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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.

      7 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.


          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.

              1 Reply
              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.

              2. Think Greek, not Mexican:)

                1. I can't compare it to regular chili. The first time I tried it was at a chain in Ft. Lauderdale after a big day of drinking. And I think it has more to do with the cheese,onions and pasta than the sauce. Still there's something I like about it.
                  And I like the idea of any ground beef chili over pasta to soak it all up. Kind of a guilty pleasure.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: crippstom

                    >>And I like the idea of any ground beef chili over pasta to soak it all up. Kind of a guilty pleasure.<<

                    Don't feel guilty! Think of it like you are eating a greek via cincinnati variety of pasta ala bolognese (or ragu)!

                  2. Hey Danhole,

                    Pretty much everybody posting who is familiar with Skyline Chili has it pegged.

                    I learned about it in Tokyo, where one of my Japanese co-workers grew up in Cin-town.
                    Jin-san had been extolling Skyline's virtues as a pasta sauce, with grated cheddar cheese and diced white onions, (I THINK this is called the four-way). He had a friend from Cincinnati send some to Japan, and I was given a can.

                    Used it on some spaghetti, with cheddar and the proscribed white onions, and I could taste how it wouldn't be totally objectionable. As a matter of fact, after a night of too much enjoyment, it was damn good. But, I did try it with some tortilla chips that I had lying around...it definitely goes better with the pasta family.

                    It is what it is, an unique Greek-American topping for pasta and hot dogs, (actually compliments a Nathan's very nicely) with the moniker of "chili" attached to it.


                    1. In Erie, PA some places serve hamburgers or hot dogs with Greek Sauce, essentially the same thing as Cincinnati chili.

                      In Washington, DC, there used to be a bar on Capitol Hill that specialized in Cincinnati chili called Coolbreeze's. Their version was not soupy at all and could compete with any Texas chili for the hearts and minds of Chowhounds. I've never had Skyline or been to Cincinnati.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Steve

                        I grew up in the Erie area and that is exactly what I was going to say. In Wesleyville there was a diner that was known to the locals by the name of "Greek's" although its real name was Coney Island. I was there last year and the place is still there (40 years later)

                        That is the chili I grew up knowing about.

                        Well, that and the stuff in the can with kidney beans (UGH) that my father ate with crushed saltines.

                      2. i've never had this,,,,but it kinda sounds like pastitsio somewhere to me..

                        1. I LOVE it!! Can't get enough of it!

                          1. Cincinnati chili is very much it's own thing, to compare it to others brings up questions - region is all. I like the season yourself option, just never understood the spaghetti thing. A lot is owed to Lebanon and maybe even Moracco (via all sorts of places) I prefer SW American and Frito-Pie (called pepper bellies at my grade school in the Mojave) but I digress into lunch-lady land...

                            don't get me wrong, while it is it's own thing it's a very interesting thing - just don't go in with a preconceived notion.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: hill food

                              The chilli is very similar to Greek sauce, which goes on coney dogs... coney dogs are a little different than what's served at Skyline though. It's very good in a hearty, greasy, mid-America sort of way.

                            2. In Quebec, they serve a similar sauce on top of hot dogs, which they call by the queer moniker of a "hot dog Michigan".. no one I know from Michigan has ever heard of hot dogs with this stuff on it.

                              1. Hey Dan

                                What you should do is clear you mind of all previous thoughts of chili and Cinci chili. Get a can (Or make a pot), make some pasta and mince some onion really fine.
                                Get a block of cheddar cheese and start grating. If you think you've grated too much, double it.
                                Pasta, then chili, then onion, then cheese, cheese, more cheese, then the rest of the cheese.
                                If you don't compare it to "Red" you may find that you love it. I certainly do and make it at home from scratch. As was said above, "It is what it is."

                                If I was granted one wish it would be to have the cheddar cheese concessions for the city of Cincinnati. It's unbelievable how much they use.


                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Davwud

                                  I was talking to someone who had eaten it at a Skyline place, and he was saying that he wasn't very impressed either. Then I told him about the origins being Greek/Mediterranean, and we both agreed that is it was sold as Greek sauce, or Cincinnati Sauce, we both would have appreciated it more. I think putting Chili in the name throws people off, because it sure doesn't taste like chili. I do believe I will try it one more time before I totally write it off.

                                  1. re: danhole

                                    My first time I thought it was weird. Not unpleasing but certainly odd. By the time I finished my 3 way i decided I liked it. Not loved it. We were in Cinci. and had to do it. Later on we went to a ball game and you can buy it in the stadium. I had a couple of Coney's and really liked them.
                                    Seriously though, the amount of cheese that goes on this stuff is almost comical.


                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      I already use a tremendous amount of shredded cheese on my chili, so that is a definite plus for me.

                                      1. re: danhole

                                        The first time I tried Cincinnati chili was in the late 60's at Skyline. It was ok but I wasn't wild about it at the time. I've lived in Arizona for over 30 years now and have developed an obsession with it. We drove through Cinci a few years ago and of course ate at Skyline. It wasn't nearly as spicy as I remembered. The waitress said they had made the recipe less spicy over the years so it would have broader appeal. I wish they wouldn't do that!

                                2. Cincinnati Chili is actually developed by Greeks who moved to town (for those who are familiar with Cincinnati, the owner of Skyline also owns a local Tex-Mex chain - go figure). Apparently the whole chocolate/cinnamon thing is a Greek thing. But yeah, that's how it tastes. It's very a very acquired. I've lived here for years, and the smell still makes me kinda sick.

                                  1. I think it is pretty awful, particularly compared to what most people think of as chili.
                                    and by the way...if someone in Cincinnatti asks you if you like a three way don't be looking for another woman to join you....look for some cheese and onions

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: steakman55

                                      don't think of it as chili, think of it as Greek spaghetti Sauce. ;)

                                      1. re: steakman55

                                        actually with the addition of onions, it's a 4-way. ;)

                                      2. Just a 'for what it's worth':

                                        My mom is from Louisville, KY- not too far from Cincinnati- and growing up we made what I have come to think of as the Louisville regional variation on Cincinnati Chili (I've had it at our house, relatives' houses, various gathering all over town, etc.). Essentially it is served the same way- with a pretty loose consistency on a bed of spaghetti, beans optional- but the difference is that it doesn't have the cinnamon/allspice/etc. added. The flavor profile is more like yer normal chili (if a bit wimpy, imo, but that's a whole other story...)- in other words, some of you may think of it as "Cincinnati Chili done the right way" if you can't get past the Greek spicing :)

                                        1. This is a great thread, having lived in Dayton over 40 years(45 minutes north of Cincy) and eaten Cincinnati style chili for most of that time, it makes me laugh that little old conservative Cincinnati has caused all this controversy!

                                          1. Try this link for a history of Cincinnati Chili
                                            I was born and raised in the Queen City for 24 years. I have feasted on Gold Star, Empress, Dixie and Skyline Chili's with the latter winning out. Skyline happened to agree with my taste buds, although they all were probably impaired by alcohol at the time. I have had Skyline in a can brought in by family members over the years, but the closest I have come to replicating the chili is from http://www.hotsauceblog.com/hotsaucea.... You must boil the meat and blend/chop with a braun hand blender to reach the consistency that you are looking for. Chocolate, Cinnamon and left in the fridge over night is the key. Think Greek.

                                            1. I live in the DC area and wee have a chain of restaurants called Hard Times Cafe that specializes in Cincinnati-style, Texas, and Vegetarian....I normally get the Cincinnati style 5 ways(spaghetti, beans, cheese, onions, and sour cream)......I prefer the Cincinnati style because it's not as spicy....Of course when I make my own I generally make it more Texas style however I still serve it over some type of pasta or rice with beans, cheese, onions and sour cream.

                                              1. First Off...don't tell me you don't like Cincinnati Chili if you are trying to eat it like regular chili (call it Texas chili or whatever). Cinti chili is watery and has very little meat. It does contain chocolate and cinnamon among other unorthodox ingredients. Cinti chili is not supposed to be eaten all by itself. It is pretty bad that way. No one eats it like that. It, however, does make for a savory dish if served over spaghetti with onions and cheese and beans. It is also served with onions and mustard and cheese on hot dogs, aka chili dogs. I know a number of people who still don't care for it very much after having eaten it for years. But, then again, there are those who love it and can not do without their three, four, or five-way fix now and then. It is part of a great dish if used properly. A substitute for "real" chili it is not!

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Fieldmarshall

                                                  While Cincinnati Chili is typically served on a hot dog or over spaghetti - all chili parlors that I've ever been to do serve bowls of Cincinnati Chili that are only garnished with cheese. But I'm gonna assume that that's a new level of local preference - using it as a substitute for real chili.

                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                    Ok, so I'm actually from Cincinnati. It is cinnamon that you're tasting as well as a touch of chocolate, and it is an acquired taste. I don't even eat meat and I have acquired it! It's very wet and thin, not at all like Texas Chili. But add a touch of it on spaghetti and you're golden. Fair warning, the cans do not do it justice, but try the seasoning packet (on Quorn brand fake hamburger for some) and it works much better than the cans, that stuff blows.
                                                    Try it on spaghetti with onions, cheese and beans, or with hot dogs...or even on top of cream cheese with a cheddar layer on top with tortilla chips and it rocks!

                                                    1. re: pixi

                                                      Oh, hey, forgot to mention...for all the veg-heads out there, Gold Star has a Veggie -Version, it's pretty good and you can get it on spaghetti with the best of them!

                                                2. nothing says love like a three-way.


                                                  it's Greek-American chili, made with a "secret" blend of yummy stuff to produce this heavenly concoction.

                                                  where did you "find it"? At a Cincinnati restaurant? Or in a can? In the frozen section?

                                                  my Italian husband (and his family) snubbed it at first, but has grown to love it when I make it at home.

                                                  I have to say though, most of the recipes out there online aren't entirely correct.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: TarheelYankee

                                                    I found it at Kroger's in Houston, Tx, next to the egg rolls in the frozen food section! They also have the cans of it, but I figured frozen would be best.

                                                    1. re: danhole

                                                      Yuck, both the frozen and canned versions of Cincinnati Chili are horrid IMHO. Does your Kroger's sell the spice pack version? All you do is add the beef, water, and tomato paste, and simmer for about an hour and a half, that's how I make it at home.

                                                      I get my parents to stock up on the packets for me since there's no Krogers within 100 miles from me.

                                                      looks like this:


                                                      1. re: TarheelYankee

                                                        I don't know if they have that or not. I have seen Cinci chili packet from other brands, but I'll look for that one. Thanks for the photo to go by. My daughter was married to a guy from Cincinnati and he bought some kind of mix to make cinci chili with, because he preferred that over our Texas Red! Imagine that. She had to suffer through a couple years of it, and was glad when it was over - the chili and the marriage!

                                                  2. Hey Danhole,

                                                    I think Cincinnati Chile suffers from its name. It is a completely different animal than Texas Chile. Even in Ohio people get confused about it. I once went into a restaurant here and ordered their version of Cincinnati Chile and I was served a bowl of spaghetti with Marinara sauce topped with Cheddar cheese. Not even close.

                                                    The first thing you need to understand is the variety of ways you can eat it. My personal favorite is just the chile in a bowl topped with cheddar cheese and oyster crackers like a soup. Most folks like theirs over spaghetti with the following variations of toppings: grated cheddar cheese, finely diced onions, red beans (not kidney beans), oyster crackers and Tabasco Sauce.

                                                    I think the second thing you need to know is that Skyline is not the best of the Cincinnati “Chile Parlors”. There are independents out that part of the country that do it much better. See:


                                                    If you want to try it a recipe follows:

                                                    2# ground chuck browned with 2 medium onions and 4 cloves of minced garlic. Drain the fat (or not) and puree in a blender until very smooth. Return the meat/onion mixture to your dutch oven and add:

                                                    2ea. Bay leaves
                                                    4T your favorite chile powder
                                                    1t cinnamon
                                                    25 allspice balls tied in cheese cloth
                                                    4T white vinegar
                                                    4T Worcestershire
                                                    2 small cans tomato paste
                                                    2t cayenne
                                                    1t each salt and pepper
                                                    2qts. Water

                                                    Simmer for three hours and then fish out the Bay leaves and allspice pouch. That’s the best way I can describe Cincinnati Chile.

                                                    Btw…thanks for your help earlier this year in finding a couple of good bowls of Texas Chile on a recent visit.

                                                    1. When my company cafeteria offered Cinci Chili as a choice, I had to try it, because it smelled sweet and spicy. At first I couldn't put my finger on what I was tasting, then finally "aha", that's Jerk seasoning in there. Well looking up on the net, what is different about Cinci Chili, the common ingredients were always Cinnamon, Allspice and Cayenne, which happen to be the main spices in Jerk seasoning.