Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is a unique and flavorful dish that combines a rich blend of spices with ground beef, simmered to perfection. Traditionally served over spaghetti or hot dogs, this chili offers a delightful twist with hints of cinnamon, chocolate, and nutmeg. Perfect for a hearty meal that warms the soul, this dish is sure to become a family favorite.


  • 4 cups water (or half water, half beef broth)
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 2 pounds ground beef (80/20)
  • ½ cup onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 ounce dark chocolate (or unsweetened cocoa powder)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Spaghetti noodles, cooked
  • Beans (optional)
  • Onion, diced (for serving)
  • Cheddar cheese, shredded (for serving)
  • Oyster crackers (for serving)


  1. Prepare the Base:
    • In a large Dutch oven, combine the water and tomato paste. Whisk together to combine.
  2. Add the Beef:
    • Crumble the ground beef with your fingers and add it to the liquid in the pot.
  3. Combine Ingredients:
    • Add all remaining ingredients to the pot and stir to combine.
  4. Simmer the Chili:
    • Bring the pot of chili to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and lower the heat. Let it simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Skim the grease from the top as needed.
  5. Cool and Store:
    • Remove the chili from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. Cover and store the chili in the refrigerator overnight.
  6. Remove Excess Grease:
    • After the chili has cooled overnight, use a spoon to break up the grease on the top and remove it completely.
  7. Reheat the Chili:
    • Bring the chili back to a low simmer over medium heat.
  8. Serve:
    • Serve the chili warm over spaghetti noodles or over a hot dog. Garnish with beans, diced onion, shredded cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers if desired.

Nutritional Information:

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Servings: 8

Serving and Storage Tips:

Serving Tips:

  1. Over Spaghetti:
    • Serve Cincinnati Chili over a bed of cooked spaghetti noodles for the classic “two-way” serving style. The combination of chili and pasta creates a hearty and filling meal.
  2. On Hot Dogs:
    • Spoon the chili over hot dogs in buns to make delicious chili dogs. Top with shredded cheddar cheese and diced onions for added flavor.
  3. With Traditional Toppings:
    • Offer a variety of traditional Cincinnati Chili toppings such as kidney beans, finely diced onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers. This allows everyone to customize their serving to their liking.
  4. Three-Way, Four-Way, or Five-Way:
    • Three-Way: Chili over spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese.
    • Four-Way: Add diced onions or beans to the Three-Way.
    • Five-Way: Add both diced onions and beans to the Four-Way.
  5. As a Dip:
    • Serve the chili as a dip with tortilla chips or pita chips. This is a great option for parties or gatherings.
  6. With Rice:
    • Serve the chili over a bed of cooked white or brown rice for a different yet equally delicious base.
  7. In a Bread Bowl:
    • Hollow out a round loaf of bread and fill it with Cincinnati Chili for a fun and edible serving vessel.

Storage Tips:

  1. Refrigeration:
    • Store any leftover chili in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The chili can be kept fresh for up to 3-4 days. The flavors often improve as the chili sits, making for even tastier leftovers.
  2. Freezing:
    • Cincinnati Chili freezes well. Portion the chili into freezer-safe containers or resealable plastic bags. Label with the date and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
  3. Reheating:
    • Reheat the chili on the stovetop over medium heat, stirring occasionally until warmed through. You can also reheat individual servings in the microwave. If the chili thickens too much during storage, add a splash of water or beef broth to reach the desired consistency.
  4. Avoiding Soggy Toppings:
    • If storing leftovers with toppings, keep the toppings separate. This prevents ingredients like shredded cheese and crackers from becoming soggy. Add fresh toppings just before serving.
  5. Transporting:
    • When transporting the chili, keep it in an insulated container to maintain its temperature. If taking to a potluck or gathering, reheat the chili upon arrival and serve hot.
  6. Batch Cooking:
    • Cincinnati Chili is a great dish for batch cooking. Prepare a large batch and portion it into individual servings for quick and easy meals throughout the week.
  7. Preventing Spills:
    • When storing or transporting chili, ensure the container is sealed tightly to prevent spills. Using containers with secure lids will help keep your fridge or car clean.


  1. Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili:
    • Substitute the ground beef with a plant-based ground meat alternative or a mix of beans and lentils for a hearty vegetarian version. Use vegetable broth instead of beef broth.
  2. Spicy Cincinnati Chili:
    • Add a diced jalapeño or a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the chili for a spicier variation. You can also use hot chili powder for an extra kick.
  3. Chicken Cincinnati Chili:
    • Use ground chicken or turkey instead of beef for a lighter version of the chili. Adjust the cooking time as needed to ensure the meat is fully cooked.
  4. Bean-Lovers Chili:
    • Add kidney beans or black beans directly into the chili during the last hour of simmering for added texture and protein. This creates a more filling and nutritious meal.
  5. Chili Mac:
    • Mix the chili with cooked elbow macaroni for a delicious Cincinnati Chili Mac dish. This is a great way to stretch the chili and create a kid-friendly meal.
  6. Cincinnati Chili Dip:
    • Transform the chili into a dip by serving it with tortilla chips or pita chips. Top with shredded cheese, diced onions, and a dollop of sour cream for a party-ready appetizer.
  7. Low-Carb Cincinnati Chili:
    • Serve the chili over spiralized vegetables like zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice for a low-carb alternative. This is perfect for those following a keto or low-carb diet.
  8. Mexican-Style Cincinnati Chili:
    • Add a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies and a teaspoon of smoked paprika to give the chili a Mexican twist. Serve with tortilla chips and a dollop of guacamole.
  9. Breakfast Cincinnati Chili:
    • Use the chili as a topping for scrambled eggs or an omelette for a hearty breakfast. Add shredded cheese and diced onions for extra flavor.
  10. Chili Stuffed Peppers:
    • Hollow out bell peppers and fill them with Cincinnati Chili. Top with shredded cheese and bake until the peppers are tender and the cheese is melted and bubbly.


  1. Can I use a slow cooker to make Cincinnati Chili?
    • Yes, you can transfer the mixture to a slow cooker after step 3 and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. This method allows the flavors to meld beautifully over time.
  2. What type of ground beef is best for this recipe?
    • An 80/20 blend of ground beef (80% lean, 20% fat) is recommended for a good balance of flavor and texture. The fat adds richness to the chili.
  3. Is it necessary to refrigerate the chili overnight?
    • Refrigerating overnight helps to enhance the flavors and makes it easier to remove excess grease. However, you can skip this step if pressed for time, though the flavor might not be as developed.
  4. Can I substitute cocoa powder for the dark chocolate?
    • Yes, you can use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of dark chocolate. Use 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder as a substitute for the chocolate.
  5. What should I do if my chili is too thick?
    • If the chili is too thick, you can thin it out by adding a bit more water or beef broth until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  6. Can I add vegetables to this chili?
    • While not traditional, you can add vegetables such as bell peppers, diced tomatoes, or corn for extra nutrients and flavor. Add them during the last hour of cooking.
  7. What are oyster crackers?
    • Oyster crackers are small, round, salted crackers typically served with soups and chilis. They add a delightful crunch to the dish and are often served on the side.
  8. Can I make this chili less sweet?
    • You can reduce or omit the light brown sugar if you prefer a less sweet chili. Adjust the spices to balance the flavors to your preference.

Cincinnati Chili is a unique and flavorful dish that offers a delightful twist on traditional chili with its blend of spices and hints of cinnamon and chocolate. Whether served over spaghetti, on hot dogs, or with a variety of toppings, this versatile chili is sure to become a family favorite. With easy preparation, various serving suggestions, and numerous variations, Cincinnati Chili is perfect for any occasion. Enjoy making and sharing this comforting and delicious meal with your loved ones!