Cincinnati Chili is one of our family’s favorite comfort foods. There really is nothing quite like it and it’s always a fun meal to serve to guest because it is so unusual and oh so delicious.
Cincinnati style chili was born when brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff left Macedonia, to start their new lives in America. They brought with them their traditional Macedonian recipes and opened a restaurant on October 24, 1922, and named it Empress Chili Parlor. They created their own version of chili using the spices of their homeland. They sold chili dogs, chili spaghetti, coffee, cigars and some grocery items. Since their location happened to be right next to the Empress Burlesque theater the restaurant was provided a steady stream of customers. “The Empress” became the model that later chili parlors would follow and was a first job for many other immigrants coming to America.
According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, Cincinnatians consume more than 2,000,000 lb of the chili each year, topped by 850,000 lb of shredded cheddar cheese. Every time we are there visiting family we make sure we contribute to this number by visiting one of our favorite place to get it, Skyline Chili.
There has evolved many different variations of the original chili. It is typically a type of chili con carne characterized by the use of seasonings such as cinnamon, cloves allspice and sometimes chocolate. It is usually an all beef chili that is simmered with water or broth, a tomato base, and a unique mixture of savory and sweet spices and seasonings. It is commonly served over spaghetti or as a hot dog sauce. It is normally a thin, sauce-like consistency, unlike most chili con carne.
One of the most memorable parts of eating this chili is the ordering process. No, it’s not just a bowl of chili, you have decisions to make and you have to know the Cincinnati Chili language. You step up to the counter and tell them the way you want it. The basic chili is served Two-way over spaghetti but you must decide if you want cheese, onions, or beans added to the chili. Also, hot sauce and oyster crackers are served on the side with each plate full.
- Two-Way: Chili on top of spaghetti
- Three-Way: Chili on top of spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese
- Four-Way: Chopped onions added to the three-way
- Five-Way: Beans added to the four-way
- Coney: Vienna sausage or hot dog with mustard, topped with chili, onions and cheese
Our family does not get to Cincinnati very often so we have tried many different recipes to get our fix for the goodness of this chili. After several years of trial and error we have developed what we feel to be the most true to the original. We did discover that there is a unique cooking technique that really helps make this authentic. I boil our hamburger in a large stock pot and then drain off all the water. However, my reader Victoria, a Cincinnati native, says the original restaurant boils the meat right in the sauce and leaves in the fat. This gives it the fine meaty constancy makes it like the original.
- 2½ pounds ground beef
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1½ tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion salt
- 2 teaspoons A-1 sauce
- 1 quart water
- ¼ cup white sugar
- Boil beef in enough water to cover meat until all pink is gone, about 10 minutes
- Drain meat and return to large stock pot.
- Or you can boil the meat right in the sauce and leave in the fat for a more original chili
- Put all other ingredients in stock pot and allow to simmer for at least 3 hours
- Serve over cooked spaghetti noodles and top with pinto beans, chopped onions, finely shredded cheddar cheese, hot sauce and oyster crackers.
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