Skip to Content

Cincinnati Chili … Sort of … Not Really

I never make Cincinnati chili. Let me just get that out there. Like the French who never bake their own baguettes because there’s a bakery on every corner, there are three chili parlors within a three mile radius of my house serving up three delicious versions of Cincinnati chili (and canned versions from those restaurants can also be found in every Kroger). Why would I bother? SoupAddict has — like many of you — a long list of other recipes just begging to be made.

But when I saw a recipe for Cincinnati chili in the February issue of Bon Appetit, I had to try it. I’ll be upfront about my motives: morbid weary curiosity. The recipe replaces ground beef with lamb, in an interesting nod to Cincinnati chili’s Macedonian roots.

SoupAddict is hardly one to fuss about food authenticity, since it’s beyond certain that she has messed with regional recipes that neither should have nor needed to be messed with. But she did it anyway, and unapologetically so.

However, we’re talking names here. Adding lamb to chili and calling it “Cincinnati chili” is like making a bean stew and calling it “Texas chili” (Texas chili is all about the meat, baby). Only Texans are allowed to make vegetarian Texas chili. For the rest of us, our creations are called simply vegetarian chili.  😉

One further comment: Bon Appetit’s recipe is basically a riff on this well-worn (and not very authentic) Cincinnati chili recipe, with lamb instead of beef. And completely puzzling additions of fresh parsley and goat cheese. [Scratches head]. I totally left those out. Unapologetically.

Cincinnati chili is famous for its unusual spices, including cinnamon, allspice and chocolate. Believe it, it’s true.

In true Cincinnati chili, onions and garlic must be chopped very, very finely, so that they disappear completely into the chili sauce (although I honestly believe the secret original recipes call for onion powder and garlic powder, not fresh).

Here, it doesn’t matter: it’s just regular chili we’re makin’, with lamb, cinnamon and chocolate, like you do every day. No need to make a fuss about onion cube size.

I intentionally left the ground lamb in its large chunky string state, and the recipe does not instruct you to do otherwise, but if you want authentic texture, run the ground meat through your food processor so that no chunks remain. The meat should be pebbly small.

Unlike in this recipe, authentic Cincinnati chili meat is boiled, not browned, in plain water. But don’t boil the lamb here — brown it per instructions. Regular chili, people, regular chili.

A long cooking time will meld all the flavors nicely. It’s not Cincinnati chili by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a very decent chili.

Cincinnati chili is served either over spaghetti or used as a hot dog topping (called, coneys).

Here’s your typical “three-way.” Spaghetti, meat, cheese. Cheddar cheese — sharp cheddar cheese, preferrably, — not goat cheese. A four-way adds chopped raw onions, and kidney beans is a five-way.

Not Quite But Still Tasty Cincinnati Chili

Changed to remove the more egregious ingredients, from and Bon Appetit, February 2011.

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cups chopped onions
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 pounds ground lamb
1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
4 2/3 cups (about) low-salt beef broth, divided
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound spaghetti
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed, drained coarsely
Cheddar cheese
Chopped onions

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large deep skillet over medium heat. Add onions; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add lamb; cook until browned, breaking into pieces, about 15 minutes. Add cocoa and next 5 ingredients; stir 3 minutes. Stir in 4 cups broth and next 6 ingredients. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until thickened, stirring often, about 1 hour. Spoon fat from top of chili. Season with salt and pepper. Thin with broth by 1/3 cupfuls.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Transfer to large bowl.

Divide spaghetti among bowls. Top with chili. Garnish with cheese and onions.

Print This Recipe

Subscribe to the SoupAddict Weekly Digest and get new soups and other delish foods in bowls in your inbox!

Thank You For Subscribing!

So glad to have you aboard, fellow Soup Lover! Stay tuned for the first edition!

Bolognese Recipe and Cookbook Redemption
← Previous
Savory Cheese and Chive Quick Bread
Next →


Monday 21st of February 2011

SoupAddict, I know you never make real Cincinnati chili, but is there a recipe you'd recommend? Or one you saw and thought had possibilities? You've made me hungry, again. Thanks!


Monday 21st of February 2011

Hi Darlynne, Cook's Illustrated has a really close version of it (but their online recipes are gated behind an online subscription - if you're an online subscriber, log in and search for "Cincinnati Chili").


Saturday 19th of February 2011

This looks so good! Love the richness of the sauce.

Rocky Mountain Woman

Friday 18th of February 2011

I love ground lamb.

I may have to try this even though I have a world renown chili recipe. There may be a revolution in my house over this...


Friday 18th of February 2011

There is no substitute for Skyline Chili. Why even try?

Tom M.

Friday 25th of March 2011

Thankfully there's only one. It makes it easier for me to avoid (not a fan)!


Thursday 17th of February 2011

Looks yummy. I made a (sort of, I guess) Cincinnati Chile recipe some years ago that seemed similar to this, only it used ground beef instead of lamb. Did I blaspheme?