Go Bengals! Cincinnati Chili Clones: Skyline/Empress Chili and More

Cincinnati type chili unadorned

I promised a while back to share recipes for this iconic chili, and now that our dearly beloved (dare I say “worshipped”?) Bengals are going to the Super Bowl, this chili has gotten a whole lot of press. Here’s a little history, along with the recipes I’ve had in my files.

As I’ve told you before, chili, like soup, is subjective to the whim of the cook, so use the recipes as guides, OK? Then you take it from there!

Cincinnati Beat put out some good information from Washington Post – an article there not only praises our chili, but shares a couple of recipes. So check that out.

From what I can gather, Cincinnati chili was invented by brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff, Macedonians who came to Cincinnati in the early 20’s. According to Dann Woellert, who wrote in “The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili” – “The Kiradjieffs took a meat stew with traditional Mediterranean spices like cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and added chili powder, along with other spices familiar to their Slavic Mediterranean upbringing, and called it chili, something easily recognized by Americans.”

I had my first taste of Skyline chili here in Oakley when I worked for Alvey-Ferguson, an exporter of conveyor equipment. The chili parlor was right across the street from our small office, and boy oh boy, those aromas were tempting.

Now I will tell you that “authentic” recipes do not brown the meat, but add it directly to water in the pot and go from there. Yes, it does work out, too.

Anyway, without further digress, here are all the Cincinnati chili recipes from my files. You’ll see a familiar thread in all of them.


Depends o you. Our locals call the serving style “ways”, like one way or up to five ways.

One means just chili; two means chili and spaghetti; three means chili, spaghetti and cheese; four means chili, spaghetti, cheese and beans or onions and five mains everything. Oyster crackers are a must have.

You can also ladle the chili over coneys and add your fave toppings.

Let me know if you make one of the recipes and how you like it – also any changes you make.

Blessings to each of you and GO BENGALS!!!


Char S. sent this recipe with an interesting history. Char said “Several years ago I met a lady on the bus. We used to chat every morning on our way to work. She gave me a recipe for Empress chili. Perhaps your readers might be interested.” 


2 pounds ground beef

2 small onions, chopped

1 quart water

1 can tomato sauce, 15 oz.

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons cumin

3 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons vinegar 

1-1/2 teaspoons ground allspice


IMPORTANT: Char’s recipe says to brown the beef and onions. But all my other recipes say to cook the beef  in the water until it’s cooked, then add everything else. So you do what you like!

Brown beef and onions. Drain (Or cook meat in water stirring until it reaches a fine texture and until done, then add everything else). Add remaining ingredients. Simmer 1 hour. Remove bay leaves and serve.

Tip: How big is a small onion?

About 4 oz. 


I don’t know where this is from. It’s been in my file a long time.


2 pounds ground beef

1 quart water

2 medium onions, chopped

1 teaspoon EACH: cinnamon, red pepper, salt, cumin and allspice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

About 2 tablespoons vinegar (I’d use cider but white is OK)

1 large clove garlic, minced

2-3 bay leaves

6 oz. Tomato paste


Cook beef in water, stirring until fine texture is reached and meat is cooked.

Add everything else and cook over low heat for 3 to 3-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. If excess fat shows remove it as chili cooks.
Remove bay leaves before serving.


Another vintage recipe.  Cut from a newspaper column here in Cincinnati. So old the newspaper is yellow!


1 quart water

2 pounds ground beef

2 medium onions, chopped

16 oz. Can tomatoes (if using whole, smoosh as chili cooks)

1 teaspoon EACH: cinnamon, red pepper  and Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons EACH: cumin and chili powder

1-1/2 teaspoons EACH: salt and ground allspice

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder


Cook beef and onions in water, stirring until meat is fine textured and is cooked. 

Add everything else and cook slowly for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.



2 pounds ground chuck 

1 quart water

12 oz. Tomato paste

1 teaspoon vinegar or to taste

2-4 good dashes Worcestershire

4 tablespoons chili powder

2-3 teaspoons ground allspice

1 teaspoon EACH: red pepper and cinnamon

1 tablespoon EACH: salt and black pepper (or less)

1 large clove garlic

2 medium onions, chopped

3-4 bay leaves


Put everything together in large pot with water. Bring to a boil and boil for 1/2 hour, then lower to a simmer for 3 or so hours.



2 pounds ground beef

3-4 cups water (start with 3)

4-5 bay leaves

3 medium onions, chopped

1 garlic “toe”/clove

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 small cans tomato sauce

4 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon EACH: allspice, cinnamon and red pepper

Several dashes Worcestershire sauce


Bring everything to a boil in large pot, then lower to a simmer and cook for 2 hours. Add more water as it cooks, if necessary.

This was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer a long time ago by then food editor Marie Ryekman. 

Note: don’t forget to remove the allspice, cloves and bay leaf – might be a good idea to tie the spices in a piece of cheesecloth or put them in a tea ball for easy removal. Now if you can’t fish them out, at least remove the bay leaf.


2 pounds ground beef

1 quart water

2 medium onions, finely grated

16 oz. tomato sauce

5 whole allspice (or add 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice)

1-1/2 teaspoons red pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

4 tablespoons chili powder

1/2 oz. Unsweetened chocolate

4 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons vinegar (I would use cider but white is OK)

1 large bay leaf

5 whole cloves (to sub ground cloves: each teaspoon whole cloves can be subbed with 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves – cloves are strongly flavored)

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon


Add ground beef to water in big pot.Stir until beef separates to a fine texture. Boil slowly for 30 minutes.
Add everything else, stir well, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours. Pot may be covered the lat hour after desired consistency is reached. 

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