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Feb 8, 2008 10:23 AM

Just what IS Cincinnati Chili?

After reading a thread on the Chains board about Skyline Chili, I found it and tried it. I guess I am spoiled by Texas Chili, mine in particular, but I was not impressed. It was a bit runny, greasy, very finely ground meat, and had a cinnamon flavor? Is that what it was? I couldn't put my finger on it. Kind of a sweet flavor. So, was this just a bad representation, or is that how it usually is?

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  1. No. That's what it is. A completely different style of chili, especially compared to a shredded beef/chile peppers based Texas bowl of red.

    1. It's also not really meant to be eaten like Texas chili. Cincinnatti chili is more of a condiment -- a popular topping for spaghetti with cheese, or hot dogs.

      8 Replies
      1. re: DanaB

        yup, it's usually served on spaghetti. i think of it more as a different style of meat sauce. i'll probably catch some flak for saying it, but ime it's pretty gross-- although there is no reason it couldn't be executed very well; the times i've sampled it it was bland, sweet, heavy & greasy. sorry, i didn't like it. . .

        1. re: soupkitten

          Well, when I saw how thin it was I made a frito pie with it, but I just couldn't really enjoy the taste of it, so I added more fritos and cheese! looked at some recipes for it and saw that it has cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Very odd, for my palate anyway. I would have never thought to put it on spaghetti, even though I saw that in the other thread. Just seems so wrong to me. I guess I am a true Texan. Thank heaven for that!

          1. re: danhole

            Agree with everyone here and it is totally not comparable to Texas chili.

            I spent about 2 months in Cincinnati for work and the first time I tried it, I was disgusted by it, but little by little it grew on my and now I love my three way (spaghetti, chili and about 1/2 finely shredded cheese) and cheese coneys (hotdog, mustard, onions, chili and cheese). Maybe you should try it again, the proper way and see if it grows on you.

            1. re: ESNY

              I ate half of it one night and the other half the next day for lunch, and I'll admit it wasn't quite as bad the second time. I think it was a flavor shock. I had no idea it had cinnamon, etc., in it. It might be good over spaghetti, and I might try it again, but for now I have to make a pot of my Texas chili to get over the shock of it! LOL!

          2. re: soupkitten

            I'm in total agreement with soupkitten. It started out as a Greek version of spaghetti and, somehow, became known a Cincinnati chili. I've even read one recipe that uses chocolate. I guess it's an acquired taste. Not for me, though.

            1. re: grampart

              I don't think it was ever supposed to be compared with a traditional "bowl of red" as they are VERY different. I do like it as a 3-way on occasion for lunch when I am in the Cincy area, but I'm from Ohio. Go figure.

              1. re: grampart

                If you only read one recipe that included chocolate then the rest that you read are wrong. It has chocolate, cinnamon, all spice and nutmeg in it in various proportions.


            2. re: DanaB

              Cincinnati chili is not a condiment.

            3. Cincinnati style chili was created by Greek and Lebanese immigrants to the area. Therefore it is more representative of Medeteranian flavors than Tex/Mex. I consider it more of a Greek pasta sauce than the kind of chili most Americans are familar with.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jackrugby

                Oh, that makes sense.

                I had it once on a business trip to Cincy, and wasn't overly impressed by it, but I'm still glad I tried it. I can see it being an "acquired" taste.

              2. Yeah...Cincinnati chili can't stand on it's own like real chili but it's good for a pasta sauce - which it's intended for.

                12 Replies
                1. re: hooliganyouth

                  Cincinnati chili is just chili served on top of spaghetti, with several toppings from which one can choose. The Skyline chain has several restaurants throughout the Cincinnati area. I had this specialty there once. One thing about ti - it was cheap. Outside of that nothing that I care if I never eat again.

                  1. re: ekammin

                    It does not taste like traditional chili. It is not traditional chili.

                  2. re: hooliganyouth

                    No, sir, you can put it on hot dogs or serve just with cheese or whatever. I wouldn't call it a pasta sauce

                    1. re: southsam7

                      Given that a hugely popular version of serving Cincinnati chili is on top of spaghetti....while it may not necessarily be the consistency of a tomato or alfredo sauce, it's definitely used as a sauce on top of pasta very frequently across almost all Cincinnati chili parlors.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        one way on pasta, two way add cheese, three way with cheese and onions, Four way with kidney beans cheese and onions. Sometimes I even add oyster crackers, but almost always add hot sauce.

                        It's good as a sauce on top of pizza for a three or four way pie.

                        1. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                          Personally, I can't stand Cincinnati chili in any of its forms from any of its purveyors. But as a Cincinnati native, I am fairly well versed on it's place in the Cincinnati culinary landscape.

                          In an academic game of categorization if Texas chili is closer to a stew, then I think that saying Cincinnati chili is closer to a sauce is fair.

                          1. re: cresyd

                            I use a small amount of the dried packet mix as a secret ingredient in my 10 thing chicken wing recipe. It's awesome, epic, and extreme! (My three most hated descriptors, but am OK with them if they are used all together)

                            1. re: cresyd

                              I just looked at both Skyline's and Gold Star's menus online and neither of them seem to offer chili in bowls. Detroit chili parlors (Coney Island restaurants), on the other hand, do, despite the chili's soupy consistency.

                              1. re: MacGuffin

                                From memory, it's a possible order - but hardly the most common. That being said, when my friends would do late night Skyline runs, I'd get spaghetti with cheese and nothing else. Also not on the menu and they look at you like you're an idiot, but you can order it!

                                1. re: cresyd

                                  LOL There were lots of "soulful bowlfuls" served when I lived in Detroit, many of them to me. Thank goodness it was on the menu and therefore not grounds for astonished expressions!

                                  I actually picked up a few packets of the Skyline seasoning during a recent trip to Detroit (Kroger carries it). I intend to give it a try but subbing Quorn Grounds for the ground beef (I'm vegetarian). I suspect it's too heavy for summer fare so I'll wait until the weather's cooler. I only wish Kroger carried the authentic cheese as well.

                            2. re: RhonelyInsanediego

                              Nope. Three way is spaghetti, chili, cheese. Four way add Onions. Five way add beans. Want beans but no onions, get a Five Way no onion. Dixie Chili serves a six way, which includes chopped fresh garlic. Blue Ash Chili's six way includes sliced, breaded, fried jalapeno -- "bottle caps."

                              Order it "dry" if you want them to tilt the dish after assembly and drain off excess liquid. A friend of mine orders five way inverted dry, which starts with the cheese, then follows with all other ingredients in reverse order.

                              1. re: jmckee

                                "A friend of mine orders five way inverted dry, which starts with the cheese, then follows with all other ingredients in reverse order."

                                Now, that sounds interesting. When I prepare spaghetti at home, I toss the grated Parm with the just-drained pasta prior to saucing it. I seem to recall that I started after reading the suggestion on a Rustichella d'Abruzzo bag many years ago and I haven't looked back since.

                      2. Think Greek, not Mexican:)