Cincinnati chili

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Cincinnati chili
Skyline 4-way.jpg
A Cincinnati chili 4-way garnished with oyster crackers
Alternative names Cincinnati-style chili
Type Meat sauce
Place of origin United States
Region or state Cincinnati
Main ingredients Ground beef, tomato paste, spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice and chocolate)
Similar dishes Rochester hot sauce, Hot wiener sauce
Cookbook: Cincinnati chili  Media: Cincinnati chili

Cincinnati chili (or "Cincinnati-style chili") is a Greek-inspired meat sauce for spaghetti (Chili Spaghetti) or hot dogs (Cheese Coneys), dishes developed by Macedonian immigrant restaurateurs in the 1920s. Ingredients include ground beef, stock, tomato paste, cinnamon, other Mediterranean spices and sometimes chocolate in a souplike consistency. Other toppings include cheese, onions, and beans; specific combinations of toppings are known as "ways." While served in many local restaurants, it is most often associated with the over 250 "chili parlors," restaurants specializing in Cincinnati chili, found throughout greater Cincinnati with franchise locations throughout Ohio and in Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida. Each year Cincinnatians eat over 2 million pounds of Cincinnati chili topped by nearly a million pounds of cheese.


The "way" system of ordering[edit]

Ordering Cincinnati chili is based on this ingredient series: chili, spaghetti, grated cheddar cheese, diced onions, and kidney beans.[1] The number before the "way" of the chili determines which ingredients are included in each chili order.[2][3] Thus, customers can order a:

  • Bowl: chili in a bowl
  • Two-way: spaghetti topped with chili (also called "Chili Spaghetti")
  • Three-way: spaghetti, chili, and cheese
  • Four-way: spaghetti, chili, onions, and cheese
  • Four-way bean: spaghetti, beans, chili, and cheese (beans substituted for the onions)
  • Five-way: spaghetti, beans, chili, onions, and cheese

The above list is traditional. However, many restaurants, notably Skyline,[4] Gold Star,[5] and Dixie Chili and Deli,[6] do not use the term "four-way bean," instead considering a "four-way" to be a three-way plus the customer's choice of onions or beans. Dixie additionally offers a "six-way," which is a five-way with garlic.[6] Cincinnati chili is traditionally served in a shallow oval bowl.[7]

When served on a Coney style hot dog, the chili is also topped with grated cheddar cheese to make a "Cheese Coney." The default coney also includes mustard and a small amount of onion.[8]

The 'Three-way' and the 'Cheese Coney' are the most popular orders[9][10] and very few customers order a 'bowl.'[11] Oyster crackers are usually served with Cincinnati chili,[12] and a mild hot sauce such as Tabasco is frequently used as an optional topping.[8]

Price Hill Chili

Origins and history[edit]

Cincinnati chili originated with immigrant restaurateurs from the Macedonian region of Greece who were trying to broaden their customer base by moving beyond narrowly ethnic styles of cuisine.[13] Tom and John Kiradjieff began serving a "stew with traditional Mediterranean spices"[14] as a topping for hot dogs[2][15] in 1922 at their hot dog stand, next to a burlesque theater called the Empress, after which their Empress chili parlor took its name.[1] Tom Kiradjieff used the sauce to modify a traditional Greek dish, speculated to have been pastitsio[16] or saltsa kima.[17] He first served it with the spaghetti cooked in the chili but changed his method in response to customer requests.[18] The style has since been copied and modified by many other restaurant proprietors, down to locating their chili parlors adjacent to theaters.[19]

Empress was the largest chili parlor chain in Cincinnati until 1949, when a former Empress employee and Greek immigrant, Nicholas Lambrinides, started Skyline Chili.[1] Gold Star Chili came along in 1965, started by the four Daoud brothers who were originally from Jordan.[1]

Besides Empress, Skyline, and Gold Star, there are also smaller chains such as Dixie Chili and Deli and numerous independents including Camp Washington Chili, Pleasant Ridge Chili, Blue Ash Chili, Park Chili Parlor, Price Hill Chili, and the Blue Jay Restaurant[20] totalling more than 250 chili parlors, more per capita and per square mile than any city in the world.[21]

In addition to the chili parlors, some version of Cincinnati Chili is commonly served at many local restaurants. Arnold's Bar & Grill, the oldest bar in the city, serves a vegetarian 'Cincy Lentils' dish ordered in 'ways.'[22]


Raw ground beef[2] is crumbled in water and/or stock, tomato paste and seasonings are added, and the mixture is brought to a boil and then simmered for several hours to form a thin meat sauce. Many recipes call for an overnight chill in the refrigerator to allow for easy skimming of fat and to allow flavors to develop,[17] then reheating to serve.[23][24] Typical proportions are 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef to 6 cups of water and 6 oz tomato paste to make 8 servings.[24]


The name "Cincinnati chili" is often confusing to those unfamiliar with it because the term ‘chili’ evokes the expectation of chili con carne.[25][8][26][27][10][3][1] Cincinnati chili is a Mediterranean-spiced[2][3][27] meat sauce[28][25][2][8][3][1] for spaghetti or hot dogs and is very seldom eaten by the bowl[27][10][25] as is typical with chili con carne. It is common for Cincinnatians to describe it starting with, "Well, it's not really chili..."[28][29][11] Cincinnati chili is always seasoned with cinnamon, usually contains allspice and cloves, and often contains some combination of cumin, chocolate, paprika, nutmeg, and/or chili pepper.[23][1] It is normally of a thin consistency, closer to a soup than a stew.[20]The consistency, seasonings, and serving method are more similar to the spiced meat sauces used to top hot dogs in Rochester, Rhode Island, and Michigan than they are to chili con carne.[30]


According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than 2,000,000 lb (910,000 kg) of Cincinnati chili each year, topped by 850,000 lb (390,000 kg) of shredded cheddar cheese.[31] Overall industry revenues were $250 million in 2014.[32]

Cincinnati chili has earned the praise of national food critics Jane and Michael Stern, who declared, "As connoisseurs of blue-plate food, we consider Cincinnati chili one of America's quintessential meals"[33] and "one of the nation's most distinctive plates of regional food."[2] In 2000, Camp Washington Chili won a James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award.[34] In 2013, Smithsonian named Cincinnati Chili one of "20 Most Iconic Foods" in America,[35] calling out Camp Washington Chili as their destination of choice.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Herrmann Loomis, Susan (16 April 1989). "Fare of the County; A City's Romance With a Bowl of Chili". New York Times. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Campbell, Polly. "Area has taste all its own". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d Lowe, Cliff. "The Life and Times of Chili: Cincinnati Chili". Food is Art. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  4. ^ "Menu: Ways". Skyline Chili. Retrieved June 9, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Menu: Ways". Gold Star Chili. Retrieved June 9, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Our Menu". Dixie Chili and Deli. Retrieved June 14, 2015. 
  7. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 15.
  8. ^ a b c d "Cincinnati Chili: Pass the Tabasco". Fodor's. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 10.
  10. ^ a b c Conan, Neal. "Talk of the Nation/Cincinnati Chili". NPR. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Bonem, Max. "5 Reasons Cincinnati Chili is Misunderstood". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  12. ^ Stern, Jane; Stern, Michael (2009). 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late: And the Very Best Places to Eat Them. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-547-05907-5. 
  13. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 11.
  14. ^ Woellert 2013, p.27
  15. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 27
  16. ^ Dixler, Hillary. "How Camp Washington's Chili-topped Spaghetti Became Legend". Eater. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "All About Cincinnati Chili". Joy of Cooking. Retrieved 30 May 2015. 
  18. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 25.
  19. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 25.
  20. ^ a b Larkin, Jess. "Top 5 Local Chili Parlors". Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved 21 May 2015. 
  21. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 9.
  22. ^ "Arnold's Bar & Grill". Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  23. ^ a b Rombauer, Irma S.; Becker, Marion Rombauer; Becker, Ethan (1997). The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner. p. 672. ISBN 0-684-81870-1. 
  24. ^ a b "Cincinnati Recipe Chili Mix". Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  25. ^ a b c "Cincinnati Chili". Cook's Info. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  26. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 10.
  27. ^ a b c Boyer, Mike. "Cincinnati chili stakes its claim". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  28. ^ a b Neman, Daniel. "Finding comfort in chili". St Louis Dispatch. Retrieved 9 June 2015. 
  29. ^ Calvert, Scott. "Hometown of the other chili". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  30. ^ Woellert 2013, p. 10.
  31. ^ Woellert, Dann (2013). The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili. The History Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-60949-992-1. 
  32. ^ Zarnitz, Eric. "WLWT examines Cincinnati style chili's history on National Chili Day". WLWT. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  33. ^ Cincinnati Chili: An Homage To Our Hometown Obsession. Cincinnati Magazine. July 1999. p. 43. ISSN 0746-8210. 
  34. ^ "James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award Winners". James Beard Foundation. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  35. ^ Koren, Marina. "The 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America". Smithsonian. Retrieved 9 June 2015.