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The Cincinnati Cheese Coney Recipe

"Have ya ever burped, and tasted a hot dog you ate two days ago?" George Carlin

In 1922 Tom Kiradjieff and his brother John, Macedonian immigrants, opened the Empress, a restaurant where they sold Greek food and hot dogs.

But, legend says, Cincinnati was German and business was bad. So he took his signature Greek lamb stew laced with cinnamon and cloves, switched to ground beef, added hot peppers and other spices, called it chili, and served it over spaghetti and hot dogs. Although it bore little resemblance to the classic Texas chili or Italian spaghetti sauce, it was a hit. Today it is estimated that there are about 200 chili parlors in the Cincinnati area.

In 1949 Nicholas Lambrinides, a Greek immigrant and a former employee of the Empress opened Skyline Chili. It is by far the most popular with more than 100 locations. They even sell their chili in cans online. Gold Star Chili is another popular chain with canned chili online. Camp Washington Chili is perhaps the most revered chili parlor. The single location is a Cincinnati landmark, and their chili has won a James Beard Foundation Award as an "American Regional Classic".

Nobody knows if naming hot dogs "Coneys" was homage to the amusement park on Long Island in New York where hot dogs are the food of choice, or if the name came from the other Coney Island amusement park, the one built in Cincinnati in 1886. And nobody knows for sure who had the bright idea of topping Coneys with a huge mound of shredded cheddar cheese, but that's how they make the Cincinnati Cheese Coney that is served all over town and at the ballparks: A pork and beef frank with a natural casing topped with mustard, then chili, then chopped onions, and an ungodly amount of shredded cheese.

Cincinnati Cheese Coney Recipe

Makes. About 12 Cheese Coneys. If you have leftover chili, it freezes well.

Preparation time. About 90 minutes.

chili spice mixCincinnati Chili

1 tablespoon American chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon lard

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 pound ground chuck, about 80% lean

1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

2 cups water

For the Cheese Coney

12 all-beef hot dogs

12 buns

Yellow mustard

1 cup white onion, chopped

12 ounces mild cheddar, shredded fine

About the lard. You can substitute Crisco shortening or olive oil if you must.

Optional. Some Mexican chili recipes use unsweetened chocolate and it does a remarkable job of enriching the flavor without making it sweet. I'm sure it was not in the original Cincinnati recipe, but a lot of locals use it. If you want to try it, add 1/2 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate.


1) In a bowl, mix together the American chili powder, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper flakes, salt, ground black pepper, and the bay leaf. In another bowl, mix the tomato sauce, Worcestershire, mustard, vinegar, and water.

2) Normally, at this stage we would brown the meat, but in The Queen City the meat is not browned, it is simmered. In a 2 quart sauce pan melt the lard over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until limp, then add the garlic for 1 minute. Add the spices for 1 minute to release the oil soluble flavors and mix in. Be careful they do not burn.

3) Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Bring to a boil and then knock it back to a simmer. Crumble the meat into the liquid leaving it wormy looking. Simmer on low for about an hour with the lid on. Remove the lid and discard the bay leaf. Cook it down until it is wet, but not runny, perhaps another 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavorings to your preference.

4) Cook the franks on the grill. Steam the bun. Place the franks in the buns, top with mustard, chili sauce and onions. Pile the cheddar on high. Don't try to melt it. Serve it right from the shredder.

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