Dish of the Week: Cincinnati Chili

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re going Midwest with Cincinnati chili.

Often served over spaghetti or on coneys (hot dogs), Cincinnati chili is a meat sauce made with ground beef, tomato, cinnamon and a blend of Middle Eastern spices.

The cultishly loved chili is widely thought to have its roots in 1922, when immigrant restaurateurs Tom and John Kiradjieff developed the dish to broaden their customer base at their Greek restaurant, Empress. They smothered the spiced chili over hot dogs and played around with the classic Greek dish pastsitsio to come up with “chili spaghetti." And before they knew it, an empire was born.

The duo used a “way system” of ordering, meaning you could order the chili "two-way" (spaghetti and chili), "three-way" (spaghetti, chili and grated cheddar cheese), "four-way" (all of that plus onions) or "five-way" (everything plus kidney beans).

The dish gained a cult following, sparking a chili revolution; you can now find more than 250 "chili parlors” throughout the greater Cincinnati area.

But you don’t have to live in the Midwest to get this regional delight. This recipe, from Saveur, incorporates spices like chili powder, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cumin and nutmeg, to name a few. Serve it with oyster crackers and hot sauce for good measure.

(Five Way) Cincinnati Chili

Ingredients serves 4
2 tbsp. olive oil
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1 dried bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 lb. dried spaghetti
4 cups finely grated cheddar cheese
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed under hot water and drained

For serving: oyster crackers and hot sauce


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and half of the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5–6 minutes. Add beef, chili powder, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cumin, oregano, nutmeg, celery seed, bay leaf, and salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 6–8 minutes. Tilt skillet and spoon out and discard any accumulated fat. Add tomato sauce, cocoa powder and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, partially covered, until somewhat thick, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8–10 minutes; drain. Put beans into a small pot and cook over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until hot throughout. Divide spaghetti between 4 large bowls. Top with chili, cheese, remaining onions and beans. Serve hot, with oyster crackers (and hot sauce, if desired) on the side.
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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano