Slow Cooker Cincinnati Chili

Chili is a tricky dish.  It’s not hard to make, but I’ve found that it’s a very personal, almost religious, experience depending on where you are in the country.  If you’re in or around Texas, you may prefer your chili heavily spiced and heavy on the meat (not ground…God forbid) with no mention of beans, except possibly on the side.  Other areas of the country will insist that chili just isn’t chili without beans and ground meat. Then, there’s chicken chili (which just truly offends chili purists) and even Southwestern Chili Verde.

Then there’s the Midwest, which is where I’m from.  I like to think that we’re a peaceful people, accepting of all chilis and their stories.  At least I am.  If it’s good, I’ll eat it, beans or not.  The Midwest is home to a true original, Cincinnati chili.  A lot of chili purists will argue that Cincinnati chili isn’t even chili.  When it comes right down to it, I don’t care.  I’ve always liked it and will continue to eat it, despite the naysayers.  I grew up on it and it makes me happy…just like all other chilis.  I’m an equal opportunity chili eater.

If you’ve never had Cincinnati chili, know that it is different…and we like it that way.  Cincinnati chili is very smooth, consisting of finely ground beef cooked in a rich, cinnamon spiced tomato sauce.  It’s often served over spaghetti, since it has more of a meat sauce consistency to it than a “regular” chili.  If you happen upon one of Cincinnati’s famous chili parlors, you might order your Cincinnati chili “three-way” (spaghetti, chili and cheddar cheese), “four-way” (spaghetti, chili, chopped white onions and cheddar cheese) or even “five-way” (spaghetti, chili, onions, beans and cheddar cheese).  Whichever way you order it, it’s good stuff.  It’s also quite tasty on a hot dog.

Despite my love of Cincinnati chili, I’d never made it!  I ran across this recipe for Cincinnati chili in the slow cooker last week and decided to give it a try on one of our crazy busy “Mom Drives a Shuttle Bus” evenings.  It really couldn’t have been much easier and with just a little extra care as it cooked, we enjoyed a wonderful, warm Cincinnati chili dinner.

I started by assembling my ingredients.  Besides the meat, onion and garlic, the group that I assembled certainly didn’t look like what I usually grab when I make chili.

I mixed together what I needed from the above ingredients and then poured that thick, spiced tomato mixture into my crock pot.

To that, I added some diced onion and a few cloves of minced garlic.

After that was mixed together nicely, I crumbled in two pounds of lean ground beef.  No need to cook up the beef beforehand.  Spending the day in the Crock Pot will cook the beef perfectly and give that smooth Cincinnati chili consistency we’re looking for.

Once the beef was stirred in, I covered the slow cooker and set it to cook for six hours.

Since I ended up being home for most of the day, I did stir it a few times, just to make sure the beef wasn’t cooking into a giant hamburger lump (it wasn’t).  Also, about an hour before it was done, I grabbed a few paper towels and blotted a good bit of the grease off of the top.  The recipe didn’t say to do that, but if I can save myself from a few calories, I’m going to do it, plus the idea of greasy chili just wasn’t appealing.

The end result was worth waiting for!  I was transported back to my childhood and was thrilled to introduce Cincinnati style chili to my girls.  It was really good!  We decided to enjoy ours in the traditional “three-way” style, with the cheddar cheese and chopped onion.  It was a nice way to cap off a busy day.


Adapted from Family Circle

Slow Cooker Cincinnati Chili
Recipe type: Dinner
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 2 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. spaghetti, cooked
  • finely shredded cheddar cheese, diced white onion, optional
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, chili powder, cocoa, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker. Stir in the garlic and yellow onion.
  2. Crumble the ground beef into the sauce, carefully stirring to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8 hours. Stir a couple of times along the way, if possible.
  3. If the chili looks too greasy, using a few paper towels, blot the grease from the top of the chili about an hour before serving. If it looks like there is too much liquid, let it cook with the top partially off for the last 30 minutes.
  4. Serve over cooked spaghetti and top with cheddar cheese and white onions, if desired.
  5. ENJOY!

  1. As I write this, I have a crockpot of Cincinnati Chili cooking! I was so pleased that this recipe doesn’t require browning the ground beef beforehand. One reason I love my crockpot is not having a lot of dishes (pans, in this case) to clean up by precooking the meat. It smells divine!

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  3. I work in a winery tasting room and frequently suggest wine pairings. A couple weeks ago, a co-worker from Dayton told me about her husband’s Cincinnati (aka Skyline) Chili. We enjoyed a batch while watching the Super Bowl and paired it with a medium-bodied Cotes du Rhone and Zinfandel, as well as a light-bodied and off-dry table red from my winery, Veritas. The Cotes due Rhone was voted the best match. By the way, I really like your blog.

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  5. I must say, this is the best Cincinnati chili I have ever had. I’ve been to Skyline, Gold Star Chili, and Dixie Chili here in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati and this was by far the best. I’ve made four double batches so far, this time adding two habaneros without the seeds or pith. Wanted to test it before I set my mouth on fire. It turned out really good in my opinion. The two habaneros were just right for a double batch. Thank you so much for the recipe.

  6. This is in the crockpot for our Sunday dinner. With temperatures in the teens, chili is a comfort food. I didn’t have tomato sauce, and living in the country neighbors are not close by. I substituted a can of diced tomatoes that I puréed. I only had a sweet onion. Hope that doesn’t mess it up. The chili powder seems like a lot, but I followed your recipe. I hope it’s as good as I want it to be.

    • I just realized there isn’t oregano in this recipe…. Does it need it? Most true chili has oregano.

      • I’ve never used oregano in this chili, because Cincinnati chili has a different vibe to it than regular “beef and bean” chili. I hope you enjoy it!

  7. Does the ground beef get cooked on stove first, drained and brown or does the grown beef just get thrown in slow cooker and will cook in the crockpot?

      • So I Put the raw ground beef in crockpot and don’t have to get it brown before hand over the stove or drain the beef?When is a good time to cook the spaghetti? Just got ingredients to to make for tomorrow

        • Yes! The meat goes into the slow cooker raw. So easy! I’d start on the spaghetti about 20 minutes before you want to eat. That way, you have time to get the water boiling and cook the pasta. I hope you enjoy it!

          • Thanks, in the cp now. Have it on low for 8hrs so it’s more ready when hubby gets home. Start cooking pasta at 4pm? He won’t be home until 5-530. Probably did it a little early before he gets home.

          • Well, the pasta should only take ten minutes or so to boil on the stovetop. Unless you’re wanting to eat before he gets home, I’d probably put the water on to boil around 5:00 and plan to eat around 5:30. If you make the pasta ahead of time, toss it with a little olive oil after you’ve drained it, so it won’t stick together as much as it cools.

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    • I would think that you would be ok, time wise, but you may want to only use 1 1/2 times the beef broth instead of twice as much. You can always keep that extra cup of broth handy until it’s done cooking and then if the chili seems too thick then, add some more broth. Good luck! Let me know how it works out for you. I’ve never doubled it.

  9. Is this chili spicy? My husband doesn’t like spicy, I always have to buy the Hormel
    Chili at the store, so would the spiciness be about the same ? Would I put less Chili powder ? I’ve never made chili so this would be my first real chili. Thanks )

    • It’s not terribly spicy. It’s not a traditional chili though. It’s Cincinnati style, so the flavor is quite different. If you’re looking for a more traditional chili, just let me know and I’ll point you to a different recipe or two!