Cincinnati Chili is Chocolate Lover’s Chili

Cincinnati Chili
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This rich Cincinnati chili is made with cloves and cayenne, allspice and cumin. Add in lots of chili powder and some dark chocolate and you have an amazing chili!

Cincinnati Chili

 This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.

Shivering from the chill, she plunked down at the table and eyed the chili with a chilly look. “This sure looks like weird chili to me”, she thought. The deep brown Cincinnnati chili stared her down and dared her to chill out. “For real. Let’s do some chillin’, ” this chili muttered. (Well, that is, if chili could talk.) With air scented from the essence of cloves and cumin, allspice and cayenne, the aroma from the chili was enough to send her over the top.

That’s a lot of chills to come out of one bowl of chili. And Cincinnati chili, no less. Ever since I made my Chili Mac last year, I’ve become kind of obsessed. I never loved chili as a child. I remember it as a kidney bean thing and I am no lover of kidney beans. But having married a chili lover, I’ve since become one. Once I discovered the myriad of ways to make chili, I was quickly won over. Truth be told, I love Cincinnati chili. Manservant may love his Texas style chili, but Cincinnati chili is hands down, my favorite.

A few weeks ago I ran across the Mast Brothers Chocolate cookbook at the library. This is a great book, I’ve since bought. Filled with recipes like Orange Nib Crusted Salmon and Cocoa Butternut Squash Soup and even a Cocoa Balsamic Vinaigrette – well, this is not just a dessert cookbook. This is a chocolate lover’s cookbook and a cookbook lover’s cookbook, too. It is a great story about how the Mast Brothers came to be. Since chocolate or cocoa is a component of Cincinnati chili it’s only fitting that this chili should be in their book.


What is Cincinnati Chili?

Cincinnati chili origins began with Greek immigrants in 1920 in Cincinnati and became a meat sauce for spaghetti or hot dogs. With spices from Mediterranean regions such as allspice, cinnamon and cloves, this chili is not a standard chili. Think of this as a sauce that may have had its origins in moussaka or pastitsio and quickly adapted to its new American region. Cincinnati chili is served whatever way you like it and by that I mean one orders their chili over spaghetti with beans and onions or cheese. Two way chili is simply chili and spaghetti. Add in onions and cheese and one has four way chili.

Mast Bros chili recipe is kind of like an over the top gourmet restaurant’s chili. It is simple to make and fun to see how the flavors build on each other. When you start the tastin’, which I do along the way, it doesn’t seem to be getting there. But when you reach the conclusion, with the adding of the sherry vinegar and stirring in of the dark chocolate, well it’s kind of like an opus gone wild. It just reaches a crescendo and keeps ascending from there. This is not unsimilar to when I make mole, only making Cincinnati chili is a  whole lot simpler.

Cincinnati chili

Now I love my other chili mac recipe but that chili might be more of what you find in a diner. I also serve it Cincinnati style 3 ways and I love it and though similar, this Cincinnati chili is much richer. This chili is one to savor and eat slow. Well, I say that, but I’m not sure. You might want to ladle it directly into your mouth. It would be fun to compare both side to side.

I made the Mast Brothers Cincinnati chili with Ghirardelli chocolate. Such travesty, I know. I now can find Mast Brothers chocolate  at Whole Foods. Would it make this chili taste even better? I really don’t know. But it is damn good even with my friend Ghirardelli.

chocolate, cloves

And while I was making this chili: Alex showed up. Alex, who in the span of less than 48 hours had his car fixed with carpooling from Mom, built a bed frame with help from Dad and stained it with help from Mom, and ransacked our home for art work and miscellaneous pots and pans. That Alex, who is now living in Vail, on Gore Creek, working at Matsuhisa, kept me from finishing this post. I should mention that if ransacking, fixing a car, and building a bed aren’t enough, he also bottled beer (Tricerahops) with his Dad until 12:30 AM Saturday morning in between running over to a shady part of town to buy an Iphone off of Craig’s List.

Luckily the Iphone the guy never showed, which was probably a good thing, since it was probably a too good to be true price. That Alex who also went to Costco to buy a microwave to take back to Vail, in between buying bottles to put the beer in and finishing the bed, thought he would be finished in 24 hours so he could ski with his buds on Saturday. Well, he didn’t leave until Saturday at 12:30 pm because he was too busy and so were we, which is why I didn’t send this post to you sooner.

Not that I minded. Alex has a way of making us both feel quite alive and the music is always going when he’s around, which is a good thing.  Though it did feel AND look like a tornado had hit once he left, yes, that Alex Odie, kept me from finishing this post.  And well, in the interim this Cincinnati chili just happened to show up today at Leite’s Culinaria, which just tells me that great minds think alike. Right?

More Chili Things:

Chili Mac

Red Chile

Green Chile

Chili Lover’s Meatloaf

And here’s one to pin for future chili days:

Cincinnati Chili


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I love to make chili in a Dutch oven. Though it is expensive, my very favorite pot is my Dutch oven from Le Creuset. Look for it on sale and think of it as an investment. I was lucky. My mother gave me one once as a gift and I think it’s the best gift she ever gave me!

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Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili is Chocolate Lover’s Chili

  • Author: Abbe Odenwalder
  • Prep Time: 20 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 80 Minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Yield: 8 Servings 1x
  • Category: Main Course/Chili
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: American


This rich Cincinnati chili is made with cloves and cayenne and allspice and cumin. Add in lots of chili powder and some dark chocolate and you have an amazing chili!


  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 medium, finely chopped onion
  • 2 lbs ground beef (I used turkey)
  • 1/4 c chili powder (I used 1 1/2T ancho and 1 1/2 T Mexican red)
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1/2 t ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 c tomato puree
  • 4 c beef stock
  • 2 1/2 oz chopped dark chocolate
  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 2 pinches or to taste sea salt
  • 2 grinds of black pepper


In a large pot, heat oil and saute onion over medium heat until translucent.

Add beef or turkey and cook until browned. Stir in chili powder, cumin, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, cayenne and tomato puree. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Add stock. Let simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Add chocolate and vinegar. Stir until chocolate has melted in. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.

If you choose to serve this Cincinnati style you need to boil some spaghetti, chop some onion, grate some cheese. Beans if you want them. I serve it by putting a serving of spaghetti on a plate. I top that with a bit of grated cheddar. Then I add some chili. Then some beans. Then more cheddar. Then onions. Garnish with crackers. Or those little bitty oyster crackers. Stir it up. Eat it. And if you are lucky you might have a Tricerahops ready to go!


From: Mast Brothers Chocolate, A Family Cookbook, 2013

Keywords: Cincinnati chili, cincinatti chili, Cincinnati chili recipe, best cincinnati chili, chili

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  • Pam
    September 22, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    I grew up on Cincinnati Chili since I grew up north of Cincy and later lived south of Cincy. I love the chili but always added a teaspoon of cinnamon to it, it makes a difference. And always over spaghetti. A good old chili for sure, Abbe! Cincy was always called Little Italy, a lot of hills, the 7 hills, and great restaurants too!

  • Kelly | Foodtasia
    September 22, 2019 at 5:40 am

    Oh Abbe, I love a good 3 way Cincinnati Chili! I haven’t seen one as amazing as this though! Love the chocolate and seasonings in it. Also cool to read about it’s origins.

  • Susan
    September 20, 2019 at 10:06 am

    You are so funny! We have so many places in Wisconsin that people can’t pronounce or spell! This chili looks like a winner, Abbe! I still make the chili the way my mother made it and I need to expand my repertoire. There’s another tough one – LOL.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      I can’t tell you how many times I had to redo the photos with the title because I got the spelling wrong!

  • Carolyn Thurston
    September 20, 2019 at 9:15 am

    I just did a lot of LOLing reading your post. You are SO very witty! I encountered this type of chili in the late 60s while living for 2 years in Oklahoma City – my neighbor called it Chili Spaghetti – and it held a regular rotational place in my kitchen for decades. I’ll be trying your version next time it gets cool enough here in SoCal for eating chili. I also got a big chuckle over the beer name. I’m not a beer drinker, but loved the creative branding, TriceraHOPS. Clever.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks Carolyn for reading. Chili spaghetti is great and this version is so good, but check out my chili mac, too!

  • mimi rippee
    September 19, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Yeah, this is fabulous. I love all of the ingredients. Aren’t there also noodles in C. chili? I can’t spell it either. That, and Mediterranean.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      There are Mimi. Chili 3 ways is spaghetti, chili and cheese. 4 ways adds onions and 5 ways adds beans! Take your pick.

  • Karen (Back Road Journal)
    September 19, 2019 at 4:07 am

    A warming dish of chili is a great meal for fall and yours sounds great.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:22 pm

      It is a perfect meal. We even put it over omelets for breakfast!

  • Liz
    September 19, 2019 at 3:12 am

    I’m going to have to give this a try. I’m not a fan of kidney beans either, so it’s right up my alley. Plus, living only 2 hours from Cincinnati, it seems fitting to add this chili to our menu! xo

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      You must tell me what the real thing tastes like! I am dying to know.

  • sherry
    September 18, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    this sounds good Abbe. we always add some very very dark cocoa powder and/or dark dark chocolate to our chilli pot. Gives it that beautifully dark look and a mysterious taste. cheers sherry

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      You are so right Sherry. Keeps everyone guessing!

  • John / Kitchen Riffs
    September 18, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Fun to see this one return! I still haven’t made this since you posted this the first time. One of these days. (Story of my life!)

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      I know how that goes John!

  • Healthy World Cuisine
    September 18, 2019 at 11:10 am

    This is some major comfort food. And that close up shot has us drooling on our keyboard!

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      September 20, 2019 at 12:19 pm

      It is major comfort food, for sure! And I have learned how to edit old shots, but doing that made me hungry!

  • Rhe Christine
    February 11, 2014 at 5:56 am

    okay, i've been trolling your recipes! wow, all of these are amazing!! I'm going to have to come back and try some of these 🙂


  • Juliana
    January 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Such a nice chile Abbe…specially with the addition of dark chocolate…I will have to try adding chocolate next time making chili.
    Thanks for the recipe and hope you are enjoying your week 😀

  • Donalyn @ The Creekside Cook
    January 22, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    This is chili week in blogdom, I think – chili recipes everywhere! Makes me glad, because I never get tired of trying new ones. I love Cinci chili – in some ways it has a lot of the same flavor notes that I love in a good mole. Those warm spices are very welcome in the middle of the winter too – thanks!

  • Abbe Odenwalder
    January 22, 2014 at 4:27 am

    It is great chili, Shannon! And so is the chili mac. It would depend on my mood as far as what I'd like better! Each age brings a different whirlwind. You will see…

  • Laura Dembowski
    January 21, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    My mom grew up in Cincinnati so she loves this kind of chili. Chili has never been my thing so I used to just get the spaghetti with cheese and onions, no chili.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:32 am

      You know what I say Laura? Whatever works! I'd love to try the real thing, though!

  • Joyti
    January 21, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Chocolate – how interesting! I've never had cincinnati chili – wonder if I can make it non-meat? Sounds hardy and warming!

    p.s. talking chili – that line made me smile 🙂

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:20 am

      I think you could. Try some beans or some grains, like barley or farro, or even some type of tempeh or tofu. Needs to be hearty, though. Use some strong vegetable broth in place of meat broth. Let me know how it turns out! I like it when people smile!

  • Biz
    January 21, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Yep, that's the same reason my husband loves Cincinnati chili – no beans! I will definitely add the chocolate next time – I absolutely LOVE the combination of flavors of this chili – I think the chocolate would put it over the top.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:31 am

      I like beans now, but not back then. And chocolate really works. Much richer and better than cocoa! thanks, Biz!

  • [email protected]
    January 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I love Cincinnati Chili but I hardly ever make it because my kids won't eat it. Yours looks delicious! Love the chocolate addition.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:29 am

      Did you try putting it over pasta? Or on a tortilla? Or for nachos? We mothers have our ways!

  • shannon weber
    January 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    i've never had cincinnati chili: never! i would love to try it though: i think we must be more prone to making the texas style here, although i don't know why. it looks gorgeous! and i suppose kids will bring a whirlwind of activity to the house when they come home even when they're older: i never thought about that, since i just assume the whirlwind only happens when they're little, but it gives me something to always look forward to when the Wee starts to grow. 🙂

  • Nazneen Hamilton
    January 21, 2014 at 6:38 am

    Abbe, I think if we opened up our herbal cafe then Mr and Mrs Riffs may head out this way 🙂
    This looks wonderful! Like you I wasn't a chilli fan but I married a guy who also loves his chilli. He used to be the one to make it before but then I took over and made it better. I add chocolate too, but not like this one, This one is gorgeously dark and glossy. I love my chilli on pasta, they go so well together.
    Thanks for asking about the kid, all are well now, well somewhat, still a bunch of wheezing and sneezing going on, but all back in school tomorrow.
    Take care Abbe! So glad your baby came down to see you. xx

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:26 am

      This has a lot of chocolate. And not cocoa. Makes a difference.I'm telling you that I adore chili on pasta. If my mom would have served it to me as a child like that I probably would have loved chili back then! Will talk soon!

  • Bam's Kitchen
    January 21, 2014 at 5:57 am

    A real fun post! This chili is incredible. I just can imagine how the cloves and chocolate really worked with the heat. Well why not ? Look at some of the Mole's or Mexican hot cocoa's and chili and chocolate together have a lot going for it. Sending some warm breezes your way.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:23 am

      It actually has been very warm here, Bam. But Thursday they are saying snow. Thanks so much!

  • Angie Schneider
    January 21, 2014 at 5:27 am

    I have never had a chilli prepared with chocolate and I am totally fascinated with the creative combination of flavours. Your chilli looks droolworthy, Abbe.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 22, 2014 at 4:22 am

      I think you will love it Angie. Chocolate gives it a very rich taste. Use one with a high cocoa component and you will love it!

  • Kitchen Riffs
    January 21, 2014 at 1:22 am

    You know, with Colorado's new, um, herbal laws I suspect a lot of people are going to start hearing their chili talk to them. Just sayin'. 😀 I've had Cincinnati Chili on my list of recipes to perfect ever since I started by blog. Still haven't gotten around to it, but I'll certainly use yours for ideas. This looks terrific! Thanks.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 21, 2014 at 2:39 am

      Herbal Laws? I like that. I could see we'd have a lot of fun if you and Mrs. KR headed our way! You know I never made Cincinnati chili until last year, which means I have a lot of catching up to do!

  • Sharon D
    January 21, 2014 at 1:05 am

    By golly, Abbe! This is beautiful. It has the loveliest shade of brown-red. I have never tried eating chocolate this way…this looks sOooOo yummy. Can't wait to experiment.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 21, 2014 at 2:37 am

      Sharon, i know you probably don't see chili in your part of the world but it is really good! I'd try making a Szechuan pepper chili. I've been wanting to experiment with that! Thanks!

  • Daniela Grimburg
    January 21, 2014 at 12:57 am

    That's a real fun post, Abbe!
    I was roaring with laughter reading about your chili variations.
    Alex departure reminded me how our home looked like when our eldest left for college 🙂
    The chili looks gorgeous, so are the colors.

    • Abbe Odenwalder
      January 21, 2014 at 2:36 am

      Thanks Daniela! The problem when they leave, at least for us, is that they always come home with more than they left with! And in Alex's case, he is always coming and going. When he graduated from college, he even left stuff behind, but he always tells me he doesn't want that much stuff!