Cincinnati Chili – Mine finally tastes like Skyline Chili!!

Cincinnati Chili (1 of 1)

I have been making chili FOREVER! I am sure most of us have and I am certain that we would all say that we make the best chili or that we have some super top secret chili recipe from Uncle Whoever that we will never give up! Well, it seemed that Skyline Chili wasn’t giving it up either for awhile because until a week ago I could not seem to get it right!

I, frankly, had never heard of this Skyline Chili stuff until I married my hubby. He lived in Kentucky many years ago and first had this type of chili in Louisville. Apparently, it is now served in its home city of Cincinnati, Ohio as well as Indiana, Kentucky and even Florida (of all places!). My chili was more of what I would consider “normal” chili. It has the beans mixed in with the usual ingredients (onions, green peppers, tomatoes, chili powder, etc.) and this Cincinnati chili is just made with meat! It is also served over spaghetti! Now who does that? I had never heard of such a thing!

There are also several brands of Cincinnati style chili with Skyline Chili perhaps being the most recognizable name. Gold Star would be the next competitor with Empress and Dixie bringing up the rear! I went online and found out that all of these brands of Cincinnati chili have their own locations, several sell their chili, spices, T-shirts and even golf balls on their websites!

All of these brands of chili are available in the can (oh, yuck!) and are primarily sold in the same states where they have their restaurants. Skyline Chili is also available in your grocer’s freezer (even here in Atlanta), so that is what my husband has been eating for years when he needed a fix!

I guess there has been some huge rivalry between these chili makers (especially the top two – Skyline and Gold Star). There are also myriads of recipes floating around and lots of discussions about what exactly goes into this chili to make it taste so different. Well, I will tell you that I have probably tried 5 recipes since this quest began and as of last week, the adventure is over! I have done it! I finally found a recipe that tastes just like the stuff my hubby had in Indiana years ago and has craved from the frozen foods department since then.

So, this is how I spent a day in the mountains with 10 degree temps, 50 mile an hour howling winds and one foot of icy snow! I made chili! This recipe I used (with great success, I might add :)) was adapted from About .com. I made some changes based on what I read in comments online and how things were progressing while it cooked.

I read many discussions about how to fix the beef prior to mixing it with the spices. One was to put the ground beef in a food processor first to chop the meat finer (I am not so sure if that worked or not, but I tried it). The other key to making this is to boil the beef first. It sounds gross and does not make for pretty pictures, so you won’t be seeing those here, but it works! You need to really work the meat to get it into the teeniest pieces possible! That is part of the difference of this chili.

I would say the real secret is in the addition of cocoa and cinnamon and the large amount of spices you add. The chili tasted really hot at first, but as it cooked, the flavors mellowed and created that just right blend of spices that makes Cincinnati chili so different!

I used an equal amount of ground round and ground chuck. That way I had good flavor from the chuck, but did not have to worry so much about the fat (since we wanted to eat it right away!). I will say, however, that as with many dishes (especially chili) it was WAY better day 2 and day 3. We could not stop eating it!

One more thing about this chili…it is talked about in a way that reminds me of eating hash browns at Waffle House! Here are the ways you can fix it!

The Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili Ordering Code:

1-way: just the chili
2-way: chili served over spaghetti
3-way: chili, spaghetti, and grated Cheddar cheese
4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans
All “ways” are served with oyster crackers (we skipped the crackers!).

Our new personal favorite would be the cheese coney! This would include the hot dog with chili, cheese, diced onions and mustard. We left off the onions and mustard (did not want to mess up the yummy chili flavor!).

By the way, I cooked my chili for about 8 hours (low and slow!). The original recipe calls for simmering for 3 hours. Just trust me on this one and start it in the morning and let it cook ALL day. Better yet, cook it the day before and serve it the next day! No more frozen chili for us! ;)

I so hate to say this, but it really is “Yum-O”! ;)

Chili Cheese Coney Dog

Chili Cheese Coney Dog

Cincinnati Chili


1 quart cold water
2 lbs ground beef (I used 1 lb. each of ground round and ground chuck).
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes
2 yellow onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
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 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt


1. Put your ground beef in a food processor and pulse several times. Add beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients.

2. Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours (longer is better, all day is best!). Add water as needed if the chili becomes to thick (I did need to do this several times, especially because I cooked mine all day).

3. Refrigerated the chili overnight, and the next day remove the layer of fat from top before reheating and serving (I really did not have any major fat to skim and I served it the same day).

40 Responses to “Cincinnati Chili – Mine finally tastes like Skyline Chili!!”

  1. 1

    doggybloggy — February 23, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

    loving it on the hot dogs!

    • bunkycooks replied: — February 23rd, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

      Gotta love them dogs! I know you are a fan! ;).

  2. 2

    Maria — January 27, 2012 @ 11:03 am

    Ooh Gwen,

    This looks wonderful. Do you think one can do the simmer part in a crock pot?
    And loving the hot dog idea too!

    • Gwen replied: — January 27th, 2012 @ 11:11 am

      Hi Maria,

      I think a crock pot would work well. Just keep it on low and check it periodically to make sure it’s not drying out too much. I am sure you will need to add some water from time to time.


  3. 3

    Sarah Wolz — November 4, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    Based on viewing a number of recipes and reading about your husband’s testimonial to authenticity, I am making this today in advance of Election Night, where we’re having a potluck party featuring foods from the “battleground states” (so far the sign-up list has whoopie pies from Penn., Wis cheddar spread, Iowa potato casserole, Mich apple crumble, Fla citrus salad, Virg ham, etc) Anyway, it smells fabulous and will be hard to wait til Tuesday to eat! Thanks for the recipe.

  4. 4

    Stephanie — November 9, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

    I have been making this recipe for the last 3 years. It’s our favorite. I currently have it simmering on the stove right now. Today is the first time I’ve actually read your story! I can’t believe I’ve never taken the time to do so. What an incredible journey you and your husband have endured. You are what I want to be! I see myself in you so much. I am certainly not in any place in my life to do what you do. So I will live vicariously through you. Thanks for your blog and your passion!

    • Gwen replied: — November 13th, 2013 @ 4:03 am

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. This recipe is the only one we use since I found it and I’m glad you enjoy it as well.

      Yes, our world has been crazy over the past twelve years and it is definitely why we have decided to do what we are doing. I hope that you will be able to travel more in the future. It is definitely life changing.



  5. 5

    Ali — January 5, 2014 @ 11:21 am

    Hi Gwen. I am getting ready to try this recipe today. Just one question – do you use cocoa powder or chopped baking chocolate?
    Thanks so much!

    • Gwen replied: — January 5th, 2014 @ 11:45 am

      Hi Ali,

      I use unsweetened cocoa powder. My husband happened to be looking at the recipe when you sent this message. I guess I may be making it today, too. ;-)

      I hope you enjoy the chili!


  6. 6

    Ali — January 19, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    I just wanted you to know that I tried the recipe, and it was perfect! I served it to someone who grew up eating Skyline chili, and he said he honestly could not tell the difference. This recipe is a definite keeper.
    Thanks so much!

    • Gwen replied: — January 23rd, 2014 @ 11:30 am

      Hi Ali,

      I’m so glad that you all found the recipe to almost identiacl to the original Skyline Chili. It is the closest one I have found so far. I appreciate your note back to me. It’s always great to hear when our readers enjoy the recipes. :-)


  7. 7

    Stacey — February 4, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

    I’m so excited to try this recipe, we don’t have access to Skyline Chili here in Oregon. My family is in Florida and I load up on cans of chili anytime I visit. My questions is about processing the meat in the food processor – I don’t have one. Any suggestions on what to do instead?

    • Gwen replied: — February 4th, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

      Hi Stacey,

      If you have a blender, you could try using it, being careful not to overprocess the meat. Another option would be to use a really sharp knife and chop the ground meat into fine pieces. As the chili cooks, I always take a wooden spoon and try to work the meat into finer pieces by pressing the meat up against the side of the pot. I think it’s best when the meat is in very small pieces. I hope that helps.


  8. 8

    JohnnyB — February 13, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

    Actually, Empress Chili created the first Cincinnati style chili in 1920. They are still in business, but do not have too many outlets. Both Dixie Chili (1922) and Skyline Chili (1949) were started by former Empress employees. As for outlets in Florida, I remember being in Ft. Lauderdale on Spring Break in 1973, and saw the first Skylilne Chili getting ready to open. When I mentioned this semming implausibility to my parents, they reminded me that Florida has a significant Greek population, and this style chili was created and propagated primarily by Macedonian and Greek immigrants.

  9. 9

    Reese — February 14, 2014 @ 3:31 pm

    Hi! I’m excited to try this recipe for my husband tonight for Valentine’s. I’m doing an entire Cincy dinner for him :) One question though, you say, “bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients.” Does that mean “simmer for 30 minutes, THEN add all the rest of the ingredients” or “add the ingredients during the 30 minute simmer”? I’m sure it is the first, but just checking.

  10. 10

    Gwen — February 14, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

    Hi Reese,

    Yes, simmer the beef and water together for 30 minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients and cook for at least 3 hours.

    Good luck and I hope you have a great dinner!


  11. 11

    Reese — February 17, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

    This was officially the best Skyline replica we have made. The processing made all of the difference. Thank you!

    • Gwen replied: — February 17th, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

      Hi Reese,

      Thank you for getting back to let me know how you liked the recipe. We felt the same way when I first tried this version. I’m glad you had success and that this one is a keeper!


  12. 12

    Mary Mattas — February 17, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

    Are you sure I should use 1/4 cup chili powder?

    • Gwen replied: — February 17th, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

      Hi Mary,

      Yes, that amount is correct. I hope you enjoy the recipe.


  13. 13

    Timothy G — February 26, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    Hello I’m trying to find a recipe that has cracked the skyline flaver, not the Cincinnati pack , or gold star , I have not tried your recipe, but what I do know is because of the FDA , manufacturers have to label certain ingredients, ,on the back of the skyline chilli box you are lacking 3 ingredients ‘ tomato paste’ paprika’an tortilla yeast

    • Gwen replied: — February 26th, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

      Hi Timothy,

      I’m not sure if those ingredients are in just the frozen version or what is served at the Skyline locations, but I can tell you that my husband and others who have tried the recipe say it’s the closest to the original one. If you are interested in trying this recipe, maybe you can add those ingredients and see what the outcome is. BTW, I’m not sure what tortilla yeast is. Tortillas aren’t made with yeast, as far as I know.

      If you give it a try, please let me know what you think.


  14. 14

    Stacey — March 26, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

    Just following up – this chili was a great success with my husband, the Skyline addict. We both think the taste/spice profile is a bit different than “real” Skyline, but it’s pretty darn close and very tasty.

    My husband, a hater of leftovers, has eaten probably 8-10 servings of this and is still asking for it. Good thing, since it made a lot and it’s just the two of us.

    Thanks for your recipe!!


    • Gwen replied: — April 8th, 2014 @ 9:12 am

      Hi Stacey,

      Thank you so much for letting me know how much you enjoyed the chili recipe. I’m glad that your husband enjoyed it as well.


  15. 15

    Diana — June 19, 2014 @ 4:55 pm

    I just tried skyline chili for the very first time earlier this week. I liked the way your recipe looked so I am about to make it. My question is do you cook the beef before placing in the processor?

    Thank you,


    • Gwen replied: — June 19th, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

      Hi Diana,

      No, the meat is put in the food processor before cooking. However, another option would be to use an immersion blender after you make the chili to achieve the same texture. I hope you enjoy the recipe!


  16. 16

    Daniel V — August 27, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

    I’m cookin this recipe right now. I’m no chef, but I am from Cincinnati so I can say the chili powder is a little heavy. I don’t know what I could sub in to fill a voild, but the chili powder took over the rather sweet and saltiness of the original dish a bit. Next time Ill add to taste, starting with half of the called 1/4 cup. Overall I’m pleased to get this close! Thanks for sharing. Also a word to people making for the little ones, be cautious on the cayenne pepper! It gets spicy quick. I enjoy the heat but my 3 year old, not so much. Thanks again for helping me get my fix!

    • Gwen replied: — August 28th, 2014 @ 8:14 am

      Hi Daniel,

      Yes, you can always add spices to taste. I’m glad that you found the recipe to be close to the original. We think it’s the best one that I’ve found.

      I am coauthoring a cookbook with a Louisville chef, Anthony Lamas of Seviche, A Latin Restaurant. It’s called Southern Heat and will be out next fall (2015). We will have his version in the book and it’s amazing! Look for the book next fall and see what you think of that Cincinnati Chili recipe. :-)



  17. 17

    Sharon — September 6, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

    Hi Gwen,
    Made your Cincinnati Chili recipe today. This is the best recipe I’ve found. Thank you for sharing this little piece gold.

  18. 18

    deborah — October 6, 2014 @ 7:15 am

    I made this yesterday and I did not care for it. I am a big Cincinnati Chili fan and it didn’t taste like it at all. Before you make it the next time have someone who lives there go to Kroger and buy you the mix they sell. You can then have something to compare it to.

  19. 19

    Robert — October 11, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

    I made this and it worked well. I cooked the meat on a baking sheet in the oven and then broke the cooked meat up in an electric mixer–this worked well and I was able to remove all the grease from the meat early on.

    When the chili was done simmering, it was just a bit bland, so I added beef stock (the thick paste version) and then it tasted great.

    Thanks for the recipe.

  20. 20

    Elizabeth Vega — November 19, 2014 @ 10:45 pm

    I’ve never had Cincinnati-style chili before, so I don’t know how it compares, but I followed your recipe almost exactly, and we loved it! The only substitution I made was using 2 1/3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper sauce in place of the cayenne (because we had run out) and vinegar, and everything turned out beautifully. Using a stick blender at the end did the trick for texture.

    Thanks so much for posting this recipe… it’s a keeper!

  21. 21

    Haley — December 1, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

    Hello! I know this recipe was posted roughly a year ago, but as someone who spent their childhood years next to a skyline chili restaurant (this was the only kind of chili I thought existed) I grew up on the stuff. Since moving to Texas, I have spent hours among hours of research trying to figure out the authentic recipe, and at least a dozen trial and error attempts…
    I must include that allspice is a must when making this amazing chili concoction! Also, the closest I’ve come to the exact flavor included simmering the raw meat in beef broth, while stirring and breaking up into fine pieces until brown, then cooling and placing in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you remove the solidified layer of fat from the surface, add your spices, and continue to cook throughout the day. Happy cooking!

  22. 22

    Haley — December 1, 2014 @ 10:02 pm

    Oh! And ginger. Can’t forget ginger ;-)

  23. 23

    kelly — January 4, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

    I plan on making this myself. It will be probably the sixth recipe I’ve tried so wish me luck. My Aunt Patti makes a version that isn’t bad. To get the right texture she puts her chili in the blender after it has been cooked for about an hour then returns it to the pot and cooks it down some more. I got to say that part she got right but her spices seem a little off.

  24. 24

    Suzy — February 9, 2015 @ 6:20 pm

    What brand of chili powder did you use?

    • Gwen replied: — February 13th, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

      Hi Suzy,

      It was either McCormick’s or Penzy’s. I use them both in my cooking.


  25. 25

    Renée — February 13, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

    Food-snob New Englander here – the sound of Cincinnati chili always grossed me out for some reason, but my boyfriend loves it so I decided to give it a try. It’s simmering away on the stove right now, smelling too good to be legal. I’m excited to try it on both spaghetti and hot dogs. Thanks for the recipe!

    Also, you weren’t kidding about how gross the first step looks! One tip for those who don’t want to dirty their food processor: I used a potato masher (the old-fashioned kind with a squiggly bottom) to break the meat up for the first few minutes of cook time and it worked perfectly.

  26. 26

    Jamie — March 17, 2015 @ 11:30 am

    Has anyone tried a vegetarian version? My husband doesn’t eat meat but if still like to see how this tastes! Maybe I’ll just make it as it is just for myself and my dad. Growing up in southwest ohio I’ve had skyline too many times to count!

    • Gwen replied: — March 18th, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

      Hi Jamie,

      I’m not sure about a vegetarian version of this particular recipe, but if you do make one, please let me know how it turns out.


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