Cincinnati Chili

Growing up, our Christmas Eve dinner tradition was Pizza Hut pizza — fabulously awful greasy salty crunchy Pizza Hut pan pizza.  And while gluten-free pizza is available, it’s just not the same.

But I grew up near Cincinnati and if Cincinnati is culinarily famous for anything, it’s Cincinnati chili.  Some may say that Cincinnati chili isn’t really chili; I say it’s delicious.  So maybe I’m starting a new Christmas Eve tradition?

When I went looking for recipes online, I was shocked to find how many recipes claiming to be Cincinnati chili were just…wrong, for one or both of the following reasons:

  • The ground beef in Cincinnati should be boiled, not browned
  • Cincinnati chili does not contain chili powder

The recipe from The Paupered Chef (which is the recipe from The Joy of Cooking) seemed the most authentic.  I’ve reduced the amount of cayenne, as I found the other spices provide enough heat.

Cincinnati Chili

  • 2 pounds ground chuck
  • ~1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ oz unsweetened chocolate, grated
  • 1 large bay leaf

Bring a large pot of water to a full rolling boil.  Break up the ground beef into loose chunks — otherwise it’ll clump together and you may not be able to break it all up while it cooks.  Boil the beef for 30 seconds, stirring constantly, breaking up clumps.  Drain the beef.

Rinse and dry the pot, then add oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the onions and cook until browned — let them really get brown and develop flavor.  Add the minced or pressed garlic and cook until fragrant — about a minute.

Add the dry spices and stir into the onions and garlic, then add the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, bay leaf, and 2 quarts of water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and add the beef.

Simmer for 2 hours or more until all that wonderful flavor develops.

Cincinnati chili is served one of two ways:

  • Over spaghetti with (optional) finely diced onions and/or kidney beans
  • On a hot dog topped with mustard and (optionally) finely diced onions

However you choose to serve it, you must top it with a heaping mound of finely grated cheddar cheese.

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