Cincinnati Chili

The first time I learned about Cincinnati Chili I was both visually and mentally put off. It looks like spaghetti topped with meat sauce, cheese, onions and kidney beans, and some of the ingredients include allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa powder and nutmeg. That is a lot to take in when you are only used to a) basic spaghetti and meat sauce and b) chili that usually comes in a bowl with crackers on the side.

Cincinnati Chili: Five-Way
Cincinnati Chili: Five-Way

After more research, I discovered that Cincinnati Chili was created by immigrant restaurateur Tom Kiradjieff, a Macedonian immigrant who ran a hot dog stand in Cincinnati in the 1920s. While crafting a sauce to serve atop his hot dogs Tom added the flavors of Greece, by way of spices, and “Opa!” Cincinnati Chili was born.

Knowing this made it easier for me to embrace Cincinnati Chili. I appreciate foods from different cultures; I just needed to know the “Why?” behind the flavoring in this dish. While I prepared my Cincinnati Chili I listened to Ο χορός τών άστρων by Elli Paspala. I have no idea what the lyrics mean but it was a great song to cook to for inspiration.

I was skeptical about this dish from the get go. While the aroma of the married spices were wafting in the air I let out a Marge Simpson groan because I still could not imagine the flavor atop spaghetti, mingled with the other ingredients. And I proved myself wrong once again. The aroma is indeed strong but the flavor of the meat sauce is incredibly rich and balanced.

I’m not sure if the layering I used is correct, because I found several recipes that varied. Also, after looking at several Cincinnati Chili photos I obviously went light on the toppings. The Cincinnati Chili recipe I followed is from Saveur. And Cincinnati Chili is generally served with oyster crackers.

Before I started cooking my Cincinnati Chili I called my sister to tell her about the recipe—she likes to cook as well—and she said, “That does not sound very appetizing.” Now I am going to call her and describe, in detail, how delicious it is, and she’s going to say, “Oooooo, I want the recipe!”

Cincinnati Chili:

Cincinnati Chili: Two Way
Cincinnati Chili: Three-Way
Cincinnati Chili: Four-Way
Cincinnati Chili: Five-Way

6 thoughts on “Cincinnati Chili

  1. I also used to be put off by Cincinnati Chili – mostly because my good friend (whose favorite meal was Hamburger Helper) swore by it. It wasn’t until I discovered a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that I discovered just how good this unfortunate sounding dish can taste. Wow. I hate to admit that it’s one of my favorites and definitely falls into the “comfort food” category for me. Sometimes the uncooked onions are a bit much, but otherwise, it’s a bit heavenly in a strange way. Thanks for the history of the dish — I had no idea where it originated.

    1. You’re welcome, Jamie! I’ll have to look for that recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. I like their recipes! The spices definitely give Cincinnati Chili a different, distinct flavor. I’ll make it again.

  2. Since I’m originally from Ohio, I’ve had the joy of eating some great Cincinnati Chili in Cincinnati. I heard that Skyline Chili (one of the best) is now served at the Reds Spring Training park here in the Valley. Planning to get some next March! Great post!

    1. Oh, if you’re from Ohio, you’ve tasted true Cincinnati Chili. It definitely tastes nothing like mainstream spaghetti OR chili. Unusual but delicious flavors. I’ll be making it again!

  3. In Ohio, there are varieties of chili mac. My experience is that Skyline serves the delicacy version with more gentle texture and complex flavor. Friends have told me this flavor involves cinnamon and chocolate. Steak and Shake (chain) serves a tasty but less artisan dish. My personal favorite comes from Ideal Hot Dog in Toledo. A friend that worked to match this recipe told me the richness is obtained by using suet.

    1. Awwwwww, Markus! Your comment made me smile. I thought about you when I wrote my post. I thought, “Hmmmm, Cincinnati Chili does not seem like a Markus dish.” I was wrong! Thank you for sharing your Cincinnati Chili experiences. You’re in the heart of Cincinnati Chili.

      You. Me. Talk soon!

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