In the Roaring Twenties, a new star would emerge on the food menu of the Cincinnati-based Empress Lunch Room owned by Greek immigrants Tom and John Kiradjieff, that recipe is what has been known for 90+ years as the famous Cincinnati Chili. A delightful iconic concoction made famous by its ingredients and Mediterranean vibe of flavors which included lean ground beef, beef stock, tomato paste, and a variety of Mediterranean spices that were piled on top of a plate of spaghetti noodles and later topped with cheese, beans, and even onions in various spinoffs at other restaurants trying copy the Empress Lunch Room’s famous recipe.
“Cincinnati Chili” has long been said to be a confusing to those that have never had the pleasure of eating this Iconic dish made famous by the two Kiradjieff brothers. Many unsuspecting folks expect the flavor to be like that of a Texas-Style chili, or any type of chili for that fact. I’m sure they were confused by Mediterranean spices they were tasting in this Cincinnati Chili. You will either love the unique flavor like I do or simply hate it, but I really think given a fair chance you’ll fall in the love with Cincinnati Chili just like I did.
The Cincinnati Chili made famous by the brothers Tom and John Kiradjieff would inspire Greek Nicholas Sarakatsannis, who worked at the Empress Lunch Room in the late 1920s, to open his own restaurant called Dixie Chili in Northern Kentucky, serving a version of the Cincinnati Chili concocted by Tom and John. Then later the Cincinnati Chili would yet again inspire another worker from the restaurant, Nicholas Lambrinides, in 1949 to open Skyline Chili in Price Hill and serve his own spinoff of the popular recipe.
They say more than eight decades later, the trendy Roaring Twenties Empress recipe for Cincinnati Chili remains a family Kiradjieff secret and it has never been modified once. Most find the Empress version of Cincinnati Chili to be a bit spicier than its competitors in the area serving variations of the Chili recipe and that’s Okay with me because I love my Cincinnati Chili a little more on the spicy side myself.
All over the net, you will see recipes claiming to be the copycat version of the original Cincinnati Chili Recipe of the Kiradjieff family or bloggers claiming their family member received the recipe from a reputable family member of the brothers, past employees, or they were very close to the Kiradjieff family. Are they being honest, one really cannot be sure? Sometimes a story is just that friends, a story.
Rumor has it that shaved chocolate or cocoa powder was never an ingredient that the Kiradjieff brothers used—again we ask fact or fiction? I have heard that chocolate was later added by one of the past employees who opened his own restaurant featuring a spinoff of the coveted Cincinnati Chili recipe of the Kiradjieff brothers. What do I believe, you ask? I actually believe that chocolate may not have been added by the Kiradjieff family being their recipe has always been the spicier version of the bunch. However, I added the unsweetened cocoa powder to my recipe just to be on the safe side Y’all.
The other ingredient that usually causes a battle between folks is the use of oregano, did they add it? Didn’t they add it? Well, if we are going to continue to compare this recipe to Saltsa Kima, which also uses very similar ingredients and is served over pasta, we might just want to remember dried Greek oregano is usually an ingredient used in authentic Saltsa Kima. So again, one will never truly know unless they are privy to the original recipe of Tom and John Kiradjieff.
Do you have a version of your own Cincinnati Chili Recipe? If so let me know in the comment section. I always love hearing from y’all that actually have your own versions of recipes and exactly how you came upon your own version.
Let’s talk a little about The Cincinnati Chili Recipe and it’s many “Ways”
- 2-Way: The original way of serving, Spaghetti noodles with the Cincinnati Chili sauce, aka Chili Spaghetti.
- 3-Way: Spaghetti noodles covered with Cincinnati Chili, topped with a mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese.
- 4-Way: A 3-Way with onions or beans added as a topping.
- 5-Way: A 3-Way with both onions and beans added as toppings.
I’m a 5-Way Cincinnati Chili girl, yes I like my toppings and I use all of them, dark red chili beans, loads of Cincinnati Chilli sauce, gobs of Colby-Jack cheese, a healthy dose of those diced onions, and then I need oyster crackers to soak up all that delicious sauce on my plate. You can make yours any way you like it, toppings are optional of course.
For 5-way Cincinnati chili, start out with a layer of the dark red drained and rinsed beans that have been heated; you can add as many or as little as you personally prefer. I add a decent amount, but not too many as you see here.
Then don’t be shy with that deliciously yummy homemade Cincinnati Chili sauce, ladle it on nice and thick. Trust me you’ll have oyster crackers to soak up the lovely sauce left on your plate of goodness.
Now, add a healthy helping of Colby-Jack cheese on the top of your Homemade Cincinnati Chili sauce. Too much Colby-Jack Cheese is never enough in my book. I love how the thinly shredded Colby-Jack Melts into my warm sauce in just a few moments time. It’s so darn good Y’all!
Now if you like onions like I do add a fair amount of diced uncooked onions to the top of your Cincinnati chili, it’s ok you can always brush your teeth later and pop a mint in and you’ll be as good as new.
The last and final stage to pure Cincinnati Chilli heaven is those Oyster crackers. grab a nice handful plus more for soaking up that delicious homemade Cincinnati Chili left on your plate or heck you can even sprinkle them around the top if you like, the choice is yours, my friend.
Cincinnati Chili Recipe
- 4 cups of water +more
- 2 cups of beef stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 pounds extra-lean ground beef
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 2- 6-ounce-cans of organic tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1/2 of a tablespoon of garlic powder
- 1/2 of tablespoon of unsweetened baking cocoa, optional
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1/2 of a teaspoon of allspice
- 1/2 of a teaspoon of ground coriander
- 1/2 of a teaspoon oregano, optional
- 1/4 of a teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 pound of cooked thick spaghetti noodles
- finely grated Colby-Jack cheese
- drained, rinsed, heated kidney beans
- diced onions
- Oyster crackers
- Add 5 cups of water and 1 cup of beef stock, to a large saucepan, place on high heat till the liquid starts to boil.
- Meanwhile, place 2 pounds of uncooked lean ground beef in a food processor and pulse about 4-5 times, then add the uncooked meat to the water and beef stock, I do mine when it’s still cold and start breaking down the meat by putting small amounts in and stirring till the meat breaks up into little tiny bits. The meat should look like small flecks of meat versus chunks. Once broken down start the meat and liquids on high heat and let boil for about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium heat. Cook for another 30 minutes. Do not drain the liquid from the meat.
- Once the meat has cooked on medium heat about 30 minutes turn off the heat source and let cool slightly before refrigerating 6 hours or better yet overnight. This lets all the excess fat come to the top so that you may skim off that excess fat before cooking. This step is optional but definitely recommended even for lean ground beef.
- Once you have skimmed all the excess fat off of the meat the next morning, don’t be too alarmed, as the meat does have a bit of a gelatin look to it; that’s ok once you heat the liquids again it will turn back into broth again. I know it doesn’t look pretty, but I promise it will be ok.
- Once the ground beef has been reheated, add 1 large onion, finely diced, 2- 6-ounce-cans of organic tomato paste, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 of a tablespoon of garlic powder, *1/2 of tablespoon of unsweetened baking cocoa, 1/2 of tablespoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 of a teaspoon of allspice, 1/2 of a teaspoon of ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, *1/2 of a teaspoon of oregano, 1/4 of a teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Bring all the ingredients to a low simmer and reduce heat to low heat, cook at least 3-6 hours on low heat. If need be, add a little more water or broth if it becomes too thick.
- Place a serving of cooked thick spaghetti noodles on a plate and ladle Cincinnati chili sauce over the pasta, add a layer of drained heated dark kidney beans, a thick layer of the Cincinnati chili sauce, a thick layer of finely shredded Colby-Jack cheese, and a healthy sprinkle of diced onions.
- Serve with Oyster crackers to soak up all that delicious sauce.
— Heidy L. McCallum (@ShamPatchCrew) October 22, 2016
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