Cincinnati Skyline Chili

Cincinnati skyline chili in shallow bowls

The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 3 hrs 30 mins
Chill: 8 hrs
Total: 11 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
479 Calories
28g Fat
14g Carbs
44g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 479
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 28g 35%
Saturated Fat 10g 50%
Cholesterol 135mg 45%
Sodium 1007mg 44%
Total Carbohydrate 14g 5%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 44g
Vitamin C 10mg 52%
Calcium 115mg 9%
Iron 7mg 39%
Potassium 1017mg 22%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Most people outside of Cincinnati haven't had the chance to try this amazing chili unless someone in their household has attempted to recreate the beloved local recipe. The sound of meaty chili on top of spaghetti covered in generous amounts of cheese and possibly onions with oyster crackers on the side sounds like an odd combination. But don't say no until you've actually tried it. Our take on this recipe gives you the closest thing to the true recipe. It's up to you how you want to eat it, whether over a hot dog or cooked spaghetti.

This famous no-bean chili recipe was created by Nicholas Lambrinides, a Greek immigrant who founded a popular chain of chili restaurants called Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1949. The inventor's Greek roots can clearly be seen in the unique blend of spices, although we will never know for sure what the delicious secret blend is because the original recipe has been in a protected vault since Lambrinides' death. What we do know is that unsweetened cocoa and cinnamon are key to the deep flavor of this meaty concoction.

Our recipe for Cincinnati chili only makes the meat sauce—it's up to you how you want to serve it. It's thinner in consistency than other versions of chili and is popular as a sauce over hot dogs too. A few big pluses: The long, slow cook and overnight refrigeration allows for all excess fat to be removed, and this recipe freezes beautifully and can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

“Cincinnati Skyline Chili is the best. The savory, almost sweet taste of this hearty meat chili served over spaghetti with shredded cheese is something everyone should try at least once. The ultimate comfort food.” —Joan Velush

Cincinnati skyline chili in a shallow bowl
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 quart water, more as needed

  • 2 pounds ground beef

  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes

  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1/4 cup chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients. 

    Ingredients to make Cincinnati skyline chili gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Add the water and beef to a 4-quart heavy-duty pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a simmer while stirring over medium-high heat until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

    A pot of cooked beef and water simmering

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Add tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, chili powder, cocoa powder, cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours.

    Tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, and spices added to the beef mixture

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Stir occasionally to avoid ingredients sticking to the bottom or sides of the pot. Add water as needed if the chili becomes too thick. Once the cooking time has passed, remove from heat and allow the chili to cool off, covered, to room temperature.

    A pot of chili, cooling on a dish towel

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Once cool, keep covered and refrigerate the chili overnight. The next day, remove the layer of fat that has formed on top before reheating and serving over pasta or hot dogs.

    A spoon removing a layer of fat off the chilled chili

    The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

How to Serve Cincinnati Skyline Chili

There are a few ways in which you can eat your chili. All are served with oyster crackers on the side:

  • Two-Way: Unseasoned cooked spaghetti with chili on top.
  • Three-Way: Unseasoned cooked spaghetti with chili and lots of shredded cheddar cheese on top.
  • Four-Way: Unseasoned cooked spaghetti, chili, lots of shredded cheddar cheese, and chopped onions or kidney beans.
  • Five-Way: Unseasoned cooked spaghetti, chili, lots of shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and kidney beans.

Although not common, you can eat just the chili with a side of oyster crackers. For hot dog lovers, you can add any of the topping configurations above. Mustard is a must if you're having a hot dog, but there is no wrong way to eat this flavorful chili.

How to Store and Freeze

  • In an airtight container in the refrigerator, Cincinnati chili leftovers will last for up to three days.
  • If freezing, the chili should be portioned out into individual bags or containers and used within three months. Defrost in the fridge before reheating.

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