"An Ohio-favorite dish gets the crock pot treatment with this Skyline Chili copycat recipe. Eat like a Cincinnatian with a chili made with hints of cinnamon and chocolate (that's NOT sweet!) and serve it like the locals do using the authentic "ways:" two-way, three-way, four-way, or five-way."
For those that know it, Cincinnati chili is a food phenomenon and a cherished local dish. The most recognizable name is Skyline Chili, and if you’re in Ohio (and some of the surrounding area) you’ve no doubt 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, up until four years ago, I was one of those people. Growing up in Virginia and living in Phoenix, I never had the opportunity to cross paths with this food craze.
But then an Ohio-based company bought the local business I worked for.
Because, you see, before I started this little food blog, I worked at a small payment processing company for six years. The office was very tight-knit and I thought I’d be working there for years to come – but I missed all the signs. I didn’t think anything of it when we moved to a brand new building, far swankier than we ever needed for the type of work we do. I wasn’t alarmed when we kept having “company” at the office to view the grounds and ask questions about our departments. I didn’t think it was odd when my boss was cagey about discussing any staff changes.
But when we were told we were having a very important and mandatory company meeting conveniently scheduled for just after the stock markets closed, I knew.
The business had been sold.
Flash forward to a month later and the same “company” I had seen walking around the office was now standing at the front of our largest meeting room, talking about all the changes they had in store for the business I had come to think of as a second family. Needless to say, it was an awkward meeting from start to finish, and it was made all the more awkward by their grand finale:
They had brought fresh Skyline Chili with them on the plane over for us to enjoy.
And no one in the room had any idea what they were talking about.
I have to admit that I refused to try the chili that day – as if my food protest would somehow change decisions that had already been made (spoiler: it didn’t) – but I have had more opportunities to try other versions of Cincinnati chili.
I now wish I had taken my chance to try true Skyline Chili that day, because ever since then I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe at home.
What makes Cincinnati chili different?
Cincinnati chili has a style all it’s 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. 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 like a condiment. Locals typically serve it with 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.
Can you freeze chili?
When properly stored in a sealed container, this chili can be frozen for 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 crock pot.
If keeping the chili in the refrigerator, it can be stored in a sealed container for up to three or four days.
How do you thicken chili?
This chili recipe includes a fair amount of water in order to prevent burning & assist with evening cooking, so once it’s finished, it may be too watery to serve in the traditional Cincinnati ways. If you find this is the case, you can thicken the chili with a quick 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.
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 crock pot – 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.)
More great chili recipes
Crock Pot Cincinnati Chili
Crock Pot Cincinnati Chili! An Ohio-favorite dish gets the crock pot treatment with this Skyline Chili copycat recipe. Eat like a Cincinnatian with a chili made with hints of cinnamon and chocolate (that's NOT sweet!) and serve it like the locals do using the authentic "ways:" two-way, three-way, four-way, or five-way.
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onion chopped & divided
- 2 tsp garlic minced
- 4 cup water
- 2 lb ground beef
- 15 oz tomato sauce
- 15 oz diced tomatoes (1 can) drained
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup chili powder
- 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1 pinch salt to taste
- 1 pinch black pepper to taste
- 1 pinch ground cloves
- cooked spaghetti for serving, optional
- cheddar cheese for topping, optional
- cooked beans for topping, optional
In a skillet over medium heat, warm vegetable oil. Add 1/4 cup onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Remove skillet from heat and set nearby.
In a large crock pot, add water and ground beef, then stir until ground beef is broken up.
Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, chili powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin, and allspice, as well as the cooked onion and garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and cloves, to taste. Stir ingredients thoroughly until combined.
Cover crock pot and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.
Serve Cincinnati chili immediately as desired. See the post above for the authentic "ways" that this chili can be served. If chili is watery, make a quick slurry by whisking together 1/4 cup of the chili and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Mix slurry back in with the chili and test the thickness. If needed, repeat slurry step until desired consistency is reached.