Cincinnati Chili – “Four Way”


I was always intrigued by Cincinnati Chili, I kind of loved the way the chili was served over a plate of steaming hot spaghetti instead of with just chips or cornbread, so a while back I finally decided to give it a try. I’m not 100% sure where I initially came across this particular recipe however, I did find that *most* of the recipes online were almost all exact. In my research I had been seeing a lot of references to “Skyline Chili” and came to learn that Skyline is actually a chain of chili restaurants across the Cincinnati area that are famous for their chili. Basically, most of the Cincinnati Chili recipes you’ll find online are a hacked version of the famous Skyline one.

This chili was excellent, the meat was very tender and flavorful and it was definitely a hearty dish. Interestingly, instead of just browning the meat and then adding in the spices this recipe call for simmering the meat for about a half hour so that it breaks apart into small pieces and softens. It sounds (and actually looks) pretty gross but trust me, don’t skip this step. Cooking the meat this way really makes a difference in the final product. Be aware that this is a chili that you will need to make ahead of time. Once cooked it’s refrigerated overnight so that the next day you can scrape away all of the excess fat which makes for a leaner, less greasy tasting chili.

Cincinnati Chili has a very interesting flavor profile, especially if you’re use to traditional southwest chili recipes which tend to be hot and spicy. While this chili has some heat, there is also a sweetness and warm spice flavor which comes from the chocolate, cloves, and cinnamon. I recommend cutting back a little on the cinnamon and cloves, the first time I made it I followed the recipe “as is” however, I found that for me the cinnamon and clove flavor was a little too overpowering. The next time I used just an 1/8 tsp of cloves and a 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and I liked that ratio much better. The nice thing about any chili recipe is that you can play around with the spices and seasonings until you find a flavor and level of heat that pleases your palate.

When ordering chili in Cincinnati there is a very specific ordering code you must adhere to. For this recipe I served it “four way” which means chili over spaghetti topped with grated Cheddar cheese and diced onions. I also added a handful of crushed oyster crackers to each plate which is also common with this dish. I loved the way the crunchy raw onions, salty crackers, and sharp cheddar cheese all played together with the chili and spaghetti. It was a very flavorful and yummy dish. When making (or ordering) your Cincinnati Chili be sure to specify how you’d like it served.

The Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili Ordering Code

  • 1-way: just chili
  • 2-waychili served over spaghetti
  • 3-waychili over spaghetti with grated Cheddar cheese
  • 4-waychili over spaghetti with grated Cheddar cheese and diced onions
  • 5-waychili over spaghetti with grated Cheddar cheese, diced onions, and beans


  • 1 quart cold water
  • 2 lbs ground beef 
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes 
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 whole bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt


Add the beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the ground beef is in very small, tender pieces, about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to break up the meat.

Add in all of the seasonings and spices. Simmer on low heat, uncovered, for 3 hours. Continue to add more water to the pot if the chili becomes too thick and to avoid the chili burning to the bottom of the pot.

Once the chili is done, refrigerate it overnight. Before serving the next day, scrape the layer of fat from the top and discard then warm the chili up over medium heat.



4 thoughts on “Cincinnati Chili – “Four Way”

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