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.

Can you make this in advance?

Yes! In fact, chili is known to taste better once it’s had time for the flavors to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

For the best presentation, I recommend making this chili up to 24 hours in advance.

How should chili be stored?

Whether you’re refrigerating or freezing chili, I recommend storing it in individual-sized containers. And for best results, chili should rest in the container no more than two or three inches deep.

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:

  1. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the more watery part of chili, and transfer to a small mixing bowl.
  2. Add two tablespoons of all-purpose flour or cornstarch.
  3. Whisk together thoroughly, making sure there are no longer any clumps
  4. Pour the slurry back in with the chili, then stir. If needed, turn the crock pot back on and heat the chili, stirring frequently, until the chili reaches the desired level of thickness.

If the chili still isn’t thick enough, repeat Steps 1-4.

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.

How do you reheat chili?

Chili is one of the best dishes to reheat! To do this, follow these tips:

  • If chili has been frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. TIP: If you’re confident in the seal of the container the chili was stored in, you can speed up this process by submerging the container in warm water for about one hour.
  • Microwave: Add chili to a microwave-safe bowl. If desired, add one or two tablespoons of water or beef broth to help with consistency. Cover the bowl with a paper towel and heat for one minute, then stir. Continue to heat for 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until the desired temperature is reached.
  • Stovetop: Add the chili to a saucepan (or other pot that’s large enough to hold the chili). If the chili is thick, consider adding a tablespoon or two of water or beef broth to help with consistency. Warm the chili over medium heat until simmering, stirring frequently, until the desired temperature is reached.
  • Slow Cooker: Add the chili to the slow cooker, evenly covering the bottom. If the chili is thick, consider adding a tablespoon or two of water or beef broth to help with consistency. Warm on LOW for two hours.

No matter which method of heating you use, it’s recommended to heat the chili up to 165 degrees F. You can use a candy thermometer to easily check this.

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.
4.08 from 26 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 pounds 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 ounces diced tomatoes, 2 medium chopped yellow onion, 8 ounces tomato sauce, 1/2 cup beef broth, 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, 2 tablespoons 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




35 comments

    • Jay

    Fuck You! This recipe tasted like shit! I could only eat one spoonful of this chili because it was so disgusting. The cocoa powder overpowered this recipe. I am now eating hot dogs with canned chili instead of this garbage.

    • Pat

    what about the grease from the
    ground beef since you don’t brown
    it first?

    • Garrett
    • 1 star

    This was absolutely inedible. The cocoa powder is incredibly overpowering, and makes everything taste overwhelmingly bitter, and for some reason the whole thing has an incredibly grainy texture to it. Also ridiculously greasy from not cooking the beef separately and draining the fat. Unpleasant all around.

    It looks like from the comments this has been changed numerous times, and ingredients (vinegar as an example) have been totally removed, while the amounts of thing have been changed (apparently at some point there was 1/2 CUP of chili powder?). Lot of people also mentioning cooking the beef in water, and others indicating that the onion and garlic were cooked and then added? Whatever happened here, this recipe is a mess, and a disaster, do not make it.