Cincinnati Chili

That Chili-Crazed City in Ohio

Outside of the state of Texas, Cincinnati, Ohio, is the most chili-crazed city in the United States. Cincinnati prides itself on being a true chili capital, with more than 180 chili parlors. Cincinnati-style chili is quite different from its more familiar Texas cousin, and it has developed a cult-like popularity. What makes it different is the way the meat is cooked. The chili has a thinner consistency and is prepared with an unusual blend of spices that includes cinnamon, chocolate or cocoa, allspice, and Worcestershire. This is truly the unofficial grub of Cincinnati.

The people of Cincinnati enjoy their chili spooned over freshly made pasta and topped with a combination of chopped onions, shredded Cheddar cheese, refried beans or kidney beans, and crushed oyster crackers. If you choose “the works,” you are eating what they call Five-Way Chili. Make sure to pile on the toppings – that’s what sets it apart from any other chili dish. To test a restaurant for authenticity, ask for a Four-Way. If the server asks you whether you want beans or onions, you know this is fake Cincinnati chili, since Four-Way always comes with onions.

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 toped 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.

The “secret” of making Cincinnati Chili. One very important thing is – never brown the ground beef and don’t put onion in the mix. The onions are saved to put on top. The ground beef is mixed with the ingredients plus water and boiled for several hours. Also use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce.

Another secret for making your Cincinnati Chili even more authentic is to put the ground beef in a food processor and get it very finely chopped before boiling. When finished the chili should be a bit watery, this is where the Oyster Crackers come in.

Secret number three – I was born in Ohio, though not in Cincinnati, in Cleveland – close enough!

Cincinnati Chili

Serves 6 – 8

1 qt cold water
2 lbs ground beef
2 cups crushed tomato
2 yellow onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup chili powder
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 whole bay leaf
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1½  tsp salt
cooked spaghetti to serve chili over

Add beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours. Add water as needed if the chili becomes to thick.

Refrigerate the chili overnight, and the next day remove the layer of fat from top before reheating and serving.

Oyster Crackers
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Chopped Onion
Kidney Beans (16 oz) can

Cincinnati chili lovers order their chili by number. One, Two, Three, Four, or Five Way. Let your guest create their own final product.

One-way: Just the chili
Two-Way Chili: Chili served on spaghetti
Three-Way Chili: Additionally topped with shredded Cheddar cheese
Four-Way Chili: Additionally topped with chopped onions
Five-Way Chili: Additionally topped with kidney beans
All “ways” are served with oyster crackers.


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