Cincinnati Chili

by Food Hound on November 17, 2013

in Main Dishes, Meat, Soups and Stews

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I’ll give you a whopping three seconds to say who you think makes all the food decisions around here.

One. (I do) Two. (I do) Three. (I do)

You’re right!  I do.

The Booze Hound delights in the fact that he has nothing to do with the culinary workings of our life, and I delight in having all. that. power.  Muahahah!!  But one day, on a trip up to northern Ohio, my second half piped up and said that we had to stop at a Skyline Chili for lunch.

Ummmm, fast food chili?  Barf-o-rama.

But for whatever reason- I was just being really nice or I was deliriously hungry (probably the latter because I was okay-ing fast food chili)- I caved and we stopped.

That stop might have been the only time the Booze Hound made a family food decision, but he’s 1 for 1.  He’s batting a thousand.  It was AWESOME.

Right then and there I became a member of the cult of Skyline devotees.  Instead of Kool-Aid, we choose chili.

Skyline is classic Cincinnati chili, which tastes only kind of like ‘regular’ chili.  It’s heavy on earthy spices- like cinnamon, allspice, even cloves- with a nice dose of cocoa.  These might sound like things that should never, ever, be in a bowl of chili, but they all work together to become way more than individual flavors.  It is classically served over spaghetti and topped with minced onion, kidney beans, and lots and lots and lots of cheddar cheese.

Before the hateful comments start flowing in from people who think Cinci chili is blasphemous, thus igniting a war of words that usually ends up with an anti-bean Texan threatening secession from the Union, let me be perfectly clear that you can’t compare Cincinnati chili to any other kind of chili.  It’s its own thing.  I’m still totally in love with my Ultimate Beef Chili, which proves you don’t have to always pick chili sides.  You can love them all.

That being said, I will weigh in on something I have learned from a lot of years of chili-making and eating: chili recipes that are distinctly one kind or another are usually better than ‘crossover’ versions, like a Texas chili with cocoa in it, or too many funky ingredients, like cocoa + chipotle + chorizo + cinnamon + butternut squash… you get the idea.  This Cincinnati chili is, to me, classic and authentic.

Ohioans take chili toppings to new levels.  Most other Tex-Mex chilis can stand alone very nicely… but it’s kind of a crime to eat Cinci chili without at least one of the classic toppings, aka, you must at least top it with a pile of shredded cheddar.  Personally, I leave out the spaghetti and top it with the cheese, kidney beans, and diced onion.  If you want to order it this way at Skyline, you tell them you want 5-alarm chili minus the spaghetti.  Then watch their heads explode.

Cincinnati Chili
Serves: 6
  • 2 lbs ground beef (I use ground sirloin, or about 90% lean)
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 c low-sodium beef stock
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (16-oz) can tomato sauce
  • 2½ T chili powder
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2½ T unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Toppings
  • Diced onion
  • Canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • LOTS of shredded cheddar cheese (keep it authentic- get the shredded stuff in the bag)
  • Cooked spaghetti (I don't serve it over spaghetti, but it's the classic way to serve it)
  1. Brown the ground beef and onion over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Add broth and the rest of the ingredients (through bay leaf), bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer uncovered over low heat for an hour (see notes if you want the true Skyline consistency). Remove bay leaf, and skim off excess fat (also see notes). Serve with traditional toppings, i.e., spaghetti underneath (which I skip) and onion + beans + LOTS of shredded cheddar on top (which I do not skip).
Saying this is a true Skyline copycat recipe IS too good to be true. It's close, but there are a few differences. The biggest difference is the texture- this is chunky, like a traditional Tex-Mex chili. If you want it thinner, like Skyline, you can boil the ground beef and the onion in the beef broth from the beginning (about 20 minutes) instead of browning them first, then add the rest of the ingredients and let the whole thing simmer for longer than an hour, until you reach your desired consistency. Some people simmer theirs all day, which is fine, but make sure you check the liquid periodically and add more beef stock as necessary. Another option is to puree (either partially or completely) with a hand blender or in a heavy-duty blender until you reach your desired consistency. The only other major difference is that this version is both less greasy and salty. Using ground sirloin gives it the perfect amount of fat (fat = flavor), and if you use fattier ground meat, I recommend letting the finished chili cool in the fridge overnight, and then skim the fat off the top the next day (chili ALWAYS gets better after a night in the fridge, anyway, and this one is no exception!!). I keep the added salt modest because I pile on an obscene amount of shredded cheddar, which will add to the saltiness. However, if you are more adult-like in your cheese quotient, or you simply love salty chili, you can increase the salt.




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