Cincinnati Chili is a mystery to most chili fans, frequently copied but seldom duplicated – plus it’s the only chili I know of that’s served on spaghetti. When in Cincinnati you can’t just order a bowl of chili, you need to know the Cincinnati-Chili ordering shortcuts:

Ways Cincinnati Chili is ordered

– a 3-way: Spaghetti with chili, covered with shredded cheddar cheese

– a 4-way: Spaghetti with chili, then cheese, then onions

– a 5-way: Spaghetti, beans, chili, cheese & onions

– a 6-way: Spaghetti, beans, chili, cheese, onions & sour cream.

**No 2-way chili is served in Cincinnati; the cheese must always go on top.

And let us not gloss over the very fundamental fact: the only authentic Cincinnati Chili you will ever eat in your entire is the one you’ll eat in Cincinnati. HOWEVER – if Ohio is just that one step beyond where you feel like putting your body, then you can avoid the fuss and most of the aggravation that comes with playing cooking Russian roulette by religiously following the recipe on this page.

What can I say? Here’s the piece of the gustatory grail – a secret recipe laid on me one night by a guy named Leroy Tatum – a retired porter from the B & O Railroad – born and raised in Cincinnati, and who swore me to utter secrecy. “You can share it with your friends after I’m dead he told me on the intercapital daylight between Baltimore and Cleveland. Leroy had spent a lifetime enjoying his Mom’s home-cooked version of this rare delicacy, all the way back to the Great Depression. It fed six kids and two adults through some of the worst years Americans had ever lived through. So here tis! Mrs Tatum’s Old-time Cincinnati Chili.

Mrs. Tatum’s  Old-time Cincinnati Chili Recipe

4 large cloves garlic, pressed

2 large onions, chopped

1 qt. water

2 pounds ground beef

1 (16 oz) can tomatoes

1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 large bay leaf

1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cooked spaghetti – enough for 6 servings.

Use an entire head of garlic and simply chop it up. For those who aren’t partial to a lot of onions, you can substitute 1 large red onion instead of two whites.  Other then that follow the ingredient list to the letter.


In a large skillet, saute the garlic and onions in hot lard (vegetable oil with butter works too). Add water until simmering. Add the beef. (You will actually be boiling the beef, instead of sauteing it, but that’s the way they do it in Ohio, I guess.) In go the tomatoes, vinegar, Worcestershire and all of the spices. Simmer for 3 hours. 

Step 1: Onions and Garlic

Saute 1 or 2 onions – red or white – I prefer the red – until lightly golden – mmmmmm 

Step 2: Adding water & seasonings

This does not look very tasty yet, I must admit, but after adding the seasonings and letting it all cook together things start looking up. 


Step 3: Cook 3 hours

After adding the seasonings and letting things cook a bit, the chili starts to smell really good – the allspice and cinnamon  waft throughout the house. After simmering for 3 hours your first attempt at Cincinnati Chili is officially done. After the chili was finished cooking skim off the layer of fat from the top of the pot (if you used less than exceptionally lean beef).

Step 4: Eat

Why not share a chili 3-way this weekend with some friends, and see what kind of hit it makes. Spread the taste! Keep Mrs Tatum truckin! 

And BTW – if it still isn’t hot enough for you, choose your favorite hot sauce and splash it on. Recommend HOT Loco Luna (for flavor & heat)

SPECIAL NOTE:  For those that do not eat beef, why not try the chicken version. I called it the Fairmont Variation, after the county seat of Marion Co West Virginia. Simply substitute minced chicken and chicken sausages (cut in half-inch lengths. 



About stonekingseminars

Poet, screenwriter, producer, mentor
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