Cincinnati Chili History and Recipe

Outside of the state of Texas, Cincinnati, Ohio is the most chili-crazed city in the United States.  Cincinnati prides itself on being a true chili capital, with more than 180 chili parlors.  Cincinnati Chili is quite different from its more familiar Texas cousin, and it has developed a cult-like popularity.  What makes it different is the way the meat is cooked.  Cincinnati Chili has a thinner consistency and is prepared with an unusual blend of spices that includes cinnamon, chocolate or cocoa, allspice, and Worcestershire.  This is truly the unofficial grub of Cincinnati.

The people of Cincinnati enjoy their chili spooned over freshly made pasta and topped with a combination of chopped onions, shredded Cheddar cheese, refried beans or kidney beans, and crushed oyster crackers.  If you choose “the works,” you are eating what they call Five-Way Chili.  Make sure to pile on the toppings – that’s what sets it apart from any other chili dish.  To test a restaurant for authenticity, ask for a Four-Way.  If the server asks you whether you want beans or onions, you know this is fake Cincinnati chili, since Four-Way always comes with onions.


Cincinnati Chili


History:  Macedonian immigrant Tom Kiradjieff created Cincinnati chili in 1922.  With his brother, John, Kiradjieff opened a small Greek restaurant called the Empress.  The restaurant did poorly however, until Kiradjieff started offering a chili made with Middle Eastern spices, which could be served in a variety of ways.  He called it his “spaghetti chili.”  Kiradjieff’s “five way” was a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with chili, chopped onion, kidney beans, and shredded yellow cheese, served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with more shredded cheese.

Check out another delicious version of Cincinnati Chili.



Cincinnati Chili Recipe – How To Make Cincinnati Chili:

Cincinnati Chili History and Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


1 large onion, chopped
1 pound extra-lean ground beef (hamburger)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin*
1/2 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or 1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate*
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 (16-ounce) package uncooked dried spaghetti pasta
Toppings (see below)

* See comments below on the Original Cincinatti Chili recipe by Sindi Holmlund.



In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, sautonion, ground beef, garlic, and chili powder until ground beef is slightly cooked.

Add allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, unsweetened cocoa or chocolate, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, and water.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour 30 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Cook spaghetti according to package directions and transfer onto individual serving plates (small oval plates are traditional).  Learn How To Cook Pasta Properly.

Ladle Cincinnati Chili mixture over the cooked spaghetti and serve with toppings of your choice.

Oyster crackers are served in a separate container on the side.

Oyster Crackers
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Chopped Onion
Kidney Beans (16-ounce) can

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Cincinnati chili lovers order their chili by number.  Two, Three, Four, or Five Way.  Let your guests create their own final product.

Cincinniti ChiliTwo-Way Chili:   Chili served on spaghetti.

Three-Way Chili:   Additionally topped with shredded Cheddar cheese.

Four-Way Chili:   Additionally topped with chopped onions.

Five-Way Chili:   Additionally topped with kidney beans.

Comments from Readers:

I’m from Cincinnati and my Grandmother worked at the Empress restaurant when she was young.  She got the original recipe for Cincinnati chili from the owner’s wife.  When my Grandma died, my Dad gave me her recipe box and there it was, the Original Cincinnati Chili Recipe.  The recipe you have is not quit correct, as the original recipe does not have cumin or cocoa in it, but had bay leaves.

Oh, and another thing, it was originally just called 3-way.  That meant that it could be ‘used’ three ways.

1. On hot dogs.

2. Over spaghetti. – And YES, you HAVE to put the oyster crackers on top of the spaghetti.

3. With added beans, as a bowel of chili.

Over time people changed it to mean what ‘topping’ they wanted on it.  I moved from Cincinnati to Florida when I was very young and the two things I missed the most were 3-way and White Castles.  I can make the 3-way, but there’s no substitute for the real thing when it comes to White Castles.  When my Dad visits, I make him bring me a bag of 24. – Sindi Holmlund


I lived in Cincinnati all my life. I learned the “secret” of making Cincinnati Chili.  One very important thing is – never brown the ground beef and don’t put onion in the mix.  The onions are saved to put on top.  The ground beef is mixed with the ingredients plus water and boiled for several hours.  Also use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce.  Thanks for your great recipes – Laura Madigan


Another secret for making your Cincinnati Chili even more authentic is to put the ground beef in a food processor and get it very finely chopped before boiling. When finished the chili should be a bit watery – this is where the Oyster Crackers come in. – Paul Hoernes


Cincinnati Chili



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Comments and Reviews

25 Responses to “Cincinnati Chili History and Recipe”

  1. Renee Labrenz

    I love Cincinnati Chili, and I agree with Sindi. Leave out the cocoa and the cumin.

  2. Joy hesford

    I too lived in Cincinnati most of life and now in Florida. Never fry meat, cook in water for 3 hours, and our family recipe was with Bay leaves and tomato paste, not sauce. I also miss white castles. When we go home, we eat a lot of them plus bring some back. Frozen ones are not quite as good but we do buy.

  3. chuck struble

    Yep…in California now. White Castles, cheeseconeys and 4-ways are needed to solve the problems of the world. I think Joy is right…tomato paste,no cumin & no cocoa but would add dried onions and 3-4 anchovies(that would be very greek).

  4. Spikemom

    I tried the frozen version made by Skyline and it had an almost star anise or licorice taste to it. Anyone know what that is?

  5. Stephen L McKenney

    The first Cinci Chili I ever had was back in about 1951 or 52…I was about five and the one thing I remember about the restaurant was – in addition to the GREAT taste – that there was a bowling alley on the floor above us! My dad mentioned it a time or two, but I never thought to ask him where the store was! Any other Cincy natives out there old enough to remember anything like that? And, there was a great chili parlor downtown on Fifth Street, near the old Fountain Square location that used to be in operation till the mid-60’s at least. As a young kid, they had the best chili spag and coneys, but they were a ways from where I grew up. Anybody remember the place, or the name?

    • Ron Greiser, Sr

      Empress Chili- John & Tom Kiradjieff owners. I went to Hughes High (‘49-‘52) with Eddie (John’s son). Skyline and Goldstar were started by men who worked in Empress kitchen. Empress still exists but Skyline is now “king”. Kroger’s sells a packaged mix.

    • Jack R.

      Empress Chili was on E. 5th St. across from the Greyhound Terminal. Went there with dad about 1942-43. Also went to Skyline’s original when opened in 1949. Stone’s Chili in Price Hill had the same chili also, prior to Skyline.

  6. alymae

    you can’t forget the hot sauce!!!!!!!! 🙂

  7. Bkhuna

    How can you call anything Chili if it doesn’t have chillies in them? That’s like making Lobster Thermador with tuna fish.

    You Yankees are nuts.

    • Nancy

      Bkhuna the Cincinnati Chili is Cincinnati’s version of chili, which is totally different then a Texas Chili. I’ll re-share the history information that is at the top of the page.
      History: Macedonian immigrant Tom Kiradjieff created Cincinnati chili in 1922. With his brother, John, Kiradjieff opened a small Greek restaurant called the Empress. The restaurant did poorly however, until Kiradjieff started offering a chili made with Middle Eastern spices, which could be served in a variety of ways. He called it his “spaghetti chili.” Kiradjieff’s “five way” was a concoction of a mound of spaghetti topped with chili, chopped onion, kidney beans, and shredded yellow cheese, served with oyster crackers and a side order of hot dogs topped with more shredded cheese.

    • Budvarakbar

      In the cafeteria of a very large employer in the Seattle area they used to routinely serve ‘gumbo soup’ that did not have any okra in it!

    • Dan

      Is “tuna fish” different than “tuna”? My cans just say “tuna”. Should I be looking for “salmon fish” and “halibut fish”?!

  8. MsA

    Hust made two pots with and without beans and all the toppings….onions cheese avocado jalapeños roasted red peppers doritos lime and oyster crackers

  9. pat

    how do you use the kidne beans as a topping? are they cooked? how?

  10. Judi

    There are two chili parlors in Cincinnati. One is Empress Chilli and the other is Skyline. Slightly different recipes. Hamburger must be boiled several hours. The chocolate gives it that special flavor and the cumin is a must. This is Cincinnati Chili. Any adds or subtractions does not make it authentic Cincinnati Chili and it can’t be beat!!

    • Noelle

      There are more than two chili parlors. I remember Gold Star achili was another favorite and there was another in downtown Sharonville that was great!

  11. Mary

    All I know is the Cincinnati Chili chain had one in Youngstown I used to go to all the time

  12. Erika

    Just look at what you’ve done! Now I have to have this for breakfast (just like yesterday)!
    There are no parlors here in Omaha, so I make it once a year. I made it on Sunday and it should be approaching perfection right about now.
    Here’s a secret: it just may be the best leftover ever!

  13. Firefighter Jim

    I used to make this at the firehouse and the team loved it.
    I know this is probably against the law somewhere, but… my wife does not eat red meat, so, I make it with ground turkey and I think that there is no real difference in the taste or texture.

  14. Birdie

    I would Love to have a copy of your original copy of the Empress chili recipe my Mother’s Brother worked as a butcher in downtown Cincinnati and they got their meat from his butcher shop. He got the original recipe and was swern to secrecy and when my Mother past away it was past to me . Well we had a fire and lost everything! But there were things about the recipe about how it was really cooked and bay leaves were in the original. Please I Love to have a copy and see if it is like my Mother ‘s. I have never left a comment I don’t even know if you will read this or if someone knows better how to pass this on please help


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