Classic Cincinnati Chili

The mystique surrounding Cincinnati chili is real. Does it really have cinnamon and chocolate? Is it sweet? Is it spicy? Does Cincinnati chili have beans? How many ways are there to eat Cincinnati chili? I’ll answer those questions and show you how to make your own Classic Cincinnati chili in an Instant Pot (slow cooker or Dutch oven).

Why I made this chili recipe -- because we celebrate Super Bowl Sunday by making regional foods from the areas of the country where the two competing teams are from.

What is Cincinnati Chili?

This regional Ohio favorite, is a savory, spiced meat sauce that’s usually served over spaghetti or Coney hot dogs. The sauce is thinner than most traditional chili recipes and seasoned with cinnamon, allspice, cloves and oftentimes chocolate along with chili powder, cumin and cider vinegar.

Wondering how that combo might taste? Well, let’s dispel some myths. Though Cincinnati chili does have some unusual ingredients you’d normally associate with sweet foods, this meaty blend isn’t sweet and it isn’t overly spicy.

And you won’t find that same smoky quality normally associated with chili in this recipe. This one is truly unique.

Newsletter Signup
Join our community of food lovers!

Get my latest recipes, helpful kitchen tips and more good things each week in your inbox.

How did it originate?

Like so many of the best foods in this melting pot of a nation, this renowned recipe originated with immigrants Tom Kiradjieff and John Kiradjieff, two American restaurateurs who emigrated from Greece.

They’re credited for developing this beefy stew seasoned with Mediterranean spices. It was initially meant to be a topping for Coney-style hot dogs, but customers also liked it as a topping over spaghetti.

The brothers offered other toppings like cheese and onions as well. They were so popular, they instituted the “Ways” method of ordering, to keep it simple and efficient. Trust me, 5 way chili is a thing!

Skyline Chili

Skyline chili is one of the most well known chili bar chains serving Cincinnati chili with locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Florida.

If you don’t happen to live near a Skyline chili locale and can’t make it to Ohio to sample the real deal at one of the hundreds of chili bars across the state, then start with this classic Cincinnati chili recipe.

an overhead shot of all of the ingredients for this recipe.

Though this might look like an imposing list of ingredients, you probably have most of them in your pantry already. I recommend making the chili one day before serving, so the flavors have a chance to meld.


  • Olive Oil – No need to use a fancy Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Yellow Onion – you can also use white onion or red onion.
  • Tomato Paste – to give the sauce deeper umami flavor.
  • Tomato Sauce – use your favorite canned sauce.
  • Chili Powder – you can use your favorite chili powder blend.
  • Cumin – this is the ingredient that gives chili it’s signature flavor (ground beef tacos too).
  • Cinnamon – it’s unusual, but customary in this classic Cincinnati Chili recipe.
  • Garlic Powder – adds a more concentrated form of garlic flavor.
  • Allspice – tastes like a combination of baking spices, consequently why it’s known as Allspice.
  • Ground Cloves – the flavor is very intense, so you don’t need a lot.
  • Cayenne Pepper – to add heat to the chili recipe.
  • Sugar (can use white or brown)
  • Kosher Salt – we like Diamond Crystal kosher salt. If you use Morton’s you may need to use a pinch less, because it’s saltier by volume.
  • Black Pepper – freshly ground is best.
  • Beef Consommé or Stock – Campbell’s sells beef consommé in it’s traditional white and red can.
  • Water – to thin the Cincinnati chili and make it saucy.
  • 80/20 Ground Beef – it’s important not to use lean beef in this chili recipe for flavor and to prevent clumping.
  • Worcestershire Sauce – a fermented sauce that adds an umami quality to this and many recipes.
  • Bay Leaf – You can use dried bay leaf or fresh.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – adds a bit of acid to balance the flavors.
  • Unsweetened Chocolate – you heard right! This is a secret ingredient to making a proper Cincinnati chili recipe.
sautéing the onions and cooking with tomato paste.

It’s easy to make Cincinnati chili in the Instant Pot, Slow Cooker or Dutch oven, though the process is slightly different for each. For this batch I used the Instant pot, but I’ve given directions for the other methods below.

One note about using the Instant Pot is that the chili doesn’t thicken to a saucy consistency, but I’ve got a work-around for you.

How to make Cincinnati chili in the Instant Pot

  1. Set the Instant Pot to the sauté function and add the olive oil to heat. Stir in the onions and cook until softened.
  2. Add the tomato paste and stir, cooking for about 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and stir well to combine.
  3. Stir in the spices, sugar and salt and cook for 1-2 minutes until very fragrant.
  4. Add the liquids (consommé or stock) and water and stir well to combine.
  5. Add the raw ground beef and break apart with the back of a wooden spoon.
  6. Stir in the worcestershire sauce and add the bay leaf. Seal the Instant Pot and cook at high pressure for 30 minutes.
  7. Let the pressure reduce naturally.
  8. Cool the Cincinnati chili to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight).
  9. If there’s a lot of fat congealed on top, remove it with a spoon, then simmer the chili for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chili thickens to a saucy consistency.
  10. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and chocolate. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
adding the spices and tomato sauce.

Other ways to make this famous chili

It’s easy to make this chili in a slow cooker or dutch oven but there are a few differences in the methods compared to the Instant Pot. Here are the basics…

Note: you’ll need an extra cup of water for both of these methods as they have a longer cooking time and steam will evaporate over the course of the simmer.

Stovetop/Dutch Oven

Follow the same method as the Instant Pot, but add an additional cup of water to the pot.

Instead of pressure cooking, simmer the Cincinnati chili in a Dutch oven or heavy stock pot for 2-3 hours over medium to medium low heat with the lid slightly askew, so the steam can escape. Stir occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Slow Cooker

Since slow cookers don’t have a sauté function, you’ll need to sauté the onions over medium high heat in a separate skillet on the stovetop. Once the onions have sautéed, add the tomato paste, followed by the spices, sugar and salt and cook for 1-2 minutes until very fragrant.

Add an additional cup of water to the slow cooker.

Transfer the onion mixture to the slow cooker and cook on low for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Adding raw ground beef to the chili and cooking in the Instant Pot.


80/20 beef will give this Cincinnati-style chili recipe the best consistency, however, it also generates a lot of fat.

You can use a spoon to skim the fat off of the top of the chili while it’s still warm, but an easier method is to refrigerate the chili until the fat solidifies. Then use a spoon to scoop off the congealed orange layer, which naturally rises to the top.

I removed about 1/2 cup of fat from this pot. I recommend you do the same… Plus, the Cincinnati chili just tastes better without it. Check out the video to see how it’s done.

removing congealed fat from the Cincinnati chili after chilling.


Can I freeze the chili?

Yes! Portion the chili into plastic storage containers and freeze for up to 2-3 months.

How do I thicken Cincinnati chili?

First, Cincinnati chili is meant to be thinner than traditional chilis. I’ve heard it referred to as soupy. It shouldn’t be too liquidy, but should be saucy. The best way I’ve found to thicken the chili without adding thickeners, is simply to simmer and let the chili reduce down through evaporation. If you’re making this in the Instant Pot, you’ll definitely want to let it reduce. Slow cooker and Dutch oven methods, won’t need as much.

Is Cincinnati chili gluten free?

It is until you put it over spaghetti or top your hot dog on a bun (unless those are gluten-free too).

Is this chili recipe keto?

If you skip the sugar, it would be a keto recipe.

How is Cincinnati chili different from other chili recipes?

It’s different in EVERY WAY. From the method of cooking to the unusual spices and other ingredients. Think of Cincinnati chili as more of a meat sauce and topping for other things and less as a traditional chili recipe.

Reduced Cincinnati chili is saucy but not thick.

Ways to eat Cincinnati Chili

Traditional ways of enjoying this chili almost NEVER include eating it by the bowl. It’s meant to be a meaty topping for other things… Namely Coney-style hot dogs or spaghetti.

The other thing to note is… this isn’t pretty food. It’s not highfalutin’ or styled to look like typical food-porn. It’s loaded and over the top. The thing you crave at two o’clock in the morning after a night of too much drink and/or dancing.

Cincinnati chili isn’t healthy — and it isn’t meant to be. Usually buried under an avalanche of bright neon cheese, this chili doesn’t try to be anything other than an indulgence to satisfy the most basic lizard part of your brain.

The best cheese to top Cincinnati chili

It has to be cheddar. It has to be finely grated. Packaged pre-grated cheese won’t have the same melt-effect. Grate your own. There should be enough cheese that you can barely tell what’s underneath it. Those are the rules. I didn’t make them up.

Cincinnati Coney -  with chili, cheese, onions and mustard.

Cincinnati Coneys

Coneys refer to hot dogs in a steamed bun. I recommend using a good hot dog with a snappy natural casing, but it’s up to you.

Ways to make a Cincinnati Coney dog

Hot Dog on a Steamed Bun + Chili – plain and simple, you can eat this with your hands.

A Hot Dog on a Steamed Bun + Cincinnati Chili + Cheese – an unholy amount of cheese. Try to eat it with your hands, but you’ll want to hunch over a plate to catch anything that falls out.

Hot Dog on a Steamed Bun + Chili + Mustard + Cheese (for that extra bit of tang).

Hot Dog on a Steamed Bun + Chili + Mustard + Cheese + Onion (my fave).

Some people will add a little hot sauce to kick it up, but the key is to load up the hot dog to the point where you’re reasonably sure it will fall apart by the second or third trip to your mouth, at which point you have to reach for a fork.

It’s ok. You should expect and embrace the mess.

Serve the Cincinnati Chili Dog on an oval plate to catch all the excess.

As a kid, my Mom would make her specialty chili and serve it over spaghetti. We called it chili-mac but her rendition was NOTHING LIKE THIS.

Ways to eat Cincinnati chili on spaghetti

Two Way ChiliChili on top of spaghetti (this is as close as gets to my Mom’s chili mac, but the two chilis are so different, it’s almost not worth the comparison.

Three Way Chili Spaghetti + Chili + Cheese – Not a sprinkle of cheese… Giant Handfuls. Enough to spill off the plate. The finely grated shreds will melt readily on a steaming heap of hot chili and spaghetti, giving it that oozy, melty almost plasticized, varnish. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.

Four Way Chili Spaghetti + Cincinnati Chili + Cheese + Chopped Onions OR Red Kidney Beans (but don’t go overboard, it’s more of a garnish.

Five Way Chili Spaghetti + Chili + Cheese + Onions + Kidney Beans — and really, if you’ve come this far — why not go all the way?

a serving of chili spaghetti with cheese, beans and onions.

Giant Mea Culpa – Cincinnati Chili is ALWAYS served with oyster crackers. I bought them, I reminded myself to use them and yet — they remained in my pantry during the entire shoot. Don’t make the same mistake I did!

Do you mix the spaghetti with the chili?

No. Though the sauce was first meant to be mixed with the spaghetti, customers preferred it as a topping, so that’s the way they do it.

Do you twirl spaghetti chili with a fork?

No. Only folks “not from around here” twirl their Cincinnati chili spaghetti with a fork.

Count me in that group, because I twirled… Oh, the shame.

Real Cincinnatians cut the massive pile of pasta, chili and beans with a knife and fork.

a plate of half devoured Cincinnati chili spaghetti.

Tried this recipe? Leave a rating and review.

Your comments and shares are invaluable to me and the thousands of readers who use this site daily. If you've made the recipe, leave a star rating and review. We want to hear how you liked it.

We'd love it if you shared the recipe with your friends on social media!

5 way chili and spaghetti piled on a plate
Print Pin
4 from 4 votes

Cincinnati Chili

Unlike any other chili you’ve had, this classic Cincinnati chili recipe is thinner than traditional chilis with a deliciously unexpected spice blend that includes cinnamon, allspice and even chocolate! Use it to make Coneys or served over spaghetti with onions, cheddar cheese and kidney beans for a customary 5-Way chili.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword chili, game day, ground beef
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Egg Free, Gluten-Free
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 12


  • 1 Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot or
  • Dutch Oven or
  • Slow Cooker or Crock Pot


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cumin
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on how hot you like it.
  • pinch ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 ½ ounces beef consommé or beef stock (about 1 1/4 cups) (I used a can of Campbell’s beef consommé because it’s richer and more concentrated than plain broth or stock).
  • 2-3 cups water (depending on the method of cooking)
  • 2 ½ pounds ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate chopped


  • hot dogs cooked
  • hot dog buns steamed
  • Cincinnati chili
  • fresh grated cheddar cheese
  • mustard yellow not brown or dijon.
  • diced onions I used white onion for sharper taste.


  • cooked spaghetti
  • Cincinnati chili
  • fresh grated cheddar cheese
  • diced onions I used white onion
  • canned kidney beans rinsed and drained



  • Set the instant pot to sauté function and add the olive oil. Stir in the chopped onions and cook, stirring for 4-5 minutes until the onions are softened and slightly translucent.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir well to combine. Cook the tomato paste for 1-2 minutes until very fragrant, then add the tomato sauce.
  • Add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper, cloves, sugar and salt cook and stir one to two minutes until very fragrant.
  • Add the consumé or stock and water and mix well to combine.
  • Add the ground beef and break apart with the back of a wooden spoon. When the beef is evenly combined, stir in the worcestershire sauce and add the bay leaf.
  • Seal the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook for 30 minutes on high pressure, then let the pressure reduce naturally. Let the chili cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight so that the fat layer on top solidifies.
  • Once the fat has hardened, remove it with a fork or spoon and discard. Transfer the chili to a large pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes with the lid askew to thicken the sauce.
  • Stir in the apple cider vinegar and chocolate. Check for seasonings and adjust to taste.


  • In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium to medium high heat and stir in the chopped onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes until they’re softened and translucent. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1-2 more minutes until well combined.
  • Add the tomato sauce to the mix along with the spices and simmer for a few minutes until fragrant.
  • Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker and add the consommé or stock, 3 cups of water, ground beef, worcestershire sauce and bay leaf. Break up the beef with the back of a spoon so it’s evenly combined with the liquids.
  • Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 4-6 hours until saucy and fragrant. If it needs to thicken, place the lid slightly askew on the top so allow steam to escape and sauce to reduce.
  • Stir in the apple cider vinegar and chocolate. Check for seasonings and adjust to taste.


  • In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium to medium high heat and stir in the chopped onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes until they’re softened and translucent. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1-2 more minutes until well combined.
  • Add the tomato sauce to the mix along with the spices and simmer for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the consommé or stock, 3 cups of water, ground beef, worcestershire sauce and bay leaf. Break up the beef with the back of a spoon so it’s evenly combined with the liquids.
  • Bring the pot to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer over medium low heat. Cover with the lid and slow cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the Dutch oven.
  • Stir in the apple cider vinegar and chocolate. Check for seasonings and adjust to taste.


  • Put a cooked hot dog in a steamed bun and top with one, two, three or four of your favorite toppings listed above.


  • Ladle Cincinnati chili over cooked spaghetti and add your favorite toppings, listed above.


YouTube video


Note: Nutritional info is for chili only and does not include 5 way chili or coney dogs and the toppings.


Calories: 288kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 67mg | Sodium: 535mg | Potassium: 480mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 764IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 49mg | Iron: 4mg

Pin It For Later!

a pin to save for later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Jeremy Heyl says:

    5 stars
    I saw this recipe a few months ago when it first appeared in my email and I knew I would try it, but wanted to wait until after I did to leave a comment. Presentation aside- this is spot on. How much cheese is a personal preference and if you think there are no onions in Cincinnati chili that’s because the chains use powdered everything. The only thing I did different was that I browned (well, really steamed) the meat alone and drained it while warm (I missed the part about starting several hours ahead of time) and I used a stick blender after done to give it more sauciness. I lived in Cincinnati for a couple years and I still visit family there 2 or 3 times a year. Skyline is a must stop every time through- this is pretty darn close; but in my opinion much better. Cincinnati chili has middle eastern and Greek origins- the spices that aren’t typical of (US) chili really shine here and make it fantastic.

  2. I am Cincinnati born and bred, so I can confidently say that Cincinnati chili should NEVER have sauteed onions or beans mixed in (chopped RAW onions and/or kidney beans are added on top.

    As for the meat, it should NEVER be browned; it is always boiled.

    As for consistency, it should be similar to a bisque, smooth with NO LUMPS or chunks. It should be drinkable, and yes, that’s a thing. The chili pictured is much too thick.

    Lastly, only finely shredded mild cheddar is used, never sharp, and there should be at minimum, 3 times as much cheese as what is pictured. The cheese is added right at serving so that it does not melt.

    1. I did sauté some onion for this chili, but I didn’t brown the ground beef. It was simmered in the chili. This chili actually is very thin and soupy, (I’m sorry my photos don’t do it justice). The cheese thing… I get it. I only added about 3/4 cup of cheese and because the chili was hot… it did melt. Mea culpa.

  3. I have seen recipes for this that called for boiling the meat in water and straining off the water and fat before adding it to the other ingredients. What do you think of that method?

    1. I’ve seen that too, and obviously they would both work — as that’s the way some folks do it. The thing I find interesting about Cincinnati chili is that it really defies convention. My normal chili calls for browning the beef, then adding onions — here they don’t brown the meat, which would add flavor, but instead boil it. It’s something I can’t wrap my head around, so I just go with it.