Recipe: Cincinnati Chili

updated Jun 8, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

It’s Chocolate Week! What’s chili doing here? Well, this is Cincinnati chili – a blend of cinnamon, hot pepper, cumin, and, yes, chocolate. It’s not a gimmick or a mole-wannabe. Cincy chili is rich treat all its own…

When made well it has a smoky, elusive blend of flavors. Cinnamon and cocoa play supporting roles, lifting the other flavors and bringing out the taste of the meat. It’s addictive, and usually it’s eaten over spaghetti. Those Ohioans love their chili – apparently there are more chili parlors in Cincinnati than any other American city! (Move over Texas…)

The combination of spaghetti and chili without beans may be sacrilegious to those with other notions of chili, but this is worth a try on its own merits. It’s also a quick and filling weeknight dinner.

Our recipe departs from some authentic elements (there is, of course, much debate over what constitutes truly authentic Cincinnati chili). Many traditional recipes don’t brown the meat – they boil or simmer it instead. We like the browned, deep flavor though.

Also, to experience this truly, you have to try it all five ways:

• Two-way: Spaghetti topped with chili (the basics)
• Three-way: Chili, spaghetti, and finely grated cheddar cheese (lots of it!)
• Four-way: Chili, spaghetti, cheese, and minced onions
• Five-way: Chili, spaghetti, cheese, minced onions, and hot kidney or chili beans

It’s cold outside – happy chili-eating!

Cincinnati Chili
serves 2-4

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 small dried red peppers
2 tablespoons chili powder

3 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper
1 teaspoon salt

2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken or beef broth
1/2 cup water

Film a large, heavy frying pan with olive oil. Heat over medium high heat and when hot add the beef, minced onion and garlic, and chili powder. Crumble in the dried red peppers. Cook for about eight minutes or until the meat is browned.

In a separate bowl combine the cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, cumin, chipotle pepper, and salt. Add and stir fry for another couple minutes until fragrant.

Add the bay leaves, Worcestshire sauce, vinegar, tomato sauce, broth and water. Turn heat to low and simmer for an hour.

Serve over spaghetti with minced onion, hot kidney beans, and cheddar cheese.