The Lexingtonienne




When I was little, my dad used to take us to Skyline Chili on UK campus. Sister and I ordered “3-ways,” which is spaghetti topped with Skyline’s famous Cincinnati chili and shredded cheddar cheese. Skyline also had self-serve fountain drinks, which is like heaven for kids: while Dad was busy paying for our chili, we could furtively fill up on all the caffeinated beverages we wanted. I always drank a big, icy Mountain Dew with my 3-way. (I haven’t had a Mountain Dew in years, have you? It sounds terrible to me now.)



Dad was a CPA then (and while he now works in surety bonds, he dutifully keeps up his CPA certifications, or whatever the nerds call it). During tax season, he always worked late. One night Mama, Sister, and I were all in our beds, and I heard Dad come home from work. I, the family night owl, was wide awake and went downstairs to greet him. He was about to leave again.


“Where ya going?” I asked.


“Skyline,” he said as he collected his wallet and keys. “Haven’t eaten dinner yet.”


I asked if I could come, and in that casual way that dads have (because moms never miss the opportunity to hold a special treat like this over a child’s head — it’s part of the parent-child behavioral bartering system that dads sometimes forget about), he said, “Sure!”


Fifteen minutes later I found my third-grade self at Skyline Chili, at 10:30 pm on a Thursday night, enjoying a 3-way and a Mountain Dew. I felt like I was in college. SO. COOL.


So Skyline Chili has always been a big treat for me. Like Steak’n’Shake and Chik-Fil-A, it is noticeably absent in Los Angeles, which means if I want it, I have to try and make it myself. (You can order it in cans, but… eh.) Luckily, the Joy of Cooking has a recipe for Cincinnati chili, and I’ve detailed my own adaptation below. While it’s not exactly like Skyline, it’s pretty darn close.



This chili, with its unique addition of cinnamon and cloves, fills your house with a festive, holiday-ish aroma that’s especially awesome at this time of year. It’s definitely as good as staying up late with your dad on a school night.


Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 quart water
2 lbs ground beef (I like the lean kind with 7% fat)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
5-6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
2 T cider vinegar
1 T Worcestershire sauce
Lots of ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 bay leaf
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (scale back on this if you prefer less heat)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped (optional)
2 (15 oz) cans chili beans

In a heavy stockpot, bring water to a boil. Add ground beef. Stir until browned and separated. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add onions, garlic, tomato sauce, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and add remaining ingredients except chili beans.

Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. Drain the top liquid from the chili beans, then add beans and stir. Continue cooking for another hour. Fish out garlic cloves and bay leaf before serving.

For a 2-way, serve over cooked spaghetti.

For a 3-way, add grated sharp cheddar cheese to a 2-way.

For a 4-way, add chopped onions to a 3-way.

Traditionally, Cincinnati chili does not contain beans, so you would make a 5-way by adding cooked red kidney beans to a 4-way. However, I think chili and beans are married to each other and should be together, so I add beans into the mix.

Serve with oyster crackers and hot sauce.



  • Comment by Mama Sue — December 2, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    Try adding some “cocoa”…..might be what’s missing!

  • Comment by Hannilou — December 4, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    There’s cocoa in it. Joy of Cooking’s Cincinnati chili is definitely a little spicier than Skyline’s version. And the recipe also called for a little allspice, which I didn’t have and therefore left out… but it is deeelish without it!

  • Comment by Holly — December 6, 2010 @ 8:50 am

    Hannah, I have to share this with you…I told my husband that I was going to make this Cincinnati style chili for dinner. He checked in a couple of times during the cooking process but didn’t say much until after we were finished eating, at which point he said, “you know, I was a little skeptical that the chili would actually taste like Cincinnati style chili…but it does! It’s really good!” To which I replied, “don’t ever doubt my (friend’s) cooking skills again!” 🙂

    It was delicious and I’m having the leftovers today for lunch! Thanks again for so many great recipes!

  • Comment by Darnesha — December 29, 2014 @ 11:13 am

    This piece was cogent, werliwl-tten, and pithy.

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