Made famous by Skyline Chili, this Cincinnati style chili is a spot-on copycat you can make in a slow cooker, ready to be served in any of the 5 classic “ways.”

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Plate full of spaghetti topped with Cincinnati chili, cheddar cheese, and onions.

About Slow Cooker Cincinnati Chili

For those that know it, Cincinnati chili is a food phenomenon and a cherished local dish. The most recognizable name of it is Skyline Chili, and if you’re in Ohio (and some of the surrounding area) you’ve no doubt have passed their restaurants or seen their items at your local grocery store.

But as for the rest of the country, they have no idea what all this fuss is about over Cincinnati chili.

And that’s a shame, because Cincinnati-style chili has a flair all its own. It still has many of the trademark chili ingredients (beef, tomatoes, onions) but it also includes some unique additions (such as chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg) that help curb the tanginess of the tomatoes and bring out a richness in the beef. Plus, this style of chili is designed to be served in “ways” (described below) that take this chili to places way beyond the traditional piping hot bowl.

What makes Cincinnati chili different?

Cincinnati chili has a style all its own, and you can easily identify it in two main ways:

The taste – Unlike classic or Texas chili (which tends to have thick meats, veggies, and Mexican-inspired spices) Cincinnati chili has a milder taste with hints of chocolate and cinnamon that help curb the tanginess of the tomatoes. However, don’t let those ingredients fool you; this chili is not sweet.

The consistency – One of the trademarks of this chili is how it’s served, and that’s because it’s treated as a condiment. Locals typically serve it on top of spaghetti or hot dogs. Plus, it has a more watery consistency than your average chili.

How do you serve Cincinnati chili?

If you’re going to serve this chili the “right” way, you have to learn the unique lingo Cincinnatians have come up with for serving their beloved chili. This is typically broken down into five different methods they simply call “ways”:

  • Two-way – Spaghetti or hot dog topped with chili.
  • Three-way – Spaghetti or hot dog topped with chili and cheese.
  • Four-way – Spaghetti or hot dog topped with chili, cheese, and onions (my favorite, which is pictured here).
  • Four-way bean – Spaghetti or hot dog topped with chili, cheese, and beans.
  • Five-way – Spaghetti or hot dog topped with chili, cheese, onions, and beans.
Ladle scooping up a portion of Cincinnati chili from a slow cooker.

How long is chili good for?

Once prepared and cooled, Cincinnati chili can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to three to four days.

Can you freeze chili?

Yes, you totally can!

When properly stored in a sealed container or freezer bag, this chili can be frozen for up to four to six months. When ready to serve, just thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and warm it up on the stove or in a slow cooker.

How do you thicken chili?

Cincinnati chili is typically more “watery” than your average chili, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If the chili comes out too watery and you’d prefer a different consistency, you can thicken it by making a slurry.

To make slurry:

  • Scoop out 1/4 cup of the more watery part of chili, and transfer to a small mixing bowl.
  • Add in 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or a different thickening agent of your choice) to the mixing bowl.
  • Whisk together thoroughly.
  • Pour slurry back in with the chili, then stir.
  • Repeat these steps until chili reaches the desired thickness.

How do you thin out chili?

Since this recipe is made in a slow cooker, there’s a chance that the chili might be thicker than you were anticipating. Slow cookers tend to trap in moisture, so less is added before cooking to prevent there being too much liquid. If this is the case, you can add more beef broth (or water) to the chili to thin it out to your desired consistency.

Notes & tips for this copycat skyline chili

  • If you’re in the market for a new slow cooker, I’m a big fan of this slow cooker – it has three sizes in one! Perfect if you’d like to adjust the serving size of this recipe to something smaller (and have a smaller pot to clean up once you’re done.)
  • This recipe has changed some over the years. If you made it before, I hope you’ll give this new version a try; thanks to reader feedback, it now has an even more authentic Skyline Chili flavor.
Close up of fork twirling in spaghetti covered in Cincinnati chili, cheese, and onions.

More fun copycat recipes

How to make slow cooker cincinnati chili

This next part is only a photo tutorial of the recipe steps. If you’re looking for the full recipe measurements and instructions, scroll down to Recipe Details.

Step 1 – In a large slow cooker, add the ground beef, then use a spatula to crumble it up into smaller pieces.

Step 2 – Add the following ingredients to the slow cooker: yellow onion, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth, unsweetened chocolate, chili powder, garlic, paprika, unsweetened cocoa powder, light brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cumin, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Feel free to adjust the amount of cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper to your tastes.

Step 3 – Give the ingredients a good stir, making sure everything is thoroughly mixed.

Step 4 – Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, then stir well.

Step 5 – Serve any of the “ways” mentioned above and enjoy!

Recipe Details

Plate full of spaghetti topped with Cincinnati chili, cheddar cheese, and onions.
4.20 from 25 votes

Slow Cooker Cincinnati Chili

30 mins prep + 7 hrs cook
309 kcal
Yields: 8 servings
Made famous by Skyline Chili, this Cincinnati style chili is a spot-on copycat you can make in a slow cooker, ready to be served in any of the 5 classic "ways."

Ingredients 

Instructions

  • In a large slow cooker, add ground beef. Use a spatula to break it up for easier cooking.
    1 1/2 pound ground beef
  • Add yellow onion, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, beef broth, unsweetened chocolate, chili powder, garlic, paprika, unsweetened cocoa powder, light brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cumin, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Stir ingredients thoroughly until combined.
    29 ounce diced tomatoes, 2 medium chopped yellow onion, 8 ounce tomato sauce, 1/2 cup beef broth, 2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, 2 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Cover slow cooker and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Once cooked, stir chili well.
  • Serve Cincinnati chili immediately as desired, such as one of the "ways" that include spaghetti and beans or garnished with cheddar cheese and yellow onion.
    cooked spaghetti, shredded cheddar cheese, cooked beans

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 309kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 475mg | Potassium: 724mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1325IU | Vitamin C: 14mg | Calcium: 86mg | Iron: 5mg

I do my best to provide nutrition information, but please keep in mind that I’m not a certified nutritionist. Any nutritional information discussed or disclosed in this post should only be seen as my best amateur estimates of the correct values.

Author: Chrisy

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Recipe Rating




32 comments

    • Mary Beth

    I don’t see water OR vinegar in the ingredient list. Where are people getting the idea that there’s too much of both? Did you forget to include those two in the recipe and others just knew they were to be added? If so, how much of each should be used? Thank you!

    • Bill

    The recipe never says what to do with the diced onion left after taking a 1/4 cup out to cook with garlic?

    • Hey Bill! For the extra onion, that’s used as a topping, depending on which of the “ways” you’ll be serving it (as described in the post above). I can definitely add that information to the recipe card so that it’s more clear.

    • WenDell
    • 5 stars

    I seen this recipe a few days ago and decided I was gonna make it. MANNNNNN, it was good! I wasn’t sure about some of the ingredients, but I did it anyway and loved it. I only used 2 1/2 Cups of water and 1 1/2 pounds of meat (thats what I had thawed out), incase I didn’t like it, but it’s more than enough and I didn’t want it to be to watery and I didn’t want to have to keep adding flour to thicken it up. Time to look for another recipe from Hooplah.

    • Joann

    I did not care for this chili. There is not enough spiciness to it. Will not be making this again.

      • Scott Dinkel

      Typically, Louisiana hot sauce is on the side as a condiment.

    • Mareth

    Well this was a mistake! I love Cincinnati chili, we make it a lot, I was excited to have a crockpot version. I made it to the letter despite my reservations, and it is absolutely inedible. We can’t get a bite down. Completely watery and wayyyyy too much vinegar, and no matter how much flour slurry I’ve added it just looks and tastes like fatty water with way too much vinegar and chili powder and tomato flavor. Yuck! Please learn from my wasted time and money! We’re ordering pizza!

    • Cathie

    Am trying this today. But you forgot the oyster crackers, my favorite topping!

    • Jennifer

    You should be able to order Cincinnati chili powder packets online from Skyline if you don’t think the clone recipes taste quite right. Just make sure you don’t brown the beef before cooking. I think the directions say to but it tastes better if you add it raw and cook all together.

    • ManFood
    • 3 stars

    Congratulations!

    Out of the top 3 recipes for Cincinnati Chili on Google, you’re the only one who gets that the beef is slow boiled, not browned in a skillet!

      • Terri Baer

      That is how my Mom always did it. Ground beef is not browned but cooked in water. I’m making this today!

    • Kenzie
    • 1 star

    Nope. This ain’t it folks 😣

    • Greyson
    • 5 stars

    You got pretty close for not being from Cincinnati yourself. You kinda got the “ways” right but the dog isn’t involved in the “ways” it’s:
    Chili Coney
    Chili&Cheese Coney
    Or simply a Coney with mustard and onion, that will get your best taste. It sounds complicated but really it’s not and boy is it wonderful!!!

      • Rebecca
      • 4 stars

      Cincinatti girl… totally agree. I was about to post this same comment!!! I was going to say if you order a “— way” you will get spaghetti, not a Coney. Too funny. This is a good effort does look more like gold star which seems to have more of a tomatoe base and less chili powder. Skyline is more of a brown tone than red and less spicy. They also grind the hamburger after cooking which changes the texture from all other types of chili.

    • Charlotte

    Why two medium onions if you only cook 1/4 cup off them?

    • Rebecca Farmer
    • 3 stars

    To much cinnamon, nutmeg and the other spices. I will try it with less of each and the ACV too.

    • Sheri
    • 1 star

    Waay to much vinegar for my family. Had to throw out.

      • Dee
      • 5 stars

      Deez nuts, sheri

      • sharon

      Mine too…. trying to figure out how to get the strong vineshgar taste gone. Mine was also way tooo watery….

    • Jill

    I’m making this now and it seems extremely watery 2 hours in. It doesn’t seem like chili/sauce at all. Will it thicken in the next few hours in the crockpot? I followed your recipe exactly. Thanks.

      • Chrisy

      Hey Jill! If you’d like the chili to be thicker, try making a slurry. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the more watery part of the chili and whisk it in a separate cup with about 2 tablespoons of flour. Once thoroughly mixed, pour the slurry back in with the chili, mix it together, then check the thickness. Repeat this step until you get the chili thickness you’d like.

    • Roger

    Can this be canned in glass Ball jars?

      • Chrisy

      Hey Roger! I’m afraid I have no experience with canning, so I can’t say for sure 🙁

    • Natalie

    Does this really call for 1/2 cup of chili powder?

    I worried that it will make it too spicy…

      • Chrisy

      Thank you for catching that, Natalie! I just double checked my notes, it should be 1/4 cup. I’ll update the recipe right now.

    • Debbie Morris

    Do you cook the ground beef before you place it in the water?

      • Chrisy

      Hey Debbie! For authentic-style Cincinnati, no, the ground beef is not cooked before putting it in the water.

    • Dianna

    You didn’t say when to add cooked onion and garlic! It’s on standby..lol…I added to cooker…

      • Chrisy

      So sorry about that! This is what I get for typing late at night 😀 Those go in the crock pot at the same time as the rest of the other ingredients. I’ll update the recipe right now.

        • Cortney Cline

        You also didn’t explain why I just chopped two entire onions when the recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of them.

    • Pam Greer
    • 5 stars

    I love Cincinnati Chili! I had no idea about all the different versions. But I like mine with everything!

    • Sandra Shaffer
    • 5 stars

    Hints of chocolate and cinnamon? Wow, that’s a delicious combination! Adding this on top of a hot dog would be delicious. I’m excited to try some of your other suggested options as well!