. Hi there,

    I’m an Ohio native and just wanted to make a couple of comments. I can’t vouch for the chili itself–looks like the basic ingredients are there so I’m sure it was tasty–but, judging by your photo, the presentation was probably slightly off:
    – Cinci chili is fairly thin, closer to a sauce–the ground beef is finely ground–and a fair amount is poured over the noodles.
    – The cheese used is usually finely shredded mild cheddar, and there is usually *a lot* more of it. (As in, mounds of the stuff. Of course, you may opt to use less for health reasons.)
    – By universally accepted definitions, a 2-way is chili+noddles, a 3-way is chili+noddles+cheese, a 4 way is chili+noodles+beans, and a 5-way is chili+noodles+chease+beans+onions. (In theory, a 1 way would be just the chili.) Sour cream may be used in some of the new-fangled dishes (e.g. Skyline burritos) made with Cinci chili, which I personally love but are eschewed by many hard-core chili fans, but I’ve never seen it served with chili.
    – Oyster crackers are served on the side.
    – Most restaurants offer hot sauce (typically Tabasco) on the side.

    Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it. This is the dish I miss the most from my native state. (Followed closely by Dayton-style thin-crust pizza, a la Marion’s and Cassano’s.) Good luck, and enjoy!

    – ME

  5. Michael thank you for the insider’s list! On our second round of making and eating this dish, we shredded our cheese a lot more finely. Muuuuch better. πŸ™‚ And made the chili thinner.

  6. I’m a Cincinnati native and I have to agree that the chili is meant to be thinner and the cheese (a mild cheddar) more finely grated. My friends from out of town call it meat soup, but I still think of of it as just a different kind of chili. As such, sometimes we eat it without the noodles. In those cases, we just have the chili, cheese, and oyster crackers. Sometimes we add onions, but that’s a rarity. Actually, even when we put it over noodles, we add oyster crackers.

    I don’t eat hot dogs, but many the Cincinnatian is known to put Cincy chili and cheese over hot dogs and have a Cincinnati Coney.

    I’m glad you’ve found your way into the “love it” column for this dish.

  7. This sounds delicious…all i have to do this is step outside for the ingredients..i always have a hard time trying to find ingredients…one of my friend introduced me to a great resource and i thought that i pass great along as well.

    • James;I noticed neither you or Chad mentioned anything about the &#eap0;G2s28rgou” being utilized as table fare. Are they no good to eat? This is the first time I remember ever hearing the term Gaspergou, though I’ve heard the term freshwater Drum.Many, many years ago, summer of 1958 to be exact, some of my cousins and I caught a mess of Carp in a irrigation canal bare handed in AZ. My aunt cooked them up and, well, I still have bad memories of trying to eat that fish. YUCK!!!Stan N Ceres, CA.

  8. This really sounds great and we are always up for a great new chili recipe. Doesn’t matter if it is winter or summer. The addition of spaghetti is not common but how wrong can it be! After all we put chili on baked potatoes so pasta will be good also.

  9. Pingback: One Pot Cincinnati Chili |

  10. Rebecca: Thank you for your feedback. I have since reduced the chili a lot less, and shred the cheese with the fine holes of the box grater.

    And Pam: Love the idea of putting the chili on baked potatoes…just very recently, we put the chili atop poached eggs. YUM! The yolk mixed really well with the chili, and it makes for a lower carb option, for those who don’t want to eat pasta.

  11. I am a cincinnati nativeborn and raised been eating it my whole life and the cooks recipe is the most authentic I have had, it needed more salt though ;-). With that said I think most purists do not add beans or anything to theirs at least I dont we eat it with chili on spaghetti and finely shredded cheddar with hot sauce and oyster crackers. We also like coneys the chili and cheese on hot dogs with mustard and onions hot sauce. love cincy and miss the real stuff!

  12. oh and like everyone else said it is supposed to be fine (the meat) and thin.

  13. Just so you know a 3 way actually is just chili, noodles, and a lot more cheese than the pictures show! Then a 4 way is chili, noodles, cheese and either beans or onions. A 5 way is chili, noodles, cheese, beans and onions. With the sour cream and basically a salad try the chili in a burrito that’s how skyline has it on their menu. Also try it with oyster crackers that’s how we do it in cincinnati!

  14. Gotta love a recipe with such great directions like when to “sort of” wash a pot to make clean-up easier and explaining salt pre-loading! And, these words of wisdom are included in the right places where my brain would need them. “Technique” ingredients can be really important. They are often omitted. They can make or break a recipe. This is one of the best written recipes I’ve ever seen – Thank you!

  15. Pingback: What To Serve With Chili: Enjoy Chili Like Never Before

  16. From a Steak ‘n Shake Chili copycat recipe:
    In place of the 2 cups water, use 2 cups Coca Cola (room temp)….. Helps to temper any heat (pepper; peppers) you want to increase or add….. Cocoa and Coca Cola together make great chili…

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