Only in Cincinnati

I have lived in Cincinnati, Ohio now for almost two years, and I’m still trying to figure out what makes the natives tick. One of the strangest things I’ve encountered is Cincinnati chili.

I have lived in Cincinnati, Ohio now for almost two years, and I’m still trying to figure out what makes the natives tick. One of the strangest things I’ve encountered is Cincinnati chili.

Chili? Even when I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, I had some idea about what constitutes chili. My mom’s chili wasn’t anything outstanding. It was just normal chili, perhaps a bit milder than some so we kids would eat it, but normal chili. I’m sure it had just a pinch of chili powder in it to give just the hint of spiciness. But it was definitely chili.

As an adult, I lived in Florida and Texas, where chili cook-offs were yearly happenings and where competitions were steep. Some of the winners boasted that it was grape jelly that made the difference in their chili. Others mentioned using armadillo meat instead of ground beef. Some chefs had different versions depending upon how much spiciness or hotness one could handle. They called them 3, 4 or 5-alarm chili. Yes, in both Florida and Texas, chili was chili. The same kind of chili most likely found all over the United States.

But if you search the Internet for recipes about Cincinnati chili, you’ll probably discover that some think what makes Cincinnati chili different than the rest is that there is vinegar and cinnamon in it.

Nope, that’s not it folks. What makes Cincinnati chili different is that it’s spaghetti sauce, not chili.

That’s right. It’s spaghetti sauce. Both Gold Star Chili and Skyline Chili, the Cincinnati area’s most famous chili restaurants boast of having 3-way, 4-way and 5-way chili in the menu. 3-way chili consists of a mountain of spaghetti covered with Cincinnati chili and shredded cheese. 4-way adds either onions or red beans and 5-way adds both the onions and the beans.

Yes, folks in Cincinnati also serve their chili over hot dogs and call it a “Coney.” But they are most famous for serving that chili over spaghetti.

None of the recipes I discovered for Cincinnati chili even mention meat, but there was something chewy in the sauce the one time I tried a cheese Coney.

If you want a good Coney dog, by all means come to Cincinnati. Theirs are like many throughout the country.

But if you want a good plate of chili, I doubt Cincinnati chili is what you’re after. And personally, if I want a good plate of spaghetti, I’d head to an Italian restaurant and not one famous for something they call “chili.”


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