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Cincinnati chili is unique for several reasons: its thin consistency, its spices, as well as both its preparation and presentation methods. The history of Cincinnati chili involves the European immigrants who brought the Greek cooking style to the area in the early 1900s. Over the years, it attained a cult-like following of people who enjoy the Cincinnati style of chili in Mom & Pop style restaurants, as well as the chain chili parlors including Skyline, Gold Star, Dixie Chili and others.
The thinner consistency of Cincinnati chili is actually a result of the preparation process. Instead of the meat being browned, it is often boiled, which results in a softer texture. Some recipes mention processing the beef in a food processor before cooking. The unusual spices are often kept secret, but some often mentioned include cinnamon, chocolate, Worcester sauce, allspice, bay leaves, cloves and others.
The presentation is possibly the most unique trait of Cincinnati chili. The most basic dish consists of spaghetti noodles topped with chili and is referred to as a 2-way. A 3-way is chili topped with shredded cheese and placed on top of spaghetti noodles. A 4-way adds chopped onions to the mixture and a 5-way includes red beans.
In the history of Cincinnati chili, two names frequently arise: Tom Kiradjieff and Nicholas Lambrinides. Kiradjieff, an immigrant from Macedonia, opened a small Greek eatery with his brother, John, in Cincinnati in 1922. Many of the area’s immigrants were German at that time and not accustomed to Greek food. As a means of attracting more business, the brothers decided to serve a spaghetti dish using Middle Eastern spices.
Kiradjieff called the dish “spaghetti chili” and served it in numerous ways, including on top of hot dogs. His five-way consisted of spaghetti, chili, onion, kidney beans and cheese, served with a side order of hot dogs, additional cheese and oyster crackers.
After immigrating to the U.S. in 1912, Lambrinides first worked for Empress Chili Company before opening his own Greek restaurant in 1949 in Cincinnati, overlooking the city’s skyline. They prepared dishes using Greek recipes passed down through their family. This business developed into the Skyline Chili chain of restaurants and also the sale of Skyline canned chili in grocery stores.
Although this particular style of chili is most popular in the metro Cincinnati area, which includes parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, Cincinnati chili is now available in other regions of the United States. Commonly known as the “Chili Capital of the U.S.,” Cincinnati is said to have more chili parlors per capita and square mileage than any other city in the United States.