Cincinnati Skyline Chili

If you're looking for a unique chili recipe, the Cincinnati Chili version is definitely different and unlike other chili recipes. What makes it so interesting is the combination of spices which remind me of those used in Middle Eastern cuisines. It's not even served like your average American chili. Instead it's best over spaghetti and topped with garnishes like kidney beans, shredded cheese and diced onions. This Cincinnati Skyline Chili is excellent and one I highly recommend, even if you've never been to Cincinnati to have the authentic version!...

I have some friends who swear the secret to their chili recipe is in the spices. Well, that certainly applies when making Cincinnati Chili because the blend of spices used is important and will definitely affect the end result. The ground beef is browned then cooked with the spices (chili powder, oregano, cocoa powder, cinnamon, cayenne, allspice...) along with garlic until fragrant, which sets the flavor base of the chili. It's then left to simmer with tomato sauce, broth, water, vinegar and sugar to absorb all the flavors. I will admit I added the beans to the chili to simmer, but the authentic version uses the beans as a garnish or accompaniment. Feel free to hold off on the beans and add them as a garnish instead if you desire. This chili is truly delicious and is a favorite at our house. It makes a nice batch enough for 6-8 people so if you have a small household like ours, leftovers freeze beautifully and are even more delicious the next day.

Cincinnati Skyline Chili
recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80% lean)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 15oz can red kidney beans (rinsed, drained, warmed)

1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium sweet vidalia onion, minced

In a large dutch oven, add the oil along with the onions and cook until they soften. Add the ground beef to the pot. Saute the beef and break up the meat with a potato masher.

Once the beef has browned and is broken up, add the garlic, followed by the spices - chili powder, cayenne, dried oregano, cocoa powder, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground black pepper and one teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, water, vinegar, sugar, and drained beans scraping the pan bottom to remove any browned bits. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer. Stir occasionally until the chili is deep red in color and has thickened slightly, roughly an hour. Season with salt and hot sauce to taste.

To serve, plate up spaghetti and top with chili. Garnish with cheese and onions if desired.

* To make ahead/freezer meal
- Prepare the chili as directed above and allow to cool completely. Place in a freezer safe container and freeze. When ready to enjoy, defrost completely and bring to a simmer over medium low heat before serving.


  1. Hey the blog and love skyline chili.

    I am a bit confused by the recipe. Do you add the garlic and spices before or after the beef?

    Keep up the delicious work!

  2. I've heard of this chili but never knew what ingredients went into this. It looks so savory and satisfying.

  3. Hi Jonah! I browned the onions and beef and then added the garlic and spices. Once the spices are cooked a bit, the liquids (tomato sauce, broth, water, vinegar, sugar and beans) are added then simmered until thickened. I did it a bit differently from how Cook's Illustrated's original recipe states but it worked beautifully!

  4. As a native Cincinnatian I had to comment on this one!! Your recipe looks pretty similar to mine :) although I don't make it often since we have Skyline (and Gold Star) restaurants that serve the good stuff right outside the door.

    My only criticism of your recipe (and it's not really a criticism because your recipe looks great!!) But, the beans never ever go in the chili!! They go on as a garnish just like cheese or onions :)


  5. Yum! I'm so glad that food lovers around the world get to try (and come to LOVE) Cincinnati Style Chili.

    A few more comments from a native Cincinnatian on this particular recipe:

    1) Skyline is a local chain and no homemade recipe I have ever seen or tried ever comes close to it. This and most other copycat recipes are more appropriately named "Cincinnati Style Chili". If you ever get a chance to try authentic Skyline, you absolutely MUST as nothing else compares!!

    2) There are different methods for how to cook Cincinnati Style Chili. One is to brown the meat first - this gives you chunkier meat and is more similar in style to Gold Star Chili (another local chain and less popular). The method that I personally recommend is to add the raw meat to a large pot of cool liquid and then whisk the heck out of it to break up the pieces as it begins to heat. This results in a smooth, velvety sauce which is more like Skyline and therefore IMO, more authentic.

    3) Chocolate (and cinnamon!) are supposedly the secret ingredients to the spice in the sauce. I suggest adding real chocolate versus cocoa powder. Either way, most recipes I've tried get close to the kind of Cincinnati Style Chili you can buy locally here as a packet but none of the spice blends (or texture for that matter), as I've said earlier, can compare to Skyline.

    4) I agree with PP. Authentic Cincinnati Style Chili does not have beans incorporated into the chili. They are added as a topping (either as a 4-way: choice of beans OR onions or a 5-way: beans AND onions). The classic 3-way is a spaghetti, chili, and finely shredded mild cheddar.

    5) The longer you can simmer it, the better! I suggest a minimum of 1.5 hours and 2 if you can spare it!

    Hope these tips help you create a more authentic experience for those that can't get the real thing! Truly one reason I can't leave Cincinnati is because I'd have Skyline Chili withdrawal!!

  6. I ran across this and had to comment. First, there are no onions IN the chili they are just used as garnish. Also you do not brown the meat, like another person commented you actually bring the meat to a simmer in water while breaking it up to a fine consistency. The chocolate is debatable - I've seen recipes with and without it, but I would suggest using unsweetened chocolate over cocoa powder.

  7. Being from Cincinnati I had to click on this recipe when I saw it. Cincinnati style chili is one of those things that people either love or they hate! There usually is not an in between! I love it and agree that everyone should try it, but if you want the most authentic you must come to Cincinnati and eat it in one of the many parlors you will find around the city. The chili has a middle Eastern flavor because the inspiration came from Skyline Chili's founder whose family is Greek. Skyline is, IMHO the best of all the chains out there! Oh and, if you want another way to eat instead of on spaghetti put it on a hot dog with a little mustard some onions and mounds of sharp cheddar cheese (very important that it's sharp cheddar!!!) or try it on a baked potato, my favorite way to eat it, with butter, the chili, beans, cheese and sour cream on top! YUM-O!

  8. I was skeptical when I saw the ingredients, but I have to say I absolutely loved this chili. The flavors of the spices go together quite nicely. I will definitely put this chili into the menu rotation.

  9. I am sad to say the ingredients for the true skyline chili recipe,is going to be mystery that will never be solved. After trying many clones in order for me to duplicate the taste. In frustration, I asked my nephew,who happened to be the quality control officer,for Skyline,what are the secret ingredients. He told me,he had no idea. He then told me,the two brothers that owned Skyline before they sold it to a NY company,would travel to Turkey each year to order the spices they used in the recipe.Furthermore,they would lock themselves in a room,to mix the spices used by the restaurants.Keeping the blend,a secret.Just thought I would pass along,why no one has ever been able to duplicate it exactly.

  10. I don't know what I did wrong, I followed the recipe exactly! The chili came out very watery and when we put it on the spaghetti, all the liquid went through to the plate and we were left with meat and beans on top of the spaghetti. Flavor was good, but it wasn't a good thick chili consistency like in your pic! What did I do wrong??

  11. Just made this last night (not from your recipe though). This is a household favorite and my kids (ages 13, 11 and 9)LOVE it! I don't use Oregano or that much liquid. I only use 1 16oz can of tomatoe sauce and 1 qt of water. I let it simmer slowly for about 3 hours. If it's still too watery (this might be of help to previous poster), turn the heat up so that some of the liquid starts to burn off (not literally). I serve it over Vermicelli with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream. YUM!