Everybody needs a go to ground meat “chili” recipe and this is by far my favorite.
“Cinci style Chili” has become a generic moniker for the many variations of chili made with ground meat and beans. It bears no resemblance to real Texas Chili. And there is no single recipe or style typical of Cinci since so many restaurants in Cincinnatti and elsewhere make it their own way. In some places, like Detroit, it is even called a “meat sauce”.
Immigrant Greeks and Macedonians who launched street carts and opened diners probably were the first to create it and then the chili dog, commonly called the Coney.
The meat comes from cheap cuts of ground beef, beef heart, kidneys, and trimmings. Much the same stuff used to make the hot dogs, in fact. They seasoned their sauces with Mediterranean flavors, the brown spices (cinnamon, allspice, clove), herbs (oregano especially), tomatoes and tomato sauce, and amped it up with American chili powder and red pepper flakes. Every joint has its own recipe (except for the lazy ones who buy it frozen). They served it on Coneys and in a bowl topped with shredded cheddar or sour cream.
I’ve tasted a lot of their recipes. I’ve even reproduced a number of them on this site (see The Detroit Coney and the Cincinnati Cheese Coney). Now here’s my all purpose recipe, cooking it up for a hot bowl on a cold night, for topping hot dogs, chili cheese fries, and even Carolina Style Hamburgers. A little less brown spice, a bit more tomato. Yes, I know it looks a lot like Sloppy Joe meat, but it’s not.
Serve with: a porter or stout.
- 1 pound lean ground sirloin or lamb or mixed
- 1 large onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons American chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1 teaspoon Mortons coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 3 cups water
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 ounces tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons inexpensive balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco Chipotle Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Prep. Chop the onion and bell pepper. Mince the garlic.
- In a small bowl assemble the dry ingredients: American chili powder, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, mustard, ginger, salt, and pepper. In another bowl mix the wet ingredients: Water, Worcestershire, tomato paste, vinegar, and hot sauce.
- Cook. Crumble the meat into a medium hot pan that is not non-stick. Stir it around and break it up with a wooden spoon until it is tan all over, about 15 minutes. Keep it simmering until all the water evaporates and the meat begins to fry. You'll hear it sizzle and it will start turning dark brown. Push the meat to one side of the pan. Add the onions and peppers to the bare metal side of the pan and fry them for about 5 minutes until the onions are limp. Add the garlic and fry it for 1 minute. Mix everything together.
- Push everything to one side and add the olive oil on top of the bare metal and then pour the spices on the oil to allow their oil-soluble flavors to bloom in the oil for about 1 minute. Mix the spices in with everything else.
- Add the wet ingredients and mix. Let everything simmer on medium low with the lid off for up to an hour. If it dries out, add more water. Cook it down to the whatever thickness you like. I like mine on the crumbly side, not the drippy side as they do in Detroit and Cinci.
- Serve. Serve the chili in a bowl with any variety of toppings including diced onion, grated cheddar cheese, jalapeno slices, and sour cream. Or use on hot dogs, burgers, baked potatoes, and so much more.