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A Guide to Cincinnati Chili: A Must-Try Flavor Adventure

Cincinnati Chilli

Step into the vibrant culinary world of Cincinnati – a place where gourmet dreams come true. Amidst the bustling streets and enchanting neighborhood, Cincinnati Chili captivates the taste buds and hearts of tourists and locals.  

This blog post will introduce you to the delectable flavors of Cincinnati chili, a culinary adventure in the Cincinnati food tour that will tantalize your taste buds. Get ready to embark on a journey through the rich and flavorful traditions of Cincinnati chili.

Cincinnati Chili: A Delicacy that Delights Plates and Lives 

A steaming plate of spaghetti topped with a hearty, flavorful chili sprinkled with a generous amount of shredded cheese and diced onions. Yum! That picture made your taste bud tingle, right? 

Cincinnati Chili isn’t merely a meal; it’s a cultural phenomenon, celebrated in festivals and events that unite the community in a shared love for this exquisite dish. It’s a celebration of heritage, a testament to the city’s unwavering pride, and a reminder that food can bring people together. 

Unraveling Cincinnati Chili’s Past 

To truly appreciate Cincinnati chili, we must journey back in time. In the early 20th century, a Macedonian immigrant named Tom Kiradjieff introduced a recipe combining Mediterranean spices with traditional chili to create Cincinnati chili.  

Over the years, iconic chili parlors like Empress, Skyline, and Gold Star played pivotal roles in popularizing and refining this unique dish. Cincinnati chili became more than just food; it symbolized the city’s rich cultural heritage. 

What Sets Cincinnati Chili Apart? 

Cincinnati chili stands apart from its counterparts in various ways. Unlike traditional chili, it boasts a distinctive flavor profile influenced by Mediterranean spices such as cinnamon, allspice, and cloves.  

To enhance the flavors, Cincinnati Chili is served on a bed of spaghetti and topped with a medley of delicious ingredients, including shredded cheddar cheese, diced onions, and kidney beans. This sensational concoction creates a harmonious blend of flavors that keeps people returning for more. 

Cincinnati Chili’s Variations 

While the classic Cincinnati chili recipe is a favorite, several variations are worth exploring. For those seeking a vegetarian or vegan option, substituting meat with ingredients like lentils or textured vegetable protein can be a satisfying alternative.  

Additionally, adventurous palates can enjoy spicy chili infused with extra heat by adding chili powder or hot sauce. And let’s not forget white Cincinnati chili, a milder version made with chicken, white beans, and a creamy sauce.  

These variations offer exciting twists on the traditional recipe, catering to different dietary and taste preferences. 

How to Order Cincinnati Chili Like a Pro?

Every chili parlor kitchen has some variation in its spice blend and plating. One place could be using cumin, while another could be filling up their kitchen with the aroma of bay leaves.  

However, what ties all the kitchens together is the “way” system. The “way” system started as slang, but now it is how people order it. This is how you can customize and order your Chili: 

  1. Two-Way: This is the most basic way of enjoying Cincinnati chili. It consists of a plate of spaghetti topped with a generous serving of chili. The chili is often rich in flavor, with hints of cinnamon, chocolate, and other spices. 
  2. Three-Way: This is where the magic begins to happen. The three-way chili adds another layer of flavor. It has got a generous amount of finely shredded cheddar cheese on top of the chili and spaghetti combination. The cheese melts slightly from the heat of the chili, creating a delicious and creamy addition to the dish. 
  3. Four-Way: The four-way takes the three-way and adds another traditional Cincinnati chili topping—either beans or onions. You can choose kidney beans or diced onions (or both) as the fourth layer on top of the chili and cheese. 
  4. Five-Way: It starts with a bed of spaghetti, followed by Cincinnati chili, shredded cheese, your choice of beans, and onions. The five-way combination of flavors and textures is considered the pinnacle of Cincinnati chili dining. 

Unveiling Local Favorites for Having Cincinnati Chili   

For the ultimate Cincinnati chili experience, one must visit the iconic chili parlors that have been serving this delectable dish for generations. With its secret recipe and warm hospitality, Skyline Chili is a must-visit.  

Empress Chili, the oldest chili parlor in Cincinnati, offers a glimpse into the history of this beloved cuisine.  

If you’re looking for a cozy dining atmosphere, look no further than Camp Washington Chili. Your Cincinnati food tour stops here.  

These legendary Chili Kitchens are the guardians of authentic Cincinnati chili, ensuring every bite is a taste of tradition. 

Bring Cincinnati Chili to your Kitchen 

Don’t feel disheartened if you can’t go to Cincinnati to indulge in this culinary delight. You can recreate Cincinnati chili in your kitchen without being on a Cincinnati food tour with the following method:

Unsweetened chocolate: All you need is an ounce, but the fans claim it makes all the difference.  

Ground beef: Ground beef makes the base of Cincinnati Chili. To keep it most flavorsome, 85/15 is the ideal proportion.  

Toppings: Plate your bowl with spaghetti, pour chili, and sprinkle some cheese. Beautify your bowl by topping off some onions, kidney beans, or even oyster crackers if you feel like it. 

Step by Step Instruction to Cook Cincinnati Chili  

  1. Pick up a Dutch oven or large pot and place it over medium-high heat. Pour in some oil and let it heat until it shimmers. Sauté the onions until they glimmer with a golden hue; it will take around 5 minutes.  
  2. Stir in chocolate, garlic, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce. 
  3. Your next step should be stirring in beef and allowing the blend to come to a boil.  
  4. Season the blend with a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper, finding the perfect balance of flavors.  
  5. Plate your chili over cooked spaghetti. Enhance its flavors by topping it with cheese, beans, onions, and crackers.  

And voila! You’ve brought the flavors of Cincinnati to your home. 

Cincinnati Chili in the Limelight 

Cincinnati chili has left its mark on popular culture, appearing in movies, TV shows, and literature. From sitcoms like “WKRP in Cincinnati” to films like “Rain Man,” this iconic dish has captured the imagination of storytellers.
Its inclusion in various forms of media not only showcases its culinary significance but also solidifies its place in people’s hearts, locally and globally. 


Cincinnati chili is more than just a dish; it’s a cultural phenomenon that has shaped the city’s identity. It’s fascinating history, distinctive flavors, and tantalizing variations make it a true culinary treasure.  

Bookmark this blog for when you go on a Cincinnati food tour. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or a curious food enthusiast, exploring Cincinnati chili is a journey worth embarking on.

Author Profile

George Zappas

Executive Chef

George Zappas, CookinGenie's Executive Chef, is a passionate culinary professional with 15+ years of experience. George calls Cincinnati home and is dedicated to creating unforgettable dining experiences, mentoring chefs, and inspiring food exploration.

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