3-Ways, 4-Ways, 5-Ways

Edited to Note: ย Since this post, I have revamped my recipe and reposted it (with much better photography, too!). ย Please see the updated recipe, complete with chocolate, here.


Up until the end of sixth grade, I lived in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. I took tap classes for most of that time, and on special occasions, we’d stop at Skyline Chili for dinner on the way home from class. Skyline is known for their Cincinnati chili, a dish with Greek origins. Rather than being hot or spicy like most chilis, Cincinnati chili has a spicy sweetness to it.

My childhood tastes steered clear of actually eating any chili. Instead, my sister and I always opted for a hot dog piled high with shredded cheddar. We may have been missing the point.

Luckily, our chance to appreciate Cincinnati chili was not lost to our childhood pickiness. We still go to Ohio regularly to visit our extended family, and a trip to Skyline is always on the agenda. Now we order the chili, with the occasional hot dog with cheddar thrown in for nostalgia’s sake.

What are the secret ingredients that set Cincinnati chili apart from all the rest?


Cinnamon and cocoa powder. Just trust me on this one. Your chili-eating will never be the same again.

Aside from its difference in flavor, Cincinnati chili is also different in the way that it is eaten. It can be eaten as a 3-way, a 4-way, or a 5-way.

3-Ways: Spaghetti + chili + cheese

4-Ways: Spaghetti + chili + cheese + onions or beans

5-Ways: Spaghetti + chili + cheese + onions + beans


Cincinnati Chili 3-Ways, 4-Ways or 5-Ways

Cincinnati Chili 3-Ways, 4-Ways or 5-Ways


  • 4 c water
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 scant tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 T salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • Up to 1/2 tsp dried pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 lb ground beef (or 2 1/2 c soaked and drained kidney beans)
  • Spaghetti for serving (I recommend 1/3-2/3 cups per person)
  • For Topping:
  • Shredded cheddar
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 c beans, soaked and cooked (not needed for vegetarian chili)


  1. Combine the first 11 ingredients (through dried pepper flakes) in a large stockpot. Crumble in the ground beef.
  2. Savvy Tip: For the vegetarian version, add the beans now.
  3. Cover the pot and cook over high heat, bringing the mixture to a boil. Uncover and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chili is the consistency you want.
  4. Savvy Tip: For traditional Cincinnati chili, the final consistency should be similar to that of a meat pasta sauce...somewhere between thickened and runny.
  5. While the chili cooks, prepare the rest of your toppings...
  6. For 3-Ways:
  7. Cook the pasta according to package directions and shred the cheese.
  8. For 4- or 5-Ways:
  9. Heat the beans in a medium-sized skillet until warmed through.
  10. Heat the chopped onions in a small skillet over low heat until softened, about 12-15 minutes.
  11. To assemble:
  12. Fill the bottom of your plate or bowl with pasta. Top with chili, followed by cheese. Finish with onions and beans, if eating a 4- or 5-way dish. Enjoy!




  1. says

    I saw the title and KNEW you were talking about Cincinnati chili. I’ve lived here for four years, and I had it once before I gave up meat. I liked it but didn’t love it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Love this post though. I need to make a vegetarian version sometime.

  2. says

    I make chili fairly often, but my husband LOVES meat, and I don’t eat it, so we have a bit of a barrier there! I think I’ll try this TONIGHT [he’s out of town for a few days] with kidney beans & see if it would be acceptable to him! I’ve never eaten, nor have I heard of Cincinnati chili, so this is exciting; foreign fare! ๐Ÿ˜›

  3. says

    I didn’t know you lived in cinci at one point in time! Being born, raised, and still local I didn’t even know there WAS another way to do chili until high school! I love skyline!

    Oh yeah, and they now offer vegetarian options ๐Ÿ˜‰ Cincinnati is a great city for eating!

  4. Nadine says

    Wait….so there’s no chili powder in there?? I’ve been to the Skyline while traveling for work. The chili cheese dogs rock!

    • Julie @savvyeats says

      Nope, no chili powder! It actually isn’t in there because I didn’t have any, but it turns out to be a good thing…it tastes much more like the real thing without the chili powder!

  5. says

    My best friend’s Mother grew up in Cincy, so we ate this a lot growing up, either though we live near Buffalo. This looks like a great version and I can’t wait to try it! Love that you gave vegan (vegetarian) options.

    • Julie @savvyeats says

      Thank you! Let me know how you like it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And, since we’re both in upstate NY, let me know if you’re ever in Ithaca and we’ll meet up!

  6. says

    I think you have to grow up in Cincinnati to like the chili here. I am a Chicago girl, and I just don’t understand the love of this chili. To each their own! Give me a Chicago hot dog or Chicago pizza any day ๐Ÿ™‚
    I can send you some skyline whenever you want! You can have my share too