Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili

IMG_0307bBack in January I posted a recipe for 3-way Cincinnati Chili.  It was winter, the air was cold and I suddenly had a taste for something familiar from my time in Virginia.  Randy and I used to frequent the Hard Times Café near our home in Springfield, Virginia. I fell in love with their Cincinnati chili but had never prepared it myself.

After a little research I came across a recipe in What’s Cooking America that sounded perfect.  I prepared it and Randy and I love it.  We shared some of the chili with our friends Bob and Sandy and they love it too.

Eventually, Randy told me about his times he spent in Cincinnati on business many years ago and said that he frequented a restaurant called Skyline Chili.  And, while he loved the chili I prepared, I wondered out loud if the Skyline Chili was the same or just a bit different.

So, once again, I did a little research and came across this recipe called Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili and it sounded perfect.  So, off to the kitchen I went.

I remember mentioning the first blog that I loved the chili but, “I remember the chili being a little looser,” and so I would try to replicate the original Skyline Chili to see if that was the chili I remembered.

Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili

1 quart cold water

2 lbs. ground beef

2 cups crushed tomato

2 yellow onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

¼ cup chili powder

1 tsp cayenne

1 tsp ground cumin

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

1 whole bay leaf

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ tsp salt

Cooked spaghetti to serve chili over

Grated cheddar cheese


  1. Add beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours. Add water as needed if the chili becomes too thick.
  3. Refrigerate the chili overnight, and the next day remove the layer of fat from top before reheating and serving.

The Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili ordering code:

1-way: just the chili

2-way: chili over spaghetti

3-way: chili, spaghetti, and grated cheddar cheese

4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions

5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans.

As you can see from the recipe, the chili was very easy to prepare.  The whole time it simmered in my kitchen the air was filled with the aroma of both chocolate and cinnamon.  Trust me when I tell you it made for a pleasant day in our house.

Now to the differences I discovered.  Of course the first difference was the preparation of the meat.  On the first chili I only had to sauté the meat with several other ingredients eventually adding the rest of the ingredients.

The Skyline Chili recipe called for simmering the meat in a quart of water making sure to break up the meat into tiny pieces and then simmering before adding all the rest of the ingredients.

The end result of this difference is the first chili was thicker while the Skyline was, as I remembered, finer and looser.

There was a small difference in the ingredient list for the Skyline Chili.  The most pronounced difference was the addition of a bay leaf.  I was mystified by the addition of the bay leaf and went on the hunt for an explanation of why use it at all.

There seems to be a debate among cooks as to the use of and, need for bay leaves but one thing they all have in common is that if you prepare two like dishes you will notice a difference if you do not or do use the bay leaf.  I read that Serious Eats culinary director J. Kenji López-Alt appreciates bay leaf for its 50-plus flavor compounds and its “complex, tea-like aromas” after long cooking, he wrote in March 2014 in response to the site’s Food Lab query titled,“What’s the Point of Bay Leaves?”.


I really cannot say that I noticed any appreciable change in the taste of the chili with the addition of the bay leaf unless it was the richness of the cinnamon in this version of Cincinnati chili.

Normally when I make a new dish I send over some to my neighbors Bob and Sandy for them to try and render a verdict as to the taste.  This time, however, it was a beautiful, warm evening just perfect for a meal on the lanai.  I called them up and invited them to have dinner.  We enjoyed a dinner of 3-way Skyline Chili, a simple salad and sweet corn bread.

As Sandy was enjoying her second helping she remarked, “This is a thumbs-up meal.  No, it is a ten-thumbs up meal.  This is very, very good”.


Like the first Cincinnati chili recipe, a few days later I prepared chili dogs and they were great too.

As for Randy, he liked both chilis but, thought the first one was sweeter.  Me, I loved both, but the Skyline Chili was what I remembered from long ago bringing back lovely memories of home.



This entry was posted in Chili, chili dogs, Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili, Cincinnati Chili, Food, Recipe and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cincinnati “Skyline” Chili

  1. Randy says:

    Very excellent chili. If you have never had Skyline Chili, you do not know what you are missing…..

  2. Eileen says:

    Wonderful! Loved the 5-way chili from Hard Times Cafe in Rockville. Thanks for the memories. Eileen

    • Eileen–I love the Hard Times too. We were going to try to get there the last time we visited Virginia but we just couldn’t fit it into our schedule. We’ll try again in June. Thanks for stopping by and leaving some words. Keep reading, Mary

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  4. Pingback: Easy, delicious Chicken Chili | The Delicious Divas

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