Queen City Chili 

For the chili

Makes about 3 quarts, enough for 10 to 12 servings over pasta 

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 cups Spanish onion, very finely diced

    TST-Midwestern Food Book Cover Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of a Great American Cuisine, with More Than 100 Tasty Recipes Paul Fehribach
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced

  • 1 quart cold water

  • 2 pounds ground beef, at least 80% lean

  • 3 beef bouillon cubes

  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • ½ teaspoon ground Korintje or Mexican cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

  • 1 to 2 additional teaspoons salt, to taste


In a 4-quart saucepan or stockpot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until a piece of onion tossed in sizzles fiercely. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onions are rendered and just starting to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cold water to stop the cooking. Crumble the beef into the pot and use a potato masher or spatula to work the beef in the water until it comes apart completely. Turn the heat back up to medium high and bring to a boil, working the beef constantly to keep breaking it up until it is a fine slurry. Skim any scum or foam that rises. Once it comes to a boil, add the bouillon cubes and tomato paste and return to a boil.

Reduce heat to maintain a low boil, and add the bay leaves, chili powder, cumin, paprika, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, and cloves. Maintain a low boil to cook down to desired consistency, about 3 hours, skimming any fat as it rises. Stir more often as it thickens to prevent scorching. The chili is ready when a spoonful of it dolloped onto a plate doesn’t bleed watery broth; it should hold up at about the consistency of a thick milkshake. Reduce heat to a simmer, add the mustard, Worcestershire, and Tabasco, simmer 15 more minutes, taste for seasoning, and add additional salt if desired.

This is best refrigerated overnight and reheated in a saucepan. When taking from the refrigerator, discard any fat from the surface. 

Making a plate (or Bowl) of chili

The ordering key to a chili parlor is thus, and will guide you in your own kitchen as well:

1-way: Chili, plain in a bowl. Enough said.

2-way: Chili with beans to taste, or with spaghetti. With beans, it’s served in a bowl. With spaghetti, about 2 cups of cooked spaghetti is topped with 1 cup of chili.

3-way: Chili with spaghetti and cheese. See 2-way for proportions of spaghetti and chili. Top with 2 ounces mild cheddar, grated on the smallest side of a box grater in long, smooth strokes to create long, cotton-like threads.

4-way: Chili with spaghetti, beans, and cheese. Heat canned kidney beans in the liquid they come in, then drain them well. Add ½ cup of beans to top the chili before adding the cheese.

5-way: Chili with spaghetti, beans, cheese, and onions. Add ¼ cup very finely diced yellow Spanish onion after the beans and before the cheese.

Many restaurants come up with other “ways” to order chili, such as adding goetta (p. 151) or hot dogs to the plate. My advice is to stick to a 5-way or a 3-way.

Pro tip: If your pasta isn’t well drained, it will contribute to a watery plate of chili.

This is the top, and worst, Cincinnati chili fail. Drain your pasta into a colander in a clean sink, and shake up and down until the pasta drips no more water.

Reprinted with permission from Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of a Great American Cuisine, with More than 100 Tasty Recipes by Paul Fehribach, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2023 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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