Cincinnati Chili is a unique and delicious version of chili heavily influenced with Greek spices and topped with cheese in the version we love the best.
I’m originally from St. Louis but when my then husband and I had only been married a couple of years he was offered a great job in North Carolina and off we went on a grand adventure. Our only child was a dog named Heather and the notion of moving to the South was different and exciting for both of us with such strong Midwestern roots.
We bought our first home in NC and both of our children were born there so it was with a heavy heart that 10 years later I agreed to move again to Denver, Colorado. The climate was hard to adjust to…not just the dry air but a bareness that seemed the polar opposite of North Carolina where we had lived on an acre lot in a neighborhood which was basically cut out of a forest of trees.
Our new home in a suburb of Denver was at most 1/5 of an acre with no grass and no trees and they would not be planted for months after our move in late fall. More than grass and trees though I missed some of the best friends I had ever had and dealing with the exhaustion of adjusting to living at high altitude I was ready to bolt and run back to North Carolina in a heartbeat!
Luckily our neighborhood was filled with a lot of transplants and I soon started to meet a lot of other moms in the neighborhood; mostly through my kids and my volunteering at their school. I quickly became fast friends with Elaine and our daughters, both named Emily, also became best of buds.
Elaine and her family were from Cincinnati, Ohio and though we shared Midwestern roots, we also were able to share with each other some food traditions unique to our own area. I introduced her to Gooey Butter Cake and she shared Cincinnati Chili with me.
The recipe Elaine had was a recreation of the dish from the iconic home of Cincinnati Chili, Skyline Chili. The original owner’s Greek roots can clearly be seen in the unique blend of spices including cinnamon, cloves and cocoa. That’s right! Other secrets to this recipe include the initial braise of the meat in water, the long slow cooking and the overnight refrigeration, which allows all the flavors to meld (and sure makes it easy to remove any excess fat).
I’m not sure I would have ever made this chili on my own based on that ingredient list. Cinnamon? Cloves? Really? But my taste buds were introduced before I saw those ingredients, the spaghetti and cheddar cheese were irresistible and I’m glad Elaine shared this food tradition from her hometown because it’s been a favorite ever since.
No, you will not confuse it with a cinnamon roll, I promise. All of the flavors combined make for a unique spicy taste that is almost difficult to describe but tastes absolutely delicious.
Skyline serves their chili different ways depending on how you like it topped but we’ve always been a fan of Three-Way…served over spaghetti with shredded cheese. And always with oyster crackers; sure it’s pasta and crackers but it’s a great crunch so it’s allowed! I think next time I’ll go with onions too; I love raw onion and now that my youngest is no longer living here I have to remind myself sometimes I can do what I want!
- Plain Chili Spaghetti — Steaming spaghetti covered with chili
- 3-Way — Steaming spaghetti covered with chili, topped with a mound of shredded cheddar cheese
- 4-Way — 3-Way with onions or beans
- 5-Way — 3-Way with onions and beans
If you have the time, I’m going to suggest that you shred your own cheese for this dish. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain, although I’ll be honest, the box grater was great for photos but without that need? A block of cheese can be zapped in seconds using one of the graters that come with a food processor.
Storebought cheese has an additive called cellulose added to shredded cheese that keeps it from sticking together. Cellulose is made from wood pulp. I try to avoid wood pulp in my food; that is all!
That’s my one perfect bite; pasta, chili, cheese and oyster cracker. Parsley not required…I just like the touch of color if I have it in the fridge. I’m going to have another dish of it tonight and think fondly of Elaine and Emily…they long ago moved back to Cincinnati and sadly we lost touch but I will always have such fond memories…including this one that I can recreate!
PIN ‘Cincinnati Chili with Cheese’
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Cincinnati Chili with Spaghetti and Cheddar Cheese
- 1 quart cold water
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 2 cups crushed tomato
- 2 onions diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
- ¼ cup chili powder
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 whole bay leaf
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- We like ours served with:
- 1 lb Spaghetti cooked (6 Servings)
- 1 ½ to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Oyster crackers
- Add water and beef to a large skillet or pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours. Add water as needed if the chili becomes too thick.
- Refrigerate the chili overnight; remove the layer of fat from the top before reheating and serving.
- Put spaghetti on serving plate, top with chili and then generously top chili with shredded cheese.
- Serve with oyster crackers.