Sunday, December 4, 2011

The 3-way Chili

In our house my husband reveres chili with passionate monogamy.  He is the only one who makes it and it has to be done in a very specific way.  Bastardizing it with pasta of any kind is near sacrilege.  (Interesting, because he's from Green Bay which touts its own brand of chili that includes spaghetti...which is how his mom makes it!)

When my Cincinnati friends told me about their chili that can be enjoyed as 3, 4, or 5-way, it caught my attention.  What on earth could this kinky, open minded chili be about?  Although it can be enjoyed as 3-way, it turns out that this chili with a cult following, also must be done in a very specific way.

If you've never heard of it, Skyline Chili is a chain of restaurants in Cincinnati, OH, founded in 1949 by a Greek immigrant.  The chili is a fine textured meat sauce with a very distinct flavor profile.  Although the official recipe is a highly guarded family secret, most agree that the sauce must contain chocolate and cinnamon which are common spices in Greek cuisine.  Because of Skyline's history and popularity, "Skyline" and "Cincinnati" style chili have become synonymous.

So what's this 3-way all about?  Cincinnati chili is traditionally enjoyed served over spaghetti noodles and topped with lots of finely shredded cheddar cheese. (Chili + noodles + cheese = three, get it?)  Sorry to disappoint any other notions of enjoying 3-way chili...though I can't imagine what that would even look like.  Add Red beans OR onions and now you have it 4-way.  Add both red beans AND onions, and now you have it 5-way.  If you can believe it there is even more to this madness.  Once plated it is common to squirt hot sauce across the top and cover the whole mess with salty oyster crackers.  Check out the Webner House blog for all of the specifics.

After consulting a friend of mine from Cincinnati, here is the recipe I use to make this wonderfully unique chili.  It is inspired by Skyline Chili Copycat from

1 Qt water
2 lbs ground beef
2 med onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint (16 oz) tomato sauce
2 Tbls cider vinegar
1 Tbls worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp (rounded) ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne or ground red pepper
1/2 oz grated unsweetened chocolate or 3/4 Tbls unsweetened cocoa

Finely shredded cheddar cheese
1 lb spaghetti

Optional toppings:
Red Kidney beans
minced onion
oyster crackers

1.  Fill saucepan with water.  Crumble raw ground beef in to pan of water. (Really, trust me).  It's okay if it's in clumps.  Bring water & meat to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to a simmer.
2.  Add all remaining ingredients (except cheese & pasta).  Simmer uncovered 2-2 1/2 hours.  Remove bay leaf, skim off visible fat, and cool.  Best if left in refrigerator overnight before serving.  
I just added the beans right in to the chili before serving.

When ready to eat.  Cook up a pot of spaghetti noodles to al dente and drain.  Reheat chili.  Pile noodles on plate, top with chili sauce, followed by your choice of optional kidney beans and onion.  Finish off with a mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese.  Proceed with hot sauce and oyster crackers if you so desire and dig in!   

This chili can also be enjoyed in the same manner on hot dogs or over baked potatoes.  We enjoyed ours with a side of Stella's Hot Spicy Cheese rolls!

I make this chili when I have time to cook ahead and then portion it into freezer bags for use at a later date.  Makes it a quick and easy meal when you are short on time.  

**An important thing for you to know about me is that I am passionate about supporting local farmers and food producers.  Whenever I can I source my ingredients locally and will either list an item as such and include a link to the producer or put a list at the end of the post with the folks I bought my ingredients from.  If you ever want to know exactly where to get a food item locally, please don't hesitate to ask.  I would encourage you to give serious consideration to where your money is going and who you are supporting when you buy your food.  A smaller visible price tag on the front end is often NOT without a higher hidden price tag on the back end.  Another topic for another time, but if you want to know more in a fun Food, Inc.    (It's available on Netflix.)**

My sources for this meal:


  1. I love Cincinnati chili 4-way with onions. First tasted it 21 years ago, made by an Ohio boy...

  2. Not a bad first effort A...looks like you made the Green Bay version with the beans mixed in??. True Cincinnati Skyline is eaten on a plate with even layered spaghetti, chili slurry, onions, beans and cheddar. (5 way) Eaten with a fork so you can cut through each layer. Most order the 3 way (spag,chili, cheese)

    I'll have to mix you up a batch.
    I've been a fan before you were born. Mikey B

  3. Thanks Mike! I will take you up on the personal tutorial of how to eat Skyline Chili any time! I should have written my own disclaimer that I was being lazy and just put the beans right in the pot with the chili. Thanks for pointing out the difference and thanks for your input! :)