Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati chili is not your average bowl of chili. As Food & Wine's Executive Features Editor Kat Kinsman explains, there's a certain structure to how to order it: Two-Way (or just chili spaghetti), Three-Way (chili, spaghetti, and shredded Cheddar), and Four-Way (chili, spaghetti, Cheddar, and onions or beans). It's also served over hot dogs and in sandwiches. The chili itself gets depth from plenty of spices, such as cumin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a light kick from cayenne. We've opted to add unsweetened cocoa powder as well, which melts right into the sauce and makes it even richer (although Kinsman points out that chocolate in Cincinnati chili might not be quite as classic as believed). We went all-out and included yellow onion, red kidney bean, and Cheddar topping options to complement the luscious chili; pick your favorite options for a choose-your-own-chili adventure. It's key to let the chili refrigerate for at least 12 hours so the flavors can meld. Once reheated, all that's left is assembling your masterpiece. Add a little orange zest on top for an extra-bright finish.

Cincinnati Chili
Photo: Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Melissa Gray / Prop Styling by Christina Daley
Active Time:
25 mins
Refrigerate Time:
12 hrs
Total Time:
14 hrs 25 mins


  • 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef

  • 2 cups beef broth

  • 2 cups water

  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

  • 3 cups finely chopped yellow onions (from 2 small [7 ounces each] onions), plus more for serving if desired

  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (from 6 large garlic cloves)

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

  • 12 ounces uncooked spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

  • 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest (from 1 orange) (optional)


  1. Place ground beef, broth, and water in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over high. Using a wooden spoon, break beef up into small pieces. Reduce to a simmer over medium-low.

  2. Stir tomato sauce, onions, garlic, chili powder, cocoa, Worcestershire sauce, salt, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, black pepper, nutmeg, and cloves into beef mixture in pot. Return to a simmer over medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until beef is very tender and mixture reduces to a thick consistency, about 1 hour. Remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until flavors have melded, at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

  3. Skim fat from chili, and discard. Bring chili to a simmer over medium. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, about 10 minutes. Season with additional salt to taste. Spoon chili over cooked spaghetti. If desired, top with beans, Cheddar, and orange zest; garnish with additional onions.

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