Cincinnati Five Way Chili by Larry Andersen


Five Way Chili

At the turn of the last century, hot dogs were new and someone made up a spicy meat sauce to garnish them along with some mustard and onions. That was the birth of the Coney Island hot dog. It was a very competative business selling those hot dogs. Many people, after working in the original Coney Island hot dog stand, started their own stands and that lead to a lot of variations in the Coney Island meat sauce or Chili.

With the proliferation of Coney Island stand in the New York area the market was soon saturated. The Coney Island chile men moved accross the country looking for just the right market for their chili. The story goes that a couple of Greek brothers moved to Cincinnati about 1920. There in Cincinnati they developed what has become a signature dish for the city - The Cincinnati Five Way. There are many chili parlors that offer their version of this famous dish.

The dish is called The Five Way because of the five distinct layers usually served on a large platter. The first layer is a large helping of spaghetti. The next layer is ladles of Cincinnati chili. Next comes a layer of kidney beans. Chopped onions are piled over the beans. The entire dish is then crowned with lots of grated cheese, usually Cheddar.

There are many chili parlors in Cincinnati and each has its own secret recipe for its own chili. The following recipe is said to mimic the flavor of the many of the Cincinnati chilies.

Preparation: Time Life Experience Recipe
Serves or Makes Source person
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 cup preparewd barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons grated unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 large onions, fine diced
  • 1/2 cup water mixed with 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground chili powder
  1. In large frying pan, brown beef and break into small pieces. Drain fat. Add onions and cook until onions are transparent.
  2. Add barbecue sauce, water-ketchup mixture, chocolate and spices. Stir to mix well, melt and mix chocolate, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. You may add more water-ketchup mixture to adjust texture of chile.

There is variation built into this recipe depending on what prepared barbecue sauce you use. I have seen other "authentic" recipes for Cincinnati chili. Some are rather complex with a large list of spices including allspice, turmeric and cardamom though I doubt they add much to the overall taste of the chili. Chocolate seems to be common to most of the "authentic" Cincinnati recipes but not to Coney Island hot dog chili sauce.

It is a tasty and filling dish. If you are ever in Cincinnati, try out one of the city's chili parlors. If not, you may find it offered in some east-coast chain restaurants of late. Or, you can make it at home - the recipe isn't that hard. Try it. I'm sure you'll like it.

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Latest revision done August 2014
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