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Feb 1, 2012 02:46 PM

Cincinnati chili has no kidney beans?

Cincinnati chili has no kidney beans?
Would that make it a pasta sauce with chili spices?

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  1. Texas chili, especially the competition stuff, does not have beans either. It may not even have tomatoes. And the beans, if served on the side, are pinto, not kidney.

    The Cincinnati version is something like a ground meat pasta sauce, with a Greek twist on chili spices. You can order it in several 'ways'
    - on spaghetti
    - with beans
    - with onions
    - with cheese
    I probably have the order in which these are added wrong.

    My impression is that the chili with kidney beans is a midwestern incarnation; quite distant from the original Texas 'bowl of red'. The use of 'chili spices' is pretty light. Most of the flavor (or lack thereof) comes from tomatoes and the beans.

    14 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      I was going to say this as well. I've not met a bowl of Cincinnati chili that I particularly liked (maybe I haven't tried enough), but good Texas chili is quite like a glorious beef stew flavored with a mixture of chilis. I defy my Texas-born parents by adding the tiniest bit of kidney beans, but they haven't disowned me yet.

      There certainly seem to be some regional differences in what counts as chili. The cafeteria where I work (in the midwest) serves up bowls of something they call vegetarian chili, which is actually just a bean soup with a bit of chili powder mixed in. Apparently, some people think of chili as mostly beans. A yankee friend of mine has absolutely no problem with this. I can't understand it one bit.

      1. re: caseyjo

        There are certainly regional differences: don't the definitions Texas-style and Cincinatti-style speak to that?

        1. re: mamachef

          yes, I always think of chili having beans, in my case I like kidney.
          Even the aisle of chili at the grocery store has beans in them thar canned goods

          1. re: sylvan

            Canned beans are a lot cheaper than canned meat. That's why canned chili is usually bean heavy.

            1. re: sylvan

              I use red beans, not kidney beans. Much softer skin, more tender bean.

          2. re: caseyjo

            Comparing thick, chunky chili to Cincinnati (Greek) chili makes no sense. They are not the same food. Cincinnati chili does not taste anything like thick, tomato-y chili. It has a completely different texture and viscosity, too. There is chili and there is Cincinnati chili. Two completely different things. It's like comparing new england clam chowder to gazpacho. I have never seen Cincinnati chili served in a bowl with crackers and nothing else. It is traditionally served on spaghetti with fine shredded cheddar, and usually onions and beans, or it is served on a small hot dog and bun, a "coney". Tobasco sauce is usually put on top. Oyster crackers are used, not saltines.

            1. re: southsam7

              "It's like comparing new england clam chowder to gazpacho."

              Or perhaps New England clam chowder to Manhattan? The latter, as I recall, is much too soupy and not rich enough to qualify as chowder but that's what it's called.

          3. re: paulj

            You order it thusly:

            3-way: Spaghetti topped with chili and shredded cheddar cheese.
            4-way: A 3-way with the addition of onions
            5-way: A 4-way with the addition of kidney beans.

            This is the order. If you want spaghetti, chili, beans, cheese you order a 5-way no bean. Cheese is always on top.

            You can also order it inverted, so that the cheese is the first thing on the plate, followed by beans, onions, chili, pasta.

            You can ALSO order it dry -- which means after assembly, the plate is tilted a bit against a special strainer that hugs the side of the plate, which allows excess liquid to run off. A former co-worker always ordered a large 5-way, inverted, dry.

            Dixie Chili, across the river in Kentucky, used to offer a 7-way: a 5-way with cut-up frankfurters and a fried egg atop the cheese.

            1. re: jmckee

              Really? This has me curious...

              I've only had Cincinnati chili at chain places (Skyline and Gold Star) but in both of those restaurants, a 4-way is either beans OR onions, not automatically onions. I have a Skyline down the street from me (Columbus, not Cincy.) If I walked in and ordered a 5-way, no onion (in order to get spaghetti, chili, bean, cheese) they would laugh at me, and say "you mean a 4-way bean?"

              The menus for the two spots have it listed this way:

              Are you saying that local places, as opposed to the chains, assume that a 4-way is always onion?

              1. re: Ditdah

                That has been the acceptable order since I was a young boy. It has been documented in the past by, among others, Jane and Michael Stern. The guideline has eroded in recent years, because of the sacreligious practice of ordering a four-way bean, instead of a five-way, no onion. (And yes, I'm poking fun at some of the "authenticity" posts on this site.)

                They wouldn't laugh at you. We're midwesterners; we're polite. But if you looked at your check you might see "five-way no onion" checked.

                1. re: jmckee

                  Actually, they didn't laugh, but they did seem very confused. I eat there a few times a month, and I asked when we were there Saturday. The server said she'd never heard it that way (5-way no onion) and went back to the kitchen to ask - they all said the same thing: to get it without onion, you order a "4-way Bean."

                  I'm sure it's because we're not local to Cincy, and it's probably just easier for corporations to standardize the "ways" to make it easier for outsiders to order. If you're not familiar with the proper ordering method, then increasing your number as you increase ingredients seems natural.

              2. re: jmckee

                Blue Ash Chili, with two locations (mason as well as the original) has a 6-way, with jalapeno bottle caps as the sixth way.

                1. re: jmckee

                  I am curious how the kidney beans that can be added are prepared. Are they cooked separately and added like a topping? And if so, are they just plain, cooked beans?

                  1. re: Justpaula

                    It is just plain beans perhaps out of a can or from dry, but nothing done to the beans except maybe salt but not at the time they are served. They are put on top like you would put sprinkles on ice cream (the cheese is always on the very top)

              3. Cincinnati Chili, as best I understand, is more style of serving the chili as opposed to the chili itself, although certain herbs and spices are a commonality amongst the sauces, in varying degrees. The Chili is served one of many ways, from one-to-five, and the beans are one of the layers. One-way is plain, two way spaghetti; three way over spaghetti w/ a layer of beans; four-way, with the above plus cheese, and five-way with the addition of a layer of chopped onions. It's not just chili-flavored pasta sauce, for sure: it's a reference to the whole method of serving.

                24 Replies
                  1. re: mamachef

                    No, the beans are the last option. Cincinnati chili is chili on spaghetti (two-way), or with added cheese (three-way) or cheese and onions (four-way). Five-way is with beans. Chili alone would be "plain." I take the order to be an indication that the beans would be an unusual option.

                    I am not from Cincinnati. My source is Calvin Trillin, in American Fried.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      good to know. thanks for clarifying.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        what if you want a five-way without the two-way, three-way?
                        just kidding

                        1. re: GH1618

                          GH1618, you've got first-rate information, even if second-hand. Cincinnati chili is a thick meat sauce (or a thin soup). The first way I ever had it was on spaghetti with a ridiculous mountain of cheese, diced onions, and a dollop of sour cream. I wouldn't have even known there was spaghetti under all those toppings, but to this day, that is still one of the most comforting meals I can imagine.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            Speaking as someone who grew up eating Cincinnati-style chili:

                            A two-way is chili and spaghetti. A three-way is chili and spaghetti with cheese. A four-way is a three-way plus either beans OR onions. A five-way is a three-way plus beans AND onions.

                            See, for example, the menu at Gold Star Chili, my preferred chili chain.

                            1. re: FoodPopulist

                              Just make sure not to ask for a three-way in other regions of the country--you might end up with something quite different!

                          2. re: mamachef

                            this is very true. however, there are a couple similarities between most of the more popular and iconic ones. mainly including: no beans, and the addition of plenty of warming spices (what i like to call "pie spices") such as cinnamon, cloves, and most of the time chocolate.

                            its kind of a mash up between a chili, a pasta sauce, a manwich, and a mole.

                            oh, and the best way to serve it is over a hot dog. preferably with far more yellow cheddar than you would ever think it actually needs.

                              1. re: mamachef

                                No, the chili is different too. It was started by Greek immigrants, and typically includes spices like cinnamon, cloves,allspice,etc. In truth it is somewhere in between chili and the meat component
                                of pastitsio

                                  1. re: malabargold

                                    Yes and that different spicing makes all the difference. Luckily, I travel to Ohio on business fairly often and I always plan on one sidetrip to Skyline.

                                    1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                      BTW there are in fact three Skyline Chili outlets here in Indy if you swing by here again... (I've eaten at one of them)

                                      BTW2 I've made "meat sauce" for pasta with stick cinnamon and cloves and soy sauce in it for years and years, when I am in the mood, and always thought of it as with "Chinese"/SE Asian - influences, not as "Greek"-influenced or even "Sicilian"-influenced. :-) I found out only in recent years that other folks made it in a similar way too...

                                      1. re: huiray

                                        Is this what one finds in bottles at the Chinese grocery labelled "Chinese spaghetti sauce" in English? When I read the Chinese, I don't see the words "Chinese" or meat anywhere in there so I've been hesitant to buy it.

                                        1. re: JungMann

                                          No idea, sorry! I've never consciously noted such bottles at my Chinese groceries - I should look out for them next time.

                                          1. re: JungMann


                                            I did indeed find bottles of stuff at my Chinese grocery today labeled "Chinese Spaghetti Sauce". Were these the ones you saw with the Chinese given as 拌麵拌飯醬 ? If so, indeed it would not say "Chinese" or "Meat" within that phrase! ("Noodles and Rice Sauce" would be an approximation)

                                            I copied down the list of ingredients: Soybean oil, fried wheat gluten, soy sauce mash, soybean curd, green beans, sugar, chili, mushrooms, spices, seasoning agents. Nope, no meat.

                                            It looks like simply a soybean-based sauce with some ??Western?? ingredients ("mushrooms" - didn't look like shiitakes, looked like button-type, so far as I could make out in that thick dark brown lumpy mush through the glass; while "green beans" could mean...who knows. Probably concocted as a "sauce" usable for either "noodles" a.k.a. spaghetti :-) or on rice. Could well be tasty, but I declined to buy a jar.

                                          2. re: huiray

                                            Ray, say it's not so! Where are the Indy Skylines? I was there and I missed it! (at least I had some in Cleveland before arriving in Indy). I see you have a new QB. Good Luck!

                                            1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                              Well, Luck is his name. :-)

                                              The Indy Skylines? They're all well outside of downtown - so no, you didn't "miss" them; you would have had to go some distance to get to them - specifically, there're two on 86th/82nd Street, one each in the NE and NW quadrants close by the 465 ring road. The other is in the southern regions. But by all means we could take a drive to one of them when you are next in town. :-)

                                              1. re: huiray

                                                Anyway Skyline is probably not the best thing to eat when you are getting sick. Going to Shapiro's to eat was kind of like going home.

                                      2. re: mamachef

                                        No, the spices are very important. and different. It is the combination of "American" flavors and Eastern European flavors. It's the addition of allspice and cinnamon, with a bit of cocoa powder that makes it different. Not just the styles of ordering/serving it.

                                        1. re: wyogal

                                          To be precise, it's a combination of American and Greek flavors, not Eastern European. Eastern European would be adding things like paprika and caraway, not allspice and cinnamon.

                                        2. re: mamachef

                                          No sir. Cincinnati chili is not like regular chili at all (flavor, texture etc.). But yes it is served very differently than regular chili as well. Perhaps they shouldn't have called it chili because that word seems to cause the most confusion.

                                        3. Yes, the beans are an add-on, as paulj & mama chef point out. Cincinnati chili is not always served with spaghetti (although many of us natives will eat it no other way!).
                                          I have come to believe that "chili" is a broad term that can be applied to a wide variety of stew-like dishes, and that only absolutely necessary component is the source of its name- HOT CHILIES!

                                          1. im surprised, i think most of the responses in this thread are definitely from non-cincinnatians. because by far the way that cincy chili is eaten most often by people in cincy is in the form of the cheese coney a la Skyline and Gold Star chili.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: mattstolz

                                              Do you mean just a chili dog? :) How does it differ from the Detroit Coney?

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                <How does it differ from the Detroit Coney?>

                                                because its CINCINNATI chili ;)

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  JUST a chili dog?!? oh boy, here we go....

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    I've never had a detroit coney, so I can't explain the difference, other than if the chili/coney sauce has a different flavor. What are the standard toppings?

                                                    The standard Skyline Coney has hot dog, yellow mustard, chopped white onion, Skyline Cincy chili, and MOUNDS of cheese.

                                                    1. re: Ditdah

                                                      Well, and plus all of those ingredients are specialized to Cinncinnati: buns are steamed and soft, the hot dog is slightly smaller than usual, and the cheese is very finely shredded and is exceptionally mild (it tastes kind of like cheddar cheese "food," rather than cheddar.) All of these things add up to something unique.

                                                      I never understood the obsession with the spaghetti, as the noodles sit in a steam table in water for most of the day and are the most incredible unappetizing mush by the time you get them. However, I didn't drink much when I lived in Cincy - so perhaps the level of inebriation required to appreciate a five-way was something I never reached.

                                                  2. re: mattstolz

                                                    I'm not from Cincy, but spent a far amount of time there (I'm from Columbus, and one of my best friends lives in CIncy.) I actually prefer it with the spaghetti, not the coney. I always get the 5-way, he and his wife prefer the 4-way onion.

                                                    For those not from the area, both Gold Star and Skyline serve both coneys and the "#-way" types, along with other things. Skyline has some awesome burritos made with their chili, as well as black beans and rice (not amazing, but tasty, and a nice vegetarian option) and salads/wraps (having nothing to do with chili of any sort) as well. Gold star has "Tex Mex" chili as well, served by the bowl, but I sometimes get a 4-way onion made with it when I don't feel up for the CIncinnati-style seasonings.

                                                  3. I've always wondered why Cincinnati Chili is called "Chili" at all. I've enjoyed it, and don't mean this as a slur against it, but seriously think the name "Chili" is just not appropriate. It's really more a meat sauce on spaghetti, served with condiments usually served with Chili. A unique dish in it's own right.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: Midlife

                                                      yes, Midlife, that's what I was asking when I started this thread...I just wanted to clarify that the recipe didn't need kidney beans> I guess it doesn't unless I want beans in it.

                                                      1. re: sylvan

                                                        Beans are an addition to chili. One never needs to have beans in chili for it to be "chili."

                                                        1. re: wyogal

                                                          When my dad first came to visit us in Nm, I took him to my favorite New Mexican restaruant. He ordered a bowl of chile. At first taste, it was so firery that he asked me if I was trying to kill my poor father. His second question was where are the beans? I told him he ordered a bowl of chile (very common here), but didn't ask for frijoles, or beans. I wish they'd call eastern chilli, kidney bean stew, 'cause is sure ain't chile to me.

                                                      2. re: Midlife

                                                        It is indeed chili. Look at any collection of chili recipes from around the country; there is NO ONE WAY TO MAKE CHILI.

                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                          It is definitely a food in its own category. But please don't call it pasta sauce. It is thin, homogenized brown with nothing visible in it. Even the ground beef is sort of pulverized. It is almost a broth. It is not Italian. It has a very distinctive unique flavor not like spaghetti sauce and not very much like traditional chili. I encourage you to go to Cincinnati or northern Kentucky or east Indiana and go to Gold Star or Skyline or Camp Washington chili and sit down and experience it for yourself. That is the only way you will understand that it is not like chili or spaghetti.