Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is one of those dishes that sparks great debates, great HEATED debates over what is authentic and what is not. I’m not from Cincinnati so I’m not going to claim that this recipe is authentic. All I know is that it’s not regular chili because it has chocolate and cinnamon in it and it’s served over pasta… but it’s not just spaghetti and meat sauce because it has chili powder, beans and (again) chocolate and cinnamon.

Sounds like a strange combination, right? Well, it is. It seems like people either love it or hate it so if you’re not sure, wait until you’re in one of those adventurous cooking moods to try this one. I love it. I can’t get enough of it, as a matter of fact. The chocolate gives the sauce such a rich, savory, earthy and utterly unique flavor profile. Pairing chocolate and chili is an old flavor combination that dates back to Mayan civilization and it makes another slam dunk in this recipe. Cincinnati Chili is traditionally served over thin spaghetti (which provides and amazingly satisfying texture/mouth feel) and topped with shredded cheddar cheese and diced yellow onion. It is only fair to say that this recipe is not even the same if not served with all three of those elements.

After doing recipe research for this dish, I finally settled on this one from because it seemed most similar to what I had tasted before (and loved). Of course, I made a few changes to meet my taste buds and pantry inventory. Overall, this recipe came together quickly and effortlessly and there was plenty for me to freeze for later!

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

3.75 from 4 votes

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili has a uniquely rich red sauce that combines ground beef and chocolate. Topped with diced onion and cheddar cheese it's to die for.

Total Cost $10.61 recipe / $1.33 serving
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 8


  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced $0.59
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil $0.10
  • 1 lb ground beef $2.65
  • 14.5 oz can beef broth $0.72
  • 2 8 oz cans tomato sauce $0.72
  • 15.5 oz can kidney beans $0.82
  • 1/4 cup chili powder $0.40
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder $0.28
  • 1 tsp cumin $0.05
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon $0.10
  • 1/4 tsp allspice $0.05
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves $0.05
  • 1 whole bay leaf $0.02
  • 1/2 tsp salt $0.05
  • to taste 10 cranks fresh black pepper $0.05
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar $0.02
  • 1 lb thin spaghetti $1.98
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar $1.96


  1. In a large pot, cook half of the diced yellow onion in 1 Tbsp of olive oil until it is soft and transparent. Add the ground beef and cook until it is fully browned and the juices are clear. If you are using a higher fat content beef (more than 7% fat) drain off the excess fat before proceeding to the next step.
  2. While the onion and beef cook, gather all of your spices so they are ready to add to the pot (chili powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, salt, pepper and sugar).
  3. Once you have the spices gathered and measured out, add them to the beef along with the beef broth, tomato sauce and kidney beans (with the liquid from the can). Let this mixture simmer over low/medium heat for 30 minutes to blend the flavors and thicken (the chocolate and bean liquid will help thicken it up). Stir the mixture occasionally.
  4. While the chili is simmering, boil the pasta according to the directions on the box. To serve the chili, place pasta on a plate or bowl, top with about 1 cup of chili/meat sauce, 1/4 cup of shredded cheese and a some of the remaining diced onion. Enjoy!

Step By Step Photos

cook ground beef and onion
Cook the onion until soft then add the beef and cook through. It’s not too pretty at this stage but it smells FANTASTIC.

chili spices
While the onion and beef cook, go ahead and gather and measure your spices so they’re ready to dump in.

add everything else
When the beef is cooked through, add the spices, beef broth, tomato sauce and kidney beans. Simmer this mixture for 30 minutes on low/medium heat. Stir occasionally.

Cincinnati Chili
Serve the chili over thin spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese and the remaining diced yellow onion!

I ate some of this right after cooking it and it was rather spicy and the chocolate was very potent. The next day for lunch, the mixture had mellowed and blended to perfection. So, this is one of those recipes that definitely gets better with time in the fridge!

You could easily shave a dollar off of this recipe by using plain old pasta but I like to use Barilla Plus because it has great flavor, extra fiber and protein. To me (this time) that is worth the extra dollar :)