This Cincinnati chili recipe is an easy midwestern classic made popular by Skyline Chili chain of restaurants. The chili includes a unique blend of spices, is slow-simmered for hours, and served over spaghetti with a variety of topping options (if you choose them all, then it’s known as “5-way”). Perfect for chilly days and the ultimate in comfort food, serve the chili alongside a simple salad or cornbread for a hearty meal.
Years ago, when I shared my favorite classic chili recipe, it spawned a discussion about Cincinnati chili, which I had never eaten before. I was flooded with tons of recipes from readers and couldn’t wait to fire up a pot.
Of all the recipes I received, I was most drawn to this one sent to me by Mary; she said she began eating Cincinnati chili as a kid when she would eat dinner at a friend’s house before swim lessons. She said that she’s made tons of different recipes for Cincinnati chili over the years but the one she sent me, which hails from a church cookbook, is her absolute favorite.
What is Cincinnati chili?
Cincinnati chili is a Mediterranean-spiced beef dish (some call it chili, some call it a sauce) that is served atop spaghetti or hot dogs.
It was created by Macedonian immigrants that settled in the Cincinnati area in the 1920s. They served the “Mediterranean beef stew” as a hot dog topping and, later, began to include spaghetti, calling it “chili spaghetti” (it is believed that this was a spin on traditional Greek dishes like moussaka and pastitsio). Customers began requesting additional toppings, and the owners developed the “way” system of ordering to make it easy.
How is it different and how is it made?
I’ll be completely honest – when I made this chili initially, it totally took me out of my chili comfort zone. While it was cooking, the smell reminded me of moussaka, which is a Greek dish that has a meat layer consisting of ground beef or lamb cooked in a mixture that also includes cinnamon and/or allspice (which makes sense once I found out that Cincinnati has its roots in the Mediterranean!).
These are the things that set Cincinnati chili apart from the chili that most of us grew up eating:
- Unique Seasonings: Cincinnati chili has the requisite chili powder and cumin that provides that characteristic chili flavor, but it also includes cinnamon, allspice, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and cocoa powder.
- All ingredients added at once: There is no browning or sauteing the meat or onions in Cincinnati chili; everything is added to the pot before you put it on the stove, stirred together, and then cooked.
- The Toppings: Traditional chili toppings usually include things like shredded cheese, sour cream, tortilla or corn chips, etc. But this is no ordinary chili! Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti noodles and topping options include shredded cheese, chopped onion, and chili beans.
I totally went into it with a strong side-eye, but I didn’t alter the recipe at all and forged ahead, cooking and serving it as directed. And you know what? We loved the heck out of this meal!
It cooks up super thick and flavorful, and that spaghetti I was skeptical about? It’s crazy, but it just totally WORKS.
How to serve the chili
You may have heard the phrase “Cincinnati chili 5-way” and it refers to the topping options on the chili. Aside from the chili itself, these are the serving options and their terms:
- Served over spaghetti (2-way)
- Served over spaghetti with shredded cheese (3-way)
- Served over spaghetti with shredded cheese and chopped onion (4-way)
- Served over spaghetti with shredded cheese, chopped onion, and chili beans (5-way)
I went all the way and served it up 5-way and absolutely, positively devoured it.
Many people also serve it with oyster crackers on top, which we love, as well.
You can also serve the chili over a hot dog to make a Coney dog; add the diced onion and shredded cheese, too!
Slow cooker and Instant Pot adaptations
If you want to use your slow cooker or Instant Pot to cook this chili, you absolutely can! See directions below:
- Slow Cooker: To make this in a slow cooker, combine all of the ingredients as instructed in the recipe, then cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. I recommend removing the lid halfway through cooking so that the excess liquid evaporates, or it will be a soupier consistency than making it on the stovetop.
- Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker: To make this in a pressure cooker, add all of the ingredients and stir together, as directed in the recipe. Lock on the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 30 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally, then unlock the lid.
Storage and freezing instructions
- Storing Leftovers: Leftovers should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in a microwave or on the stovetop.
- Freezing Instructions: This chili freezes exceptionally well! Once completely cool, place in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight then reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
More fantastic chili recipes for you to try:
If you’ve never had Cincinnati chili before, I highly encourage you to give it a try! It’s easy to make, a crowd favorite, and don’t forget to pile on those toppings! Include a bag of oyster crackers on your grocery list, too :)
If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️
For the Chili
- 2 pounds (907.18 g) ground beef
- 3 cups (750 ml) water
- 15 ounce (425.24 ml) can tomato sauce
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1½ teaspoon (1.5 teaspoon) salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoon (1.5 teaspoon) ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) crushed red pepper
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon (0.25 teaspoon) garlic powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
For the Toppings
- Cooked spaghetti
- Shredded cheddar cheese
- White onion, diced
- Chili beans
- In a large Dutch oven or heavy stockpot, stir together the ground beef and water until soupy.
- Stir in all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a rapid simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 3 hours.
- Serve over cooked spaghetti noodles (2-way), top with shredded cheddar cheese (3-way), chopped white onions (4-way), and/or canned, drained chili beans (5-way). Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- I used 85% ground beef and there was just a bit of grease when I stirred it at the end. I tend to like 85% for things like chili and meat sauce since it adds more flavor, but if you want to eliminate any grease, you may want to go with 90% lean.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
Photography by Lauren Grant.
I had heard of Cincinnati chili but never tried it. Made this recipe tonight and oh my goodness, it is so good. Such a different flavor profile from anything else. I skipped the crushed red pepper because I don’t like spicy stuff but even without it, there is still a little heat from the cumin and chili powder (not spicy just tasty). I had seen other recipes that include clove and since I had it and love it, I added a 1/4 teaspoon to it as well. Definitely recommend this one!!
Chili came out really good and tasty, my Husband and I liked it a lot. I did use 90% lean Hamburger. we ate it already so no pictures
This looks great! You mentioned that the chili freezes well; do you mean you could freeze it with the spaghetti? Thanks.
Hi Cathy, I would not freeze with the spaghetti; I would freeze the chili separately and then make the spaghetti fresh when you serve it. Enjoy!
I have made this before, not exact recipe. It is great , thank you.
Hi, I just had a question about the recipe. When you mix the ground beef and water in the Dutch oven, is the heat on or not? Thank you.
Hi Valerie, It is not. Enjoy!
Growing up as part of a German family in Cincinnati, this was the only spaghetti I knew. And cutting each bite was the normal. Of course our crème soda was red too! I have always made my Cincinnati Chili by adding the raw beef to boiling water (just briefly) and then draining it and mixing all of the ingredients together with fresh water. Your way would definitely be easier and I look forward to trying this recipe!
CINCINNATI CHILI .. this looks interesting.
A couple of question … does it matter what type of chili beans are used for the topping, in the picture, they seem to look more like Baked Beans (ie no meat) .. just wondering, since the Cincinnati-Chili uses Hamburger?
thanks in advance .. looks yummy.
Helpful hit to all, using the small pasta bags in the Hispanic isle at grocery store, taste the same, but i big saving $$$.
I love Cincinnati chili. Originally I cobbled together a recipe using Jeff Smith’s (The Frugal Gourmet), Jane and Michael Stern’s and one fro Beverly Nye, a cookbook author from Cincinnati. There was a long list of spices. Then I found a recipe from Cook’s Country, which keeps the best of all of those and eliminated the rest.
I made this today. I always like your recipes, but this one is especially good. It’s an easy one too. Thank you for posting another keeper.
I haven’t made it, but I can tell that this is classic Cincinnati chili. I want to teach you a little about serving and eating it, though. No matter which “way” you are having (and chili spaghetti is called chili spaghetti, not a 2-way), the cheese always goes on top. So a 5-way is spaghetti, then chili, then onions, then beans, then cheese (finely shredded, so it melts evenly).
Now for eating it. Although you are Italian, you have to force yourself not to twirl it on your fork. What you do is use the fork to slice across it, parallel to the edge of the table, then cut across that slice to have a “piece” you can pick up on your fork. You pick up this piece and bring it to your mouth. That way, all the layers are intact.
I forgot to explain that this was developed by Greek immigrants in Cincinnati, which explains the choice of spices.
I was glad to see this recipe make your “Top 20” for 2017. Born and raised on Cincinnati chili. Always a 5-way & Cheese Coneys (i.e., hotdog bun, yellow mustard, hotdog, chili, onions, cheese — in that order) too!
Foreigners are always apprehensive — most enjoy (love); some never do.
Warsaw Skyline is my bro-n-law’s first stop when he arrives in town from Florida.
If you use an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot for me), how long would you cook it? I used to eat it all the time, at a little mom and pop shop, but they went out of business; I’ve missed the heck out of it, but I didn’t even know what it was called until I read your post!! Their menu called it “chili Spaghetti”, and I just figured it was their spin on it, for originality! LOL. Can’t wait to have some!!
Hi MarySue, Unfortunately I’m not sure… I JUST got an Instant Pot and I haven’t started experimenting with it yet. If you’ve used it for chili before, I would base it off of that!
Oh.my.WORD! I made this on impulse last evening for dinner. I have to confess that the smell of cinnamon and allspice wafting through the house was both enticing and unnerving, since I love warm spices but my family seems to have issues with mixing sweet and savory. I also remembered about an hour and a half into simmering that my youngest son has never been particularly fond of meat sauce on pasta, and tends to leave the meat on his plate and scrape it into the trash, which I find infuriating! Needless to say I was a bit apprehensive as I served this to my husband, son, and son’s girlfriend, who is always polite (I think I saw her eyeing her plate suspiciously when I wasn’t looking, though)…but…
We LOVED it! They all loved it! Anti-meat sauce son and his sweet girlfriend went back for seconds and my husband was raving about how good it was! The plates looked appetizing with all the toppings, and my own 5-way was just delicious. Since I thought ahead for once, I used an extra pound of meat, upped all the other ingredients and now we have leftovers for Coneys at our annual “Day After Thanskgiving” party on Friday- IF I can manage to find a spot in the fridge to hide it until then. Thanks for a wonderful recipe!
Hi Lisa, That is so awesome, I’m so thrilled that everyone in your family enjoyed this! Thanks so much for sharing :)
Making for the 2nd time tonight, can’t wait to eat – football and 5-way chili is our new favorite way to spend Sunday evening – thanks again!
I know nothing about Cincinnati chili, but wanted to change up my chili game. This is awesome! So easy. After the first hour of cooking, I wasn’t sure that it was going to come together. After three hours, it was thick and a perfect consistency. Great flavor profile and I agree that it smelled like Greek food while it was cooking which was a little disconcerting. First bit, there was no doubt – this was chili! . I served with spaghetti. Yes, we twirled – next time we might cut but I do have that Italian thing going on. Thanks for another keeper!
Hi Michelle. First, Congratulations on your newest addition, best wishes for your family! I am so happy that you posted this recipe – thank you! I have tried other recipes for copycat Cincinnati Chili and have not been able to get close enough, so I sometimes buy canned or frozen Skyline Chili from the grocery store. I am excited to try out your version. If you have not already tried it, give the authentic Skyline coney a try too – a hotdog on a bun topped with a thin line of yellow mustard, a layer of chili, a sprinkling of diced white onion, then piled high with shredded mild cheddar cheese.. also served with oyster crackers! :)
Delicious! It’s like Five Star but so much better. I hurt myself eating this.😝
I’d never heard of this in my life, but it sounded so good and interesting that I made it right away last night! we were not disappointed…. it was very good, and very interesting! thanks for the recipe!
You’re welcome, Ellen! So glad you enjoyed it!
This is definitely an unusual kind of chili! To me, it’s not chili without kidney beans. I know some people use a cut of beef other than ground. The addition of the spices sound delicious since I love moussaka (well, most things Greek really). I might be tempted to give this a go.
I was planning on chili tonight, then when I saw this I decided to give it a try. We’ve had a version of Cincinnati chili before where you brown the ground beef first, but like you, I was hesitant with this traditional Cincinnatian way of doing it, mixing raw meat with water and all. But……it was so easy and all the different ingredients came together beautifully! The house smelled wonderful while it was cooking, and it was
delicious! The onion-hater in the family had his four way, but the rest of us like it with all five layers. So glad you shared this ! (By the way, congrats on the new little one on the way! I just love seeing pictures of your boys and reading about their progress. That little Dominic has a smile that makes a bright spot in my day, and his big brother is a real sweetheart as well!)
Hi Vicki, So great to hear you and your family enjoyed this chili! And thank you for the sweet words :)
I love regular chili, and often mix it with elbow macaroni, and melt some cheese on the to. Chopped onions and sour cream are optional! I was always curious about Cincinnati chili, but never saw it in Upstate New York. Now I live in Florida, and finally got a chance to sample it at a festival. I was a bit surprised to find that I didn’t care for it on spaghetti, because I am a huge pasta 🍝 fan. Maybe it wasn’t tomato-ey enough for me. But then I tried it on a hot dog 🌭, and I liked it that way!
I’ve had chili from Skyline Chili in Ohio. If you ever get the opportunity to eat there do it. The chili is amazing to use as a dip on top of cream cheese and warmed in the oven too.
Love the idea of using it as a dip with cream cheese!!
Hi! So this is very similar to the Cincinnati chili I make. I just add a few more cups of water and then after cooking about 30 minutes, pulse through a food processor or blender so it’s a bit more soupy-ish but still sort of solid. Then I let it simmer another 45 minutes or however long I need it to be. Sometimes I throw it in a slow cooker for the second simmer to clear the stove or if I need to head out for a little while. I’m glad you made it; I had a feeling you would love it especially with the mounds of cheese piled on top lol
Yum yum! It’s *Finally* cooling down in Central PA also! I’ve loved the mornings this week- so crisp, cool and sunny! My question is: How much spaghetti can you make? Your recipe says “Cooked spaghetti” but I am not sure how much chili this yields versus how much spaghetti I should cook. I’d be feeding a family so if I made a whole box of spaghetti, is that good or too much?
Hi Angela, I made a pound of spaghetti and it was the perfect amount – it lasted us through all of the chili leftovers!
I also grew up eating Cincinnati style chili but have yet to make it myself, always going for the more “traditional” versions. Can this recipe be adapted for the slow cooker?
Hi Juli, Yes, I don’t see why not!
You’re missing oyster crackers! Here in Cincinnati, you get oyster crackers as soon as the server comes to the table. Two of the Cincinnati chili companies were founded by Greek immigrants (Nicholas Lambrinides and Nicholas Sarakatsannis) so you were spot on with your assessment. Skyline Chili is my personal favorite but I’m a 3-way lover – chili, spaghetti, cheese (Wisconsin cheese I think). If you want to taste REAL Cincinnati chili, let me know through my email and I’ll send you some Skyline to try.
You are correct with the flavor profile. Check this out.
History: Macedonian immigrant Tom Kiradjieff created Cincinnati chili in 1922. With his brother, John, Kiradjieff opened a small Greek restaurant called the Empress. The restaurant did poorly however, until Kiradjieff started offering a chili made with Middle Eastern spices, which could be served in a variety of ways. He called it his “spaghetti chili.” Kiradjieff’s “five way” was a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with chili, chopped onion, kidney beans, and shredded yellow cheese, served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with more shredded cheese.
So interesting, thank you Penny!
I totally agree about the weather here in Western PA! Looks like it will cool down next week so it will be a great time to try this recipe. I am not a fan of usual chili since I usually don’t care for the type of beans in most chili recipes. So I will try this 4-way!
Thanks for the recipe Mary and Michelle!
Hi Deb! I’m so excited to try this recipe. We LOVE Cincinnati Chili (Skyline Chili). I noticed in your picture you had your spaghetti twirled on your fork…no no no…make sure when you eat Cincinnati chili, you cut it. I use my fork, but I suppose you can use a knife. Also, gobs of finely shredded sharp cheddar. And lastly, but most definitely…always serve with oyster crackers. Here is a link I found that gives you all the tips about eating authentic Cincinnati chili. http://cincinnatiusa.com/article/ode-cincinnati-style-chili
Now, I’m off to the kitchen to try this delicious recipe! Thanks Deb!!!
I’m pretty sure my Italian grandparents would roll over in their graves if they ever saw me cutting spaghetti, lol! Twirling all the way, no matter what I’m eating!
For the longest time I had no idea that spaghetti in chili was a regional thing. I just thought that’s what chili was! Now it’s always funny to me when people discover spaghetti in chili and find it strange. Glad you enjoyed it!