A classic cincinnati chili version with beef and bean chili served over plain spaghetti with lots of great toppings like shredded cheese, scallions, and crackers. Chili never tasted so good!
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Cincinnati Chili

If there’s one thing I’ve proven over the years, it’s that I have zero qualms about actually eating a regional dish like Cincinnati Chili before reproducing it at home. I’m not going to go all the way to Minneapolis before I make a Juicy Lucy (although if I ever go there I’ll be sure to try the original).

I’ve gotten some flack for this over the years but I’ve also gotten a lot of good meals out of it so… I don’t care. What I have learned though is that a lot of times regional dishes are good but not exceptional. They are exceptional only because of their history to a specific location.

The juicy lucy, in other words, is a good burger, but it’s not the best burger I’ve ever made.

So I was expecting something similar with Cincinnati chili. After all, it sounded kind of weird. Chili and spaghetti? Is this really a good idea?

Well, it turns out that Cincinnati really outdid itself on this one. It’s not only a good idea. It’s an amazing idea.

If you think about it, there’s a very fine line between a good chili and a classic Italian bolognese sauce. Maybe some spice differences (and some very American toppings like cheddar cheese and crackers).

But believe me when I say that it all works. It’s a big, hearty plate of food and I can’t think of a much better way to eat my way through a cold winter night.

A classic cincinnati chili version with beef and bean chili served over plain spaghetti with lots of great toppings like shredded cheese, scallions, and crackers. Chili never tasted so good!

Cincinnati Chili

Just a moment please...

Yield
Serves 6.
Prep Time
Total Time

The classic cincinnati chili made with a beef and pinto bean chili and served over spaghetti with lots of awesome toppings. A hearty winter meal!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 (15 oz. can) pinto beans
Salt and pepper
1 pound spaghetti

Toppings:

Shredded cheddar cheese
Scallions
Crackers
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Directions

1) In a medium pot, add oil over medium heat and cook onions and garlic until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Then add in all the spices and stir to combine.

2) Add beef to the pot and break up beef as it browns. Cook it for 5-6 minutes until it’s well browned and cooked through.

3) Add diced tomatoes and bay leaf and bring chili to a simmer. Turn heat down to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf.

4) Add chocolate, worcestershire sauce and drained and rinsed pinto beans to the chili. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

5) Cook spaghetti in salted boiling water until it’s al dente. Drain pasta and divide between plates.

6) Top each plate of spaghetti with a big heap of chili and all the toppings. Serve immediately!

Really Good Cincinnati Chili

The chili really is the star of this show so it’s a good idea to make it well. An onion and garlic are necessary and while I used ground beef, you could make a vegetarian version with mushrooms or just extra beans.

The basics for Cincinnati Chili

The basics.

After doing some research, I learned that chili for this dish usually has some allspice in it which is a nice touch as well as a tiny hunk of chocolate. This kind of brings in a mole type feel to the chili. Again, it all works so just go with it.

chili spices

Good spice.

Cook the onions and garlic until they turn translucent over medium heat with a drizzle of oil. Then add in all those lovely spices.

This will immediately smell good.

Starting onions.

Starting onions.

Add in the beef next and brown it well. Break it up as it cooks. Season the mixture as you cook it with salt and pepper.

Browning the beef for Cincinnati chili

Brown the beef.

Once the beef is browned, pour in the tomatoes and add a bay leaf. Cover the pot now and simmer this all over low heat for about 15 minutes. This will break down the sauce and combine the flavors. If the sauce looks too dry, feel free to add a little water to the pan.

Simmer simmer.

Simmer simmer.

Once the chili has simmered for awhile, add in the beans, Worcestershire sauce and chocolate. You just need a tiny amount of chocolate. It’ll really smooth out the flavors in the chili without giving it a noticeable chocolate flavor.

Beans go in.

Beans go in.

As with anything, taste this as you cook it and season the chili with salt and pepper. Keep it warm over low heat while you make the rest of the meal.

Spaghetti and Toppings

Cook the spaghetti as you would any pasta: in salted water. While it cooks, you can get your toppings ready. Cheese? Check. Scallions? Check. Crackers? Definitely check.

The crackers are my favorite part.

Cincinnati Chili toppings

Toppins’

You know the rest.

Drain the pasta and pile some onto a plate. Top with a big heap of the chili and all of the toppings.

All of the toppings.

 

No need to go to Cincinnati, people. But man… they really did nail this one. I loved this pasta.

A classic cincinnati chili version with beef and bean chili served over plain spaghetti with lots of great toppings like shredded cheese, scallions, and crackers. Chili never tasted so good!

26 comments on “Cincinnati Chili

    1. Heya, you can easily make it veggie friendly by doubling the beans. The low carb will be harder b/c it’s served over pasta… but you could just go light on the pasta or if you wanted to get really crazy you could try it over cauliflower rice! Good luck!

  1. Nick, the ground beef is never browned, it’s boiled until it almost has jelled like texture.. The chocolate is right and it should also have cinnamon.
    Old Cincy guy

      1. I know it sounds kind of gross. If you can find it try Skyline Chili from the frozen section of a supermarket, or it can be ordered online. You’ll really see the difference in texture. It’s a one of a kind.
        Really enjoy you emails! Bill

      2. Go for gold star, it won’t be as runny as skyline, and you will have to add beans, what you made is called a 4-way. Love it, and there is also a place called Dixie chili that is a mid point between both gold star and skyline.

  2. As an Ohio girl, I agree with Bill Jr – Cincinnati chili should have some cinnamon in it. Sounds weird, but just like the chocolate, it works. Also, a suggestion on the cheese – if you grate it with a microplaner instead of a regular grater, it becomes divinely fluffy and melts so nicely on top of the chili (another Cincinnati thing…). Might be a chili kind of night tonight… :)

  3. To your point that chili and bolognese are very similar: Before I even knew what “Cincinnati chili” was, my family ate chili over spaghetti throughout my childhood because the two were indistinguishable if they were unlabeled in the freezer–my dad’s recipes are that similar. On many occasions, the pasta would already be boiling when someone would cry out, “Hey–there are beans in this spaghetti sauce!”

  4. Usually the beans are separate and added when plating depending on if they are wanted or notby the individual…Kidney beans are usually used…I also think they either add a little cinnamon or allspice to give it that special flavor.

    1. Rhonda is exactly right as is Alaina with the cheese. I’ve read so many recipes for Cinci. Chili and no one ever seems to get it right. I make my own and have it very close but never written it down.

    2. Yes, traditionally, Cinci chili is just meat. You can add the kidney beans later if you want (5-way, with chopped onions and cheese over spaghetti).

  5. Wrong. Beef should be boiled, that’s how you get such a fine texture. Take out the scallions and the beans. I tend to use the skyline brand seasoning packets for the best flavor. What are all the tomatoes doing in there? Tomato paste is all you need. You may have enjoyed some excellent chili spaghetti, but you haven’t had Cincinnati chili yet.

    1. Noted Ellen. Although I have to say I’m very opposed to boiling ground beef. I get that breaks it down more though. Thanks for the comment and suggestions!

  6. Nick – As a Cinci native I love that you made this chili. It really is a big comfort food from my childhood. Also, I see you’ve been getting a lot of comments on what you did “wrong” but I love that you made it your own. You could probably make dozens of batches and it would never be just like Skyline Chili so why not do it your own way. I really do enjoy your site and many of your recipes are staples at my house now.

    1. Thanks for the comment Scott. I did my best and will live with the backlash. Haha. At the end of the day, chili is chili and it’s almost never the same anyway. ;)

  7. That looks amazing! Thanks for sharing so many scrumptious recipes with us! I have a little boy who loves the Cincinnati Bengals and will go nuts if I tell him this is what those football players in Ohio eat! :-) thanks again!!

    1. I’m pretty sure Andy Dalton eats this exact meal before each game! (OK. Probably not… but white lies are fine lies… :)

  8. To be honest…I love this type of chili now, but when I was a kid and lived in Cincinnati from age 9-12, I didn’t like this type of chili at all…I loved the Big Boy style….but I did love those half size hot dogs with all the fluffy cheese on them they always had at the chili places…..yum!

  9. Beth at Budget Bytes included Love Your Leftovers in her holiday gift guide. It was the only thing on her list I was interested in and I bought it for myself immediately. I see it adding more options to things I already do and I really appreciated the meal planning chapter. It works well with something I already try to do. I have a list of just over two dozen things that can be made with leftover roast. Some work better with one meat than others, but most can be made from any leftover roast. The list keeps expanding.

    Cincinnati chili isn’t chili as we normally think of it, but more of a meat sauce. I’m of the cook the meat in sauce camp. The meat is simmered in the sauce rather than boiled. I think the resulting texture is a big part of what makes it Cincinnati chili. It’s not a chunky sauce.

    What I really like about Cincinnati chili is the leftover potential. The chili and cheese can top a baked potato or fries; it can be used on greens (iceberg lettuce is best) with tomatoes and whatever toppings you like for a taco-type salad; it can become a chili-cheese dog; it can be used in a tortilla for a taco, burrito or quesadilla. I’m fond of a burrito made with refried beans, the chili and cheese. It can also become a rice bowl.

    1. Thanks for the comment Sally and so glad you are checking out LYL!

      You’re right. Chili could definitely be a whole chapter. Once you have a good base recipe, it’s pretty endless for possibilities. Thanks for the ideas!

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