What Is Cincinnati Chili—and How Is It Different From Classic Chili?

Cincinnati Chili vs Regular Chili

Sure, Cincinnati chili and classic chili look similar—but are they?

What Is Cincinnati Chili?

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Cincinnati chili was created in—you guessed it—Cincinnati, Ohio. Tom and John Kiradjieff, Macedonian immigrants and founders of Empress Chili Parlor, began serving a "stew with traditional Mediterranean spices” in 1922, according to The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili.

The brothers’ signature dish was an Americanized version of a Greek stew with traditional Mediterranean spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Their addition? Chili powder. 

Cincinnati chili is most often served on top of spaghetti, but it’s also considered a hot dog topping. When it’s used to top a hot dog, it’s called a “coney.”

Traditionally, Cincinnati chili can be ordered five ways: 

  • Two-way: spaghetti topped with chili
  • Three-way: spaghetti, chili, and cheese
  • Four-way onion: spaghetti, chili, onions, and cheese
  • Four-way bean: spaghetti, chili, beans, and cheese
  • Five-way: spaghetti, chili, beans, onions, and cheese 

Cincinnati Chili vs. Classic Chili 

Cincinnati Chili vs Regular Chili

There’s no denying that Cincinnati chili and classic chili (or chili con carne) are quite similar. Both dishes start with a tomato base, involve ground meat and chili powder, and have somewhat similar consistencies. However, there are a few ways to tell them apart: 

How It’s Served

Classic chili is typically served alone and in a bowl, while Cincinnati chili is served as a topping—usually either to spaghetti or a hot dog—on a plate. 

Get the recipe: Easy Chili

The Spices Used

Chili lends itself to creativity, so there is some overlap when it comes to which spices are used in Cincinnati chili and which are used in regular chili.  

Cincinnati chili, though, is usually sweeter as it is seasoned with spices that are often associated with desserts, like cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Some recipes even call for cocoa powder. 

Read more: What’s the Difference Between Cocoa Powder and Cacao Powder?


Classic chili is closer to a stew than a soup, while Cincinnati chili is closer to a soup than a stew. Since Cincinnati chili is a topping, it’s normally of a thinner consistency. The Ohioan dish is often compared to Greek pasta sauces or meat sauces used to top hot dogs. 

Read more: What’s the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

How to Make Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati chili, which is prepared using a pot or Dutch oven on stovetop, is remarkably easy to tackle at home. If you can make classic chili, you can make Cincinnati chili. Want to learn more? You can find our best recipe here. 


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