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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 Greater 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 Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce used as a topping for spaghetti (a "two-way") or hot dogs ("coneys"), both 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 soup-like consistency. Other toppings include cheese, onions, and beans; specific combinations of toppings are known as "ways". The name "Cincinnati chili" is often confusing to those unfamiliar with it, who expect the dish to be similar to chili con carne; it is common for those encountering it for the first time to conclude it is a poor example of chili.

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. The dish is the area's best-known regional food.

Origins and history[edit]

Price Hill Chili

Cincinnati chili originated with immigrant restaurateurs from the Macedonian region who were trying to expand their customer base by moving beyond narrowly ethnic styles of cuisine.[1][2]:28 Tom and John Kiradjieff began serving a "stew with traditional Mediterranean spices"[2]:27 as a topping for hot dogs[2]:27[3] which they called "coneys" in 1922 at their hot dog stand located next to a burlesque theater called the Empress. Tom Kiradjieff used the sauce to modify a traditional Greek dish, speculated to have been pastitsio,[4] moussaka[2]:28 or saltsa kima[5] to come up with a dish he called chili spaghetti.[2]:27 He first developed a recipe calling for the spaghetti to be cooked in the chili but changed his method in response to customer requests and began serving the sauce as a topping, eventually adding grated cheese as a topping for both the chili spaghetti and the coneys also in response to customer requests.[2]:28 To make ordering more efficient, the brothers created the "way" system of ordering.[2]:29 The style has since been copied and modified by many other restaurant proprietors, often fellow Greek and Macedonian immigrants who had worked at Empress restaurants before leaving to open their own chili parlors,[2]:40[6]:244 often following the business model to the point of locating their restaurants adjacent to theaters.[2]:25

Empress was the largest chili parlor chain in Cincinnati until 1949, when a former Empress employee and Greek immigrant, Nicholas Lambrinides, started Skyline Chili.[7] In 1965, four brothers named Daoud, immigrants from Jordan, bought a restaurant called Hamburger Heaven from a former Empress employee,[2]:40 noticed the Cincinnati chili was outselling the hamburgers on their menu, and changed the restaurant's name to Gold Star Chili.[7] As of 2015 Skyline (over 130 locations)[8] and Gold Star (89 locations)[9] were the largest Cincinnati chili parlor chains, while Empress had only two remaining locations, down from over a dozen during the chain's most successful period.[2]:84

Besides Empress, Skyline, and Gold Star, there are also smaller chains such as Dixie Chili and Deli and numerous independents including the acclaimed[2]:84 Camp Washington Chili, probably the most well-known of the independents.[2]:84 Other independents include Pleasant Ridge Chili, Blue Ash Chili, Park Chili Parlor, Price Hill Chili, and the Blue Jay Restaurant,[10] in all totalling more than 250 chili parlors.[2]:9 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".[11]

The history of Cincinnati chili shares many factors in common with the apparently independent but simultaneous development of the Coney Island hot dog in other areas of the United States. "Virtually all"[6]:233 were developed by Greek or Macedonian immigrants who passed through Ellis Island as they fled the fallout from the Balkan Wars in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Preparation and ordering[edit]

Raw ground beef[3] 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,[5] then reheating to serve.[12] Typical proportions are 2 pounds of ground beef to 4 cups of water and 6 oz tomato paste to make 8 servings.[12]

The "way" system[edit]

Cheese coneys

Ordering Cincinnati chili is based on a specific ingredient series: chili, spaghetti, grated cheddar cheese, diced onions, and kidney beans.[7] The number before the "way" of the chili determines which ingredients are included in each chili order.[3] Customers order a:

  • Two-way: spaghetti topped with chili[3] (also called "chili spaghetti")
  • Three-way: spaghetti, chili, and cheese[3]
  • Four-way: spaghetti, chili, onions, and cheese[3]
  • Four-way bean: spaghetti, beans, chili, and cheese[3] (beans substituted for the onions)
  • Five-way: spaghetti, beans, chili, onions, and cheese[3]

Some restaurants, among them Skyline[13] and Gold Star,[14] do not use the term "four-way bean", instead using the term "four-way" to denote a three-way plus the customer's choice of onions or beans. Some restaurants may add extra ingredients to the "way" system; for example, Dixie Chili offers a "six-way", which adds chopped garlic to a five-way.[15] "Ways" are traditionally served in a shallow oval bowl.[2]:15[6]:243 Cincinnati chili is also used as a hot dog topping to make a "coney", a regional variation on the Coney Island chili dog, which is topped with grated cheddar cheese to make a "cheese coney". The standard coney also includes mustard and chopped onion.[16] The "Three-way" and the "Cheese Coney" are the most popular orders[2]:10[17] and very few customers order a bowl of plain chili.[18][19] Most chili parlors do not offer plain chili as a regular menu item.[13][14] Oyster crackers are usually served with Cincinnati chili,[6] and a mild hot sauce such as Tabasco is frequently used as an optional topping.[16]


The name "Cincinnati chili" is often confusing to those unfamiliar with it because the term "chili" evokes the expectation of chili con carne,[2]:10[16][17][20][21][22]:145[23] which it "bears no resemblance to."[24] Cincinnati chili is a Mediterranean-spiced[3][23][25] meat sauce[3][7][16][21][22][25][26] for spaghetti or hot dogs and is very seldom eaten by the bowl[17][22][23] as is typical with chili con carne. It is common for Cincinnatians to describe it starting with, "Well, it's not really chili..."[18][21][26][27] Cincinnati chili is always seasoned with cinnamon, usually contains allspice and cloves, and often contains some combination of cumin, paprika, nutmeg, and/or chili pepper.[7][12] Many copycat recipes call for a small amount of chocolate,[12] but according to Dann Woellert, author of The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili, "There is no chili parlor in Cincinnati that uses chocolate in its chili."[2]:141 It is normally of a thin consistency,[25] closer to a soup than a stew,[10] and contains no chunks of meat or vegetables. The consistency, seasonings, and serving method are more similar to pasta sauce[25] or the spiced meat sauces used to top hot dogs in Rochester, Rhode Island, and Michigan than they are to chili con carne.[2]:10


Cincinnati chili is the area's "best known regional food".[28] 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.[2]:10 Overall industry revenues were $250 million in 2014.[29] National food critics Jane and Michael Stern wrote, "As connoisseurs of blue-plate food, we consider Cincinnati chili one of America's quintessential meals"[30] and "one of this nation's most distinctive regional plates of food".[3][6]:247 Huffington Post named it one of "15 Beloved Regional Dishes".[31] In 2000, Camp Washington Chili won a James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award.[32][33] In 2013, Smithsonian named Cincinnati chili one of "20 Most Iconic Foods in America",[34] calling out Camp Washington Chili as their destination of choice. John McIntyre, writing in the Baltimore Sun, called it "the most perfect of fast foods", and, referring to the misnomer, opined that "if the Greeks who invented it nearly a century ago had called it something other than chili, the [chili] essentialists would be able to enjoy it".[20] In 2015, Thrillist named it "the one food you must eat in Ohio."[35] It is common for those unfamiliar with it to compare it to chili con carne and "scorn it"[20][36] as a poor example of chili.[20][25][37][38]

Similar dishes[edit]

  • Chili dog, the generic term for a hot dog topped with meat sauce[39]
  • Chili John's, founded in Green Bay, Wisconsin by a Lithuanian immigrant, offers "Green Bay chili", a dish similar to a five-way created in 1913[6]:245
  • Coney Island hot dog, a dish similar to a coney developed by Greek and Macedonian immigrants, apparently independently, across the Midwest[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Andrew (2013). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Volume 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 417. ISBN 978-0-1997-3496-2. OCLC 835958679. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Woellert, Dann (2013). The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-60949-992-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Campbell, Polly (February 26, 2015). "Area has taste all its own". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  4. ^ Dixler, Hillary (January 27, 2015). "How Camp Washington's Chili-topped Spaghetti Became Legend". Eater. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Becker, John. "All About Cincinnati Chili". The Joy of Cooking. Retrieved May 30, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f 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. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Herrmann Loomis, Susan (April 16, 1989). "Fare of the County; A City's Romance With a Bowl of Chili". The New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Skyline chili: franchise information". Retrieved July 18, 2015. 
  9. ^ Campbell, Polly (February 26, 2015). "Gold Star Chili turns 50, welcomes family as CEO". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved July 18, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Larkin, Jess (May 5, 2015). "Top 5 Local Chili Parlors". Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Arnold's Bar & Grill". September 12, 2011. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c d Rombauer, Irma S.; Becker, Marion Rombauer & Becker, Ethan (1997). The Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner. p. 672. ISBN 0-684-81870-1. 
  13. ^ a b "Our Menu: Ways". Skyline Chili. Retrieved July 24, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Gold Star: Our Menu" (PDF). Gold Star Chili. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Our Menu". Dixie Chili and Deli. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c d "Cincinnati Chili: Pass the Tabasco". Fodor's. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b c Conan, Neal (August 22, 2005). "Talk of the Nation/Cincinnati Chili". NPR. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  18. ^ a b Bonem, Max (February 24, 2015). "5 Reasons Cincinnati Chili is Misunderstood". Paste. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  19. ^ Hoffman, Ken (August 23, 2009). "That Cincinnati chili — what is it?". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 10, 2015. 
  20. ^ a b c d McIntyre, John (July 15, 2015). "Chili and Essentialism". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
  21. ^ a b c Mirones, Tony (July 9, 2015). "All-Star Game gives city chance to introduce nation to 'Cincy chili'". WCPO-TV. Retrieved July 12, 2015. 
  22. ^ a b c "Cincinnati Chili". Cook's Info. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  23. ^ a b c Boyer, Mike (September 10, 2004). "Cincinnati chili stakes its claim". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  24. ^ Stern, Jane & Stern, Michael (1999). Chili Nation. Broadway Books. p. 111. ISBN 0767902637. 
  25. ^ a b c d e Cross, Danny (July 8, 2015). "So You’ve Probably Heard of Cincinnati Chili But what is it and where should you eat it?". Cincinnati CityBeat. Retrieved July 9, 2015. 
  26. ^ a b Neman, Daniel (January 21, 2015). "Finding comfort in chili". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved June 9, 2015. 
  27. ^ Calvert, Scott (August 13, 2002). "Hometown of the other chili". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  28. ^ Coleman, Brent (August 27, 2015). "How Skyline Chili became a Cincinnati icon". WCPO-TV. Retrieved August 29, 2015. 
  29. ^ Zarnitz, Eric (February 26, 2015). "WLWT examines Cincinnati style chili's history on National Chili Day". WLWT. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  30. ^ Stern, Michael & Stern, Jane (July 1999). "Cincinnati Chili: An Homage To Our Hometown Obsession". Cincinnati Magazine. p. 43. ISSN 0746-8210. 
  31. ^ "15 Beloved Regional Dishes". The Huffington Post. October 20, 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2015. 
  32. ^ Huguelet, Cate (August 30, 2015). "America's famous food capitals". USA Today. Retrieved September 5, 2015. 
  33. ^ "James Beard Foundation America's Classics Award Winners". James Beard Foundation. Archived from the original on 2008-06-01. Retrieved May 22, 2015. 
  34. ^ Koren, Marina (August 6, 2013). "The 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2015. 
  35. ^ Gentile, Dan (September 6, 2015). "THE ONE MUST-EAT FOOD IN EVERY STATE". Thrillist. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  36. ^ Stewart, D.L. (October 28, 2015). "Don’t like Cincinnati chili? You ‘must’". The Dayton Daily News. Retrieved October 29, 2015. 
  37. ^ Robinson, Amelia (October 18, 2013). "Skyline Chili ranked worst in nation, called ‘abominable garbage-gravy’". Dayton Daily News. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. 
  38. ^ Morago, Greg (October 2, 2015). "The polarizing and incendiary politics of chili". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  39. ^ a b Grimm, Joe & Yung, Katherine (2012). Coney Detroit. Painted Turtle. ISBN 978-0814335185. 

External links[edit]