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Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is the ultimate comfort food for people who love spaghetti, cheese and chili. Follow our easy Cincinnati Chili recipe and make the decadently delicious dish at home this weekend.

Cincinnati Chili from the Side with Fork

We ate Cincinnati Chili for the first time while traveling. Though we’d heard of the dish before, we’d never had the occasion to taste it until our travels took us to Cincinnati.

This situation is not unique for us. Culinary curiosity has catapulted us to dozens of states in America as well as to more than 40 countries. It’s also the reason we added Cincinnati to our epic US road trip route in 2016.

Neither of us had ever been to Cincinnati; however, we were itching to try the Queen City’s two iconic foods. Yes, the mid-size Ohio city has not one but two iconic foods: Cincinnati Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream.

Learn about Graeter’s Ice Cream, Cincinnati’s other iconic food.

Mindi Eats Cincinnati Chili
Eating Cincinnati Chili makes us happy. Pairing it with beer makes us happier.

After scheduling a tour at Graeter’s Ice Cream factory on the outskirts of the city, we focused our efforts on one thing and one thing only. Our mission was to eat as much Cincinnati Chili as physically possible in just 24 hours.

Mission accomplished.

What Is Cincinnati Chili?

Fork of Cincinnati Chili
Cincinnati chili is so wrong that it’s right.

Cincinnati Chili lives up to its name insomuch that’s it’s from Cincinnati and its main ingredient is chili. Sort of. The chili in this dish is nothing like chili eaten in Texas or sold in cans across America. Instead, it’s more like a Greek meat sauce with flavors of cinnamon, clove and bay leaf. It’s kind of like pastitsio meets spagbol meets a burrito.

Read about the best noodle dishes in the world.

In Cincinnati, cooks start by topping oval plates with spaghetti and then smother the simple pasta strands with highly seasoned meat sauce. Based on how the ‘chili’ is ordered, they finish by adding the following:

  • Chili Spaghetti – Nothing – The name says it all.
  • Cincinnati Three Way Chili – Lots of Grated Cheddar Cheese
  • Cincinnati Four Way Chili – Either Chopped Onions or Kidney Beans and Lots of Grated Cheddar Cheese.
  • Cincinnati Five Way Chili – Chopped Onions, Kidney Beans and Lots of Grated Cheddar Cheese.
Cincinnati Chili Toppings
These are the only appropriate toppings for Cincinnati Chili.

You may be wondering about Cincinnati One Way Chili. Wonder no more. One Way Chili isn’t a thing. Without the fixings, it’s just plain spaghetti and we don’t play that way.

Pro Tip
Don’t count out Cincinnati Chili if its combination of disparate ingredients sounds weird to you. In our opinion and, more importantly, the opinion of millions of hungry midwesterners, Cincinnati Chili is dee-licious.

The History Of Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Skyline
Cincinnati’s appealing skyline provided the name inspiration for the Queen City’s most famous chili parlor.

In many ways, Cincinnati Chili is a quintessential American dish with its all-American cheddar cheese, Mediterranean flavors and Italian pasta. But how and when did it begin?

No flash in the pan (or should we say dutch oven?), Cincinnati Chili has been a thing in Cincinnati since two Macedonian brothers concocted the flavorful gravy in 1922. A century later, the city has more than 100 chili parlors serving versions of the city’s most popular comfort food.

Two Way Cincinnati Chili in Cincinnati(1)
This is the first plate of Cincinnati Chili that we ate at Skyline Chili in Cincinnati. However, it wasn’t the last.

While Tom and John Kiradjieff get credit for inventing Cincinnati at their Empress Chili parlor during the 1920s, Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides took Cincinnati Chili to the next level two decades later when he opened Skyline Chili and modified the recipe in 1949.

Lambrinides clearly did something right – Skyline Chili and Cincinnati Chili are now practically synonymous. The chain now has over 150 locations in four states including Indiana, Kentucky and Florida.

Where Is The Best Cincinnati Chili?

Two Way Cincinnati Chili in Cincinnati
We ate this Three-Way Cincinnati Chili in Cincinnati where the dish was invented.

Cincinnati is the obvious answer to the question of where’s the best Cincinnati Chili. The better question is where to find the best Cincinnati style Chili in Cincinnati. Unlike the specific ways to order Cincinnati Chili, that answer isn’t so easy.

Some people will quickly respond with Skyline Chili, the city’s 800-pound chili gorilla. Not only does Skyline have a secret recipe and numerous locations, but eating at Skyline is an absolute must for its slice of midwestern culture.

Inside Camp Washington Chili in Cincinnati
Camp Washington Chili has been feeding Cincinnati as well as travelers like us since 1940. If you don’t believe us, read the sign on the wall.

Others will respond with Camp Washington Chili, a local institution with just one location and prestigious accolades that include a James Beard award. As a bonus, this Cincinnati chili parlor has a dinner menu and hours that extend through the night.

As noted above, Cincinnati has more than 100 chili parlors. Other top Cincinnati Chili restaurants include Blue Ash Chili, Chili Time, Dixie Chili, Empress Chili (the original), Gold Star Chili (a chain), Pleasant Ridge Chili and Price Hill Chili.

Pro Tip
Don’t twirl your spaghetti when you eat Cincinnati Chili in its home city. Locals are choppers instead of twirlers and will know right away that you’re not a native Ohioan.


Cincinnati Chili Ingredients
The ingredient list for our Cincinnati Chili recipe is extensive. Pictured here are chopped onions, lean ground beef, chili powder, white sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cumin, ground cloves, cinnamon, allspice, garlic powder, black pepper, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, cheddar cheese, apple cider vinegar and chopped garlic cloves. Not pictured is a bay leaf, salt and water.

We’re not going to lie. The number of ingredients required to make Cincinnati Chili is daunting at first glance. However, a deeper look reveals that almost every ingredient is a pantry staple in kitchens around the world.

  • Allspice
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • Chili Powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Cumin
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Garlic Powder
  • Kidney Beans (optional)
  • Lean Ground Beef
  • Onion
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt
  • Tomato Paste
  • Unsweetened Chocolate
  • Water
  • White Sugar

We mentioned before that Cincinnati Chili has Mediterranean roots and the dish’s ingredients validate this assertion. We’re talking about spices like cloves and cinnamon as well as unsweetened chocolate.

Chili Peppers and Chilis
We ground ancho, guajillo and chilie de árbol pepper to make chili powder for this recipe.

Make no mistake – this recipe has some kick. Ingredients like red pepper flakes and chili powder add a punch that justifies drinking a refreshing beer or two with the dish.

We went the extra mile and made our chili powder from scratch by grinding and blending ancho, guajillo and chilie de árbol peppers and then adding a blend of spices like garlic powder and oregano. However, chili powder sold in American grocery stores and on Amazon should suffice.

True Confession
We only made the chili powder from scratch because we can’t easily buy proper American-style chili powder in our home city of Lisbon. It was worth the extra effort.

How To Make Cincinnati Chili

Adding Chili Pepper to Cincinnati Chili
We put our homemade chili pepper to good use when we added it to our Cincinnati Chili recipe.

Call us crazy but we think it’s fun to make Cincinnati Chili at home. The hardest part is measuring all of the ingredients before dumping them into a dutch oven with two pounds of ground beef. See below for an Instant Pot cooking option.

While you can use a pot with a heavy bottom, a dutch oven works best and will let you do a low and slow simmer without burning the bottom. We recommend that you stir your chili frequently either way.

After we added all the ingredients, we were amazed by the number of empty prep bowls that surrounded the pot. They numbered more than a dozen!

By preparing the mis en place in advance, making the actual recipe was a breeze.

Mashing Cincinnati Chili
This is what our Cincinnati Chili looked like before we mashed the ingredients together.

To be honest, we’re not sure which step was more fun – dumping everything into the pot or mashing it all together with a large potato masher. Yes, we use a potato masher to make our Cincinnati Chili recipe.

Cincinnati Chili on Masher
And this is what it looked like after a few minutes of cathartic mashing.

While not as fun as dumping or mashing, pouring six cups of water into the pot is the last step before letting the chili simmer. You can do other things in the kitchen or on your computer while the dutch oven does its magic over the next couple hours.

You’ll start to smell the blending of tantalizing flavors right away. In fact, our kitchen smelled like a Mediterranean spice market once we assembled all the ingredients. The aromas only improved as the dish cooked.

Pouring Water into Cincinnati Chili
A whole bunch of ingredients are used to make Cincinnati chili. Just add water and you’re on your way.

Expect the chili to cook for at least two hours. You’ll know it’s ready when its consistency resembles a thick Italian meat sauce as opposed to a super thick Texas chili.

It’s time to make spaghetti around the two-hour mark. A lot of recipes are flexible about the type of pasta you use. This is not one of those recipes.

For this recipe, you need to use the kind of simple spaghetti you may have eaten with meatballs as a kid. You’ll want to cook the pasta a few minutes past al dente.

Ladeling Cincinnati Chili on Spaghetti
Don’t rush when it comes to ladling the chili. You don’t want the dish to be too hot or the cheese will melt too quickly.

Plating our Cincinnati Chili recipe is easy peasy as the dish is intended to be messy. Use tongs to plate the pasta and a ladle to cover the pasta with the chili.

Chopped Onions on Top of Cincinnati Chili
You can add as much onions as you want when you make Cincinnati Chili at home. This is how much we add.

If you haven’t done so already, this is the time to decide if you want to make 3-way, 4-way or 5-way chili. Since we decided to make 4-way chili, we added chopped raw onions in addition to shredded cheddar cheesse.

We had kidney beans on hand but decided not to use them. If we had decided otherwise, we would have made 5-way chili. Maybe next time.

Cincinnati Chili from Above
When we say add a lot of cheese, we mean it.

The final step is to smother the entire dish with shredded cheddar cheese. Don’t be shy. You’ll want to add a lot of cheese. This is not a dish where less is more. You’ll understand as soon as you take a bite.

Pro Tip
Grate the cheddar cheese with a box grater into long strands while the chili is cooking and then put the shredded cheese into the freezer to chill for a maximum of 20 minutes. You do not want the cheese to melt.

Instant Pot Option

Forkful of Cincinnati Chili
Cincinnati Chili tastes great if you cook in an Instant Pot. In fact, it should taste the same.

You may be wondering if you can cook Cincinnati Chili in an Instant Pot. The answer is YES.

While we don’t have an Instant Pot ourselves, a reader has advised that this recipe cooked like a dream in her Instant Pot. She followed all of the steps and measurements as outlined in this recipe. However, she cooked the chili for 25 minutes in the Instant Pot instead of 2 hours in a dutch oven.

If you have an Instant Pot, we say go for it!

What Goes With Cincinnati Chili?

Cincinnati Chili and Hot Sauce
Adding hot sauce is a bit excessive considering the great flavors in this dish. We’re okay with that label.

To be honest, you don’t NEED to add anything to our Cincinnati Chili recipe but you may WANT to add some hot sauce for extra zip. We added a few dashes of Louisiana hot sauce and the smoky flavor worked well.

The fine folks in Cincinnati often add crushed oyster crackers to their Cincinnati Chili spaghetti dishes. Since we’re not from Cincinnati, that’s overkill for us. The dish isn’t exactly dainty – not that we’re complaining.

While we’re on the same page about not adding oyster crackers, we agree to disagree when it comes to dessert. It’s a local tradition to eat a York Peppermint Patty after eating a plate of chili spaghetti in Cincinnati. Unlike Daryl, Mindi loves the candy classic.

Discover more American candy favorites.


Cincinnati Chili with Two Forks
One plate and two forks sums up how we like to eat homemade Cincinnati chili.

We save the best for last. It turns out that our Cincinnati Chili recipe tastes even better the next day. In other words, don’t throw away the leftovers!

You can always cook some more spaghetti to whip up another round of 3, 4 or 5-way chili or you can make one of the following with the savory meat sauce:

  • Cheese Coney (i.e. Cincinnati Chili Dog)
  • Chili Dip
  • Chili Fries
  • Chili Lasagna
  • Chili Pizza

Better yet, maybe you’ll create your own recipe. As we always say… Your Kitchen, Your Rules.

Digging into Cincinnati Chili
We chopped our Cincinnati Chili with our forks… and then we ate it.

While we can’t guarantee that you’ll love our easy Cincinnati Chili recipe, we’ll be surprised if you don’t. Cincinnati Chili is as easy to make as it is to eat. It will likely be the best Mediterranean meat sauce you’ve ever served over spaghetti.

Cincinnati Chili is a hot American plate of yum. You know you want to try it and we say go for it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Cincinnati Chili?

Cincinnati Chili is chili that’s flavored with Mediterranean spices like cinnamon, clove and bay leaves. It’s typically served over spaghetti but can also be a hot dog topper.

Where was Cincinnati Chili invented?

Not surprisingly based on its name, Cincinnati Chili was invented in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What makes Cincinnati Chili different?

Cincinnati Chili is different from typical chili. It’s a Greek meat sauce with flavors of cinnamon, clove and bay leaf. It’s kind of like pastitsio meets spagbol meets a burrito.

What’s the difference between Skyline Chili and Cincinnati Chili?

Located in Cincinnati, Skyline Chili is a popular restaurant chain that serves a variety of Cincinnati Chili options including two-way, three-way, four-way, five way and cheese coneys.

What is two-way Cincinnati Chili?

Two-way Cincinnati Chili is spaghetti topped with chili.

What is three-way Cincinnati Chili?

Three-way Cincinnati Chili is spaghetti topped with chili and shredded cheddar cheese.

What is four-way Cincinnati Chili?

Four-way Cincinnati Chili is spaghetti topped with chili and shredded cheddar cheese plus either chopped onions or kidney beans.

What is five-way Cincinnati Chili?

Five-way Cincinnati Chili is spaghetti topped with chili and shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions and kidney beans.

What is a Cheese Coney?

A Cheese Coney is a hot dot topped with Cincinnati Chili and cheddar cheese.

Did you make this recipe? If so, please rate it below.

Cincinnati Chili from the Side with Fork
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4.58 from 28 votes

Cincinnati Chili Recipe

Cincinnati Chili is the ultimate comfort food for people who love spaghetti, cheese and chili.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time2 hours 30 minutes
Additional Time5 minutes
Total Time3 hours 5 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 10
Calories: 930kcal


  • 2 pounds ground beef (lean)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (diced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (minced)
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 ounces tomato paste (can or tube)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 pounds spaghetti (If serving all at once)
  • 6 cups bright orange cheddar cheese (grated)

Optional Toppings

  • 1 raw onion (chopped)
  • 1 can kidney beans


  • Throw all the ingredients in a 5-6 quart pot (preferably a dutch oven).
  • Pour water over all the ingredients
  • Mash all the ingredients together using a large potato masher.
  • Bring the mixture to simmer and cook 2 – 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.
  • Chili is done when it reaches a saucy consistency. Don’t let it get too thick. The goal is a saucy consistency that ladles easily over the spaghetti.
  • Boil spaghetti until it’s soft. We recommend that you follow the directions on the spaghetti package and add 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Drain spaghetti into a colander and then transfer back to the pot. After you make sure that your pasta pot is off the heat, pour one large spoonful of the chili into the pasta pot and mix. (This step prevents the pasta from sticking together.)
  • Use tongs to serve spaghetti on large plates.
  • Ladle a large amount of chili on top of each plate of spaghetti.
  • Optional: Place chopped raw onions and/or kidney beans on top of the chili.
  • Ue your hands to smother everything with a mountain of grated cheddar cheese. You should only see the bare edge of the chili and spaghetti.


  • Cut the ingredients in half if you want to prepare this dish for four people.
  • Don’t hesitate to make extra chili. It tastes even better the next day.
  • If you add the cheese when the chili is piping hot, the cheese will melt. To avoid this situation, wait five minutes after you ladle the chili over the spaghetti before adding the cheese. Another option is to chill the cheddar cheese in the freezer for about 15 minutes before you smother it over the chili. Don’t stress too much – the dish should taste great even if the cheese gets melty.

Estimated Nutrition

Calories: 930kcal | Carbohydrates: 86g | Protein: 48g | Fat: 44g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 132mg | Sodium: 984mg | Potassium: 951mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 2714IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 568mg | Iron: 6mg
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About The Authors

About The Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.


Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

We purchased the ingredients and tools used to create this recipe.

Original Publication Date: February 4, 2021

Recipe Rating


Friday 10th of March 2023

One correction from this Cincinnati chick - a “Four Way” is Spaghetti, Skyline, Onions and Cheese. If you replace the noons with bean, it’s not a “Four Way”, but a “ Four Way Bean”.


Tuesday 14th of March 2023

@Joanne, Skyline's menu reads 4-Way: A 3-Way with diced onions or beans. Unless it's an employee-specific term, I've never heard of or used Four Way Bean.


Monday 2nd of January 2023

I am a native Cincinnatian, born of Cincinnati, born parents, and I have lived there most of my life. The only problem I have with your recipe is that there is chocolate in it. Real Cincinnati chili does not have chocolate. Cocoa powder, yes, but not chocolate. However, you are correct that you do not twirl the spaghetti on your fork. Cutting it is more appropriate. :) But I appreciate your writing about it because it really is a wonderful thing. My son-in-law is from Minnesota and he loves it! By the way, how did you like Graeters ice cream? I think it’s the best ice cream in the world, especially the Black Raspberry Chip.


Tuesday 14th of March 2023

@Mardee, 100% agree about no chocolate. I have heard differing accounts of using cocoa powder, though. Definitely use cocoa powder and not unsweetened or semisweet chocolate. Those chocolates give the chili a bitterness that tastes nothing like what is served at the restaurants.

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 3rd of January 2023

We added a small piece of unsweetened baking chocolate, which contains no sugar and a tiny amount of cocoa butter. It's fairly similar to raw cocoa may actually integrate better in the cooking process.

BTW - We 100 % agree about Graeter's ice cream and Black Raspberry chip is our favorite flavor too. I don't know if you saw that we visited the factory in 2016 when we were on a cross country road trip. There's no other ice cream like it in the world.

Lori Conners

Friday 14th of October 2022

If you boil the groundbreaking inthe water before adding the spices you will not have to use a potato masher. They meat will cook finely as that you want not chunky like tex mex chili. There is something about boiling the meat in water

Dan Paulovich

Wednesday 29th of June 2022

I've had this it's disgusting. How could you call it Chili?


Thursday 7th of July 2022

@Dan Paulovich, maybe the cook ??

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Wednesday 29th of June 2022

We didn't invent Cincinnati Chili. We only show you how to make it. If you have a problem with the dish, you can always travel to Cincinnati and file a complaint with the people who invented it.

Linda Austin

Sunday 5th of June 2022

My husband and I grew up in Cincinnati. We love Skyline Chili. When we go back to visit we go to all our favorite restaurants. My Dad would take my sister and I to Graeter's for ice cream.

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Monday 6th of June 2022

Such great memories! Thanks for sharing them.

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