Get your crockpots and slow cookers out! We’re heading to that famous bastion of chili fever — Ohio.

Cincinnati Skyline

The Cincinnati skyline. Photo by Stigs

You were probably thinking Texas

We wouldn’t blame you. Texas-style chili is much more prevalent in Mexican restaurants across the United States. Cincinnati-style, on the other hand, hasn’t had as much luck on menus outside of the Queen City.

Unlike southwestern American chilis that use base spices such as chiles, cumin, and oregano, Cincinnati chili usually starts with such oddities as cinnamon, chocolate, and cloves.

Necessity breeds creativity

It was actually a Greek immigrant in Cincinnati whose Greek food stand was failing who made the regional chili what it is today. He took a common Greek slow cook stew, kept the Mediterranean base flavors of cinnamon and cloves, then added ground beef and chili spices.

Chili 2of5

He also made it unique by serving it in different “ways.” Go into any Cincinnati chili parlor and you have lots of options on how to have that chili served:

  • two-way: spaghetti and chili
  • three-way: spaghetti, chili, and shredded Cheddar cheese
  • four-way: spaghetti, chili, shredded Cheddar cheese, and diced onions or beans
  • five-way: spaghetti, chili, shredded Cheddar cheese, diced onions, and beans
  • cheese coney: hot dog topped with chili, shredded Cheddar cheese, diced onions, and mustard

Chili 4of5

Stews need to build slowly

Since Cincinnati chilis grew from a stew recipe, they are best cooked slowly in a slow cooker or crock pot. This ensures that the meats don’t get tough and the spices have a chance to penetrate them.

The result is a flavorful blending of spicy, salty, and sweet flavorings that can be served in a multitude of ways.

Heavy on flavor, not heat

Another characteristic of a good Cincinnati chili is that it isn’t defined by the overpowering chili peppers or jalapenos that usually result in a high “heat” factor — a mark of machismo among Texas chili purists — that kids tend not to appreciate.

This chili recipe, if followed exactly, goes easy on the heat, but is still well suited to a few more alarms by adding hot sauce as desired. If nothing else, Cincinnati chili is all about options.

Slow Cooker Cincinnati Chili


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground Bell’s seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ (of 1-ounce) square unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 (10½-ounce) cans beef broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • cooked separately — spaghetti
  • toppings as desired — Cheddar cheese, diced onions, beans, hot sauces


  1. Brown ground beef, onions, and celery and drain off all fat.
    NOTE: If your slow cooker can braise meats, this step can be done without having to transfer the meat from a skillet.
  2. Combine ingredients and stir well. Cover and cook for 7-9 hours on low, or 3½-4½ hours on high, stirring during last part of cooking if using high setting.
  3. Cook spaghetti ½ hour before chili is done. Top with chili and serve.
  4. To have chili 3-ways, serve it with spaghetti, chili, and cheese.
  5. To have chili 4-ways, serve it with spaghetti, chili, diced onion, and cheese.
  6. To have chili 5-ways, serve it with spaghetti, chili, beans, diced onion, and cheese.
  7. Douse your chili liberally with hot sauce, if desired.