Cincinnati is so well known for its version of chili that this week it’s my one and only focus as I explore the area’s regional cuisine. The local chili parlor is to the citizens of Cincinnati what the pub is to folks in the UK. According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than 2,000,000 lb (910,000 kg) of chili each year, topped by 850,000 lb (390,000 kg) of shredded cheddar cheese.
What makes Cincinnati chili different? Well, so many things that a Texan would never even deign to call it chili. For starters the ingredients are quite different than what you find in other chilis. The chili was invented by Macedonian and Greek immigrants in the early part of the 20th century to attract non-immigrants to their restaurants. The usual spices include: cinnamon, chocolate or cocoa, all spice, and Worcestershire. The stew has a thinner consistency than Texas chili and is served over spaghetti and then topped with a combination of onions, cheddar cheese, kidney beans, and crushed oyster crackers.
A primer on how to order Cincinnati Chili:
- Bowl: chili in a bowl
- Two-way: chili and spaghetti
- Three-way: chili, spaghetti, and cheese
- Four-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
- Five-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans
and optionally, the:
- Four-way bean: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and beans (beans substituted for the onions)
Some restaurants even serve up a six way–the five way topped off by fried jalapenos or garlic. If you’re not in the mood for spaghetti most chili parlors will serve it up on top of a coney as well.
Five of the Best Places in Cincy to Get Your Chili On:
Skyline chili has been enjoyed by generations of Cincinnatians–so much so that Skyline Chili is another name for Cincinnati chili. Nicholas Lambrinides immigrated from Kastoria, Greece and in 1949 opened Skyline Chili, using a secret blend of spices that is used to this day. Nowadays Skyline Chili is one of the biggest of the locally owned chili parlor chains in Cincinnati.
GoldstarChili is Skyline Chili’s biggest rival. You’re either on team Skyline or team Goldstar. Gold Star was opened by the Jordanian Dauoud brothers in 1965. And, of course, they also have their own secret blend of spices. Their chili tends to be a little spicier than Skyline’s.
Blue Ash Chili
Blue Ash Chili has been serving Cincinnati since 1969. Order the “No Freakin’ Way” 2½ pounds of fresh spaghetti, 2½ pounds of the restaurant’s classic chili, two pounds of shredded cheddar, and one pound of jalapeño bottle caps to top it off. That’s eight pounds of Cincinnati goodness! If you can eat it all in one hour it’s free–if not it’s $39.99. If you’re not up to that, try the chili on top of some of the best coneys in the city. In 2010, Blue Ash Chili was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-in, and Dives” on the Food Network.
Dixie Chili was opened in 1929 by Nicholas Sarakatsannis. In 1925 he worked at the Empress Chili Parlor, said to be the original Cincinnati Chili parlor. He learned the recipe, opened his own restaurant and perfected it. Dixie Chili is still run by his sons.
The restaurant is run like a cafeteria. You place your order and pay at the register and then slide your food down a counter along which your food is handed to you. Check out their six way which is topped with freshly chopped garlic.
Camp Washington Chili
Located in Cincinnati’s Historic District is the number one independent chili parlor in Cincinnati. Camp Washington Chili is a consistent top scorer in “best-of” issues from the local press. They are open twenty-four hours a day Monday-Saturday. It was founded by Steve Andon and Fred Zannbus in 1940. Their chili as won an “American Regional Classic, and a James Beard Foundation Award. In 1985 CBS News wet out to find “the best chili in the nation” and declared Camp Washington as the winner. In 2011 they were featured on the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food Nation.”
Cincinnati Five Way
- 1 to 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (or other ground meat)
- 1 packet Cincinnati Chili Seasoning
- 1 can (6oz) tomato paste
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 can (16 oz) kidney beans
- 6 cups water
- Spaghetti noodles
- Chopped Onion
- Cheddar Cheese
- Oyster Crackers
- Place the ground beef in a large pot and cover with a quart of cold water.
- Bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Break the beef up into a fine ground.
- Remove and place the pot in the refrigerator over night.
- Then next day skim the solid fat off the top and discard it.
- Strain the water off the beef.
- Combine the beef, the chili seasoning, the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, kidney beans and 6 cups of water in the pan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours, adding water if the chili becomes to thick
You might also want to check out our DIY Chili Seasoning.