Cincinnati-style chili is a whole different animal than your average American chili.  It was developed by Macedonian and Greek immigrants, so it has a bit of a near-Eastern flavor to it.  It’s fairly mild as far as heat goes, and has a subtle sweetness to it.  I love it for the variety it adds to our typical cold-weather fare.  Best of all, it’s pretty simple to make!

I’m a huge fan of Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen, and this recipe is adapted from their Cincinnati Chili recipe.  Seriously, you never need to adapt any of their recipes, but I have something wrong with me and I can never make a recipe exactly as written.

Cincinnati Chili Mac

I’m not usually one to prep all my ingredients ahead of time, but I find that I really have to with this recipe, or it will burn.   So, the first step is to place the following in a small bowl.  Don’t worry about mixing it–you’ll do that when you add it to the pot later.

2 Tbsp chili powder (I like a smidge less–adjust to your taste)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste


In another bowl, combine

2 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce (I just use use those 15-oz cans…close enough)
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar

Chop 2 onions fairly finely…or just hack ’em up.  I don’t mind chunks of onion in my food.

Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add onions and a dash of salt.  A bit of salt makes veggies cook so much nicer.  Cook until soft and beginning to brown around the edges.

cooking onions

Add seasonings to the pot & stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Then, stir in broth and sauce mixture.

Add 1-1½ lb of (raw) fairly-lean ground beef and stir to break up the meat.  Bring to boil; then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer.

chili simmering

After about 15-20 minutes, the chili should be deep brown, and somewhat  thick.  Season to taste with salt, and serve.


Believe it or not, serving this is actually the most complicated part of the dish…if you want to be authentic.

Here’s a guide to traditional chili-mac toppings and terminology.

One-Way Chili
chili alone in a bowl (it’s generally considered a no-no)

Two-Way Chili
chili served over spaghetti

I used brown rice spaghetti noodles to make this recipe gluten free.  Unless your ingredients are contaminated, this recipe is otherwise gluten free.

Three-Way Chili
chili served over spaghetti and piled high with shredded (yellow) cheese

Four-Way Chili
chili served over spaghetti, piled high with cheese, and topped with onions

Five-Way Chili
chili served over spaghetti, piled high with cheese, and topped with onions and beans

Oyster crackers are often served on the side.

Now, we aren’t that authentic at our house.  We often serve it with diced tomatoes and sometimes sour cream.  I only had (white) monterey jack cheese in the house last night, so we really did it “wrong”!

chili-mac with cheese

It was delicious, though, and my almost two year-old at three helpings!  Can’t argue with that.  🙂

messy boy

Enjoy!  Let me know how it turns out for you, and how you served it.

Printable version: Cincinnati Chili Mac

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Gluten-Free Wednesdays