Where Do Bad Folks Go When They Die?

I’m not going to take it as far as Brian and assert that all people from Ohio are sub-human pig-men. Or women. Pig-people. Whatever.  But still, chili over spaghetti? Color me confused.

Not that I’m any big fan of Ohio. I mean, I know some lovely people who made it out of Ohio and I’m sure there are more of you; leave me a comment and I’m happy to send you a bus ticket to a coast. But I’ve always found Ohio to be a downer. I’ve driven across it many times and as soon as you cross the Pennsylvania border, the sky darkens, the landscape goes barren and birds fall dead from the sky. Plus, y’all managed to set Lake Erie on fire.


And then there’s your chili.

I got a copy of More Best Recipes from the Cult of Kimball from my nephew for Christmas and decided to give it a go this week. After flipping through the book, which is full of serviceable but pretty basic recipes, I gave Brian a choice: mulligatawny, or Cincinnati chili? In a fit of contrarian pique, he went with the chili.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

two ways

For those who don’t know, Cincinnati chili is a thinnish meat-based chili flavored with an array of warm spices – cinnamon, allspice, cocoa – and then ruined. You can have it one of five ways:

  • One Way: Chili only
  • Two Way: Chili over spaghetti
  • Three Way: Chili, spaghetti, raw onion
  • Four Way: Chili, spaghetti, raw onion, kidney beans
  • Five Way: Chili, spaghetti, raw onion, kidney beans, cheese

Sometimes people also put oyster crackers on top, presumably because since the chili-spaghetti combo makes no sense to begin with, you may as well add any other random shit you want. Jalapeños? Throw ’em on! Olives? Sure! Gummy bears? Why not!

three ways

As though all of this wasn’t enough, the cooking process begins with blanching ground beef. Take that in for a minute.

You dump the ground beef into boiling salty water and stir so the meat separates into grayish beef strings that look either like little bits of brain or enormous maggots, depending on whether you take a macro or micro view.

The whole process only takes 30 seconds, a time precisely calculated by the America’s Test Kitchen Beef Blanching Drones. I bet that was a fun day in the test kitchen. It was probably a nice break from moving a pile of salt from one end of the kitchen to the other with tweezers.

four ways

Once the meat is blanched, you build the chili’s flavor base. First, sauteed onion and garlic. Next, toast the spices – chili powder, oregano, cocoa, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne – until fragrant. Dump in chicken stock, tomato sauce and water, add a splash of cider vinegar and a few spoonfuls of brown sugar and toss in the meat maggots. Simmer for an hour or so, until a bit thickened.

In the last few minutes of the chili’s cooktime, I put up a pot of water for the spaghetti, heated a can of kidney beans and shredded cheddar.

five way

And then you create this. I plated up a mound of it, following the model of Cincinnati chili I’ve seen on Unwrapped and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, two shows that serve as an unending source of culinary inspiration for me. Like I always say, FULL THROTTLE. I wasn’t exactly sure how to dig in, so I started twirling away.

Too late, a blogger friend who I had, until today, trusted, told me to cut up my spaghetti with the side of my fork. Cut up my spaghetti with a fork? STICK A KNIFE IN MY HEART. Oh wait, you don’t have to; my nonna ALREADY DID.

five way innards

So here’s the thing about the Cincinnati chili: I don’t understand it. I differ with Brian, who found it vile and swore an oath to wipe the state of Ohio off the face of the earth; I was merely perplexed.

I liked the flavor of the chili and think it would be perfect on a hot dog or some fries. I like raw onion on my chili and would never turn away a pile of cheese. But spaghetti? Does not compute. And the beans: why can’t they go into the chili, where they can absorb some flavor? They were misfits on the plate.

On the upside, now I never have to actually go to Cincinnati.

Flame away.

31 thoughts on “Where Do Bad Folks Go When They Die?

  1. Nice Meat Puppets reference, also Cincinnati chili just seems like a great completely plastered foodstuff that is otherwise inedible.

  2. (*waves to Mia*)

    Chili belongs with a. itself, b. hot dogs, c. fries, d. maybe something else but NOT SPAGHETTI. Or rice. I had chili on rice in England and it was just WEIRD. [/California chili accompaniment snob]

  3. @mia, i acknowledge that; i went to college in the midwest, hence all the driving back and forth. just, you know…not ohio.

    @jessica, i will accept fritos as well.

  4. I actually tried this exact recipe from this same cookbook a few years ago, just because it seemed so odd. I liked it, but then, I like everything spaghetti related and have no problem cutting my spaghetti with a fork. The leftover meat sauce was used to top homemade french fries. My husband liked that way better, so maybe that can be your nice gesture to Brian for enduring the horrors of Cincinnati chili.

  5. In related news, it has been revealed that philadelphia doesn’t make the best cheese steaks because who in their right mind would put cheese whiz sauce on *anything*, never mind over the typically overly thinly sliced mystery steak. Also, chicago does not make the best pizza: deep dish pizza is like eating a poorly made casserole. Fried chicken from kentucky is a mockery; real fried chicken is not deep fried. Anyone anywhere who puts bacon in their clam chowda’ should be exiled to Arizona (around which we could put a big fence so we can put anyone we don’t like in Arizona). Cincinnati chili is like the entrance to the twilight zone; once you enter life is never the same. And I agree with brian about Ohio.

  6. I live on the East Coast, but mourn every day that the closest Skyline Chili is back in my hometown (yes, in Ohio). Skyline isn’t for everybody (my wife tolerates it, god bless her heart), but it is very, very tasty.

    Now, I’m not saying that you’ll like real Cincinnatti-style chili better, but I have to tell you that whatever recipe you’re using is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

    The secret is that you really boil the heck out of the beef, and then once you’ve made the chili, you let it sit in your fridge overnight, so that the flavors meld and you can skim off the fat. These steps really break down the meat, so that the meat bits are smaller and there is less separation between the sauce and the meat.

    If I may, for those who might still be interested in trying Cincinnatti-style chili (or who miss the taste of home), I recommend this recipe: http://americanfood.about.com/od/classicchowdersandstews/r/cinnchili.htm

    It’s the closest to Skyline I’ve gotten without leaving civilization.

    Otherwise, you piled your toppings on just right. You shouldn’t be able to see the rest of the meal under the cheese. I recommend serving with oyster crackers and a bottle of Tabasco.


  7. I remember watching one of the many dumb regional Food Network shows where it showed the birhplace of Cincinnati chili and the owners were Greek immigrants and they were making some kind of pasta with meat sauce dish that came from the homeland. I don’t think their original intention was to make a weird spin on Texas chili. I mean, if we looked at Cinci chili not as “chili” but as a type of meat sauce made with sweet spices, would people be so hostile to it?

    I’m with Food Garden Kitchen about that cheesesteak thing. I never understood why people insist the authentic Philly cheesesteak is the best thing ever when it’s Steak-ums and Cheez Whiz? Why is that better than real grilled steak with real cheese? Deep dish pizza is also an abomination! But bacon on chowder? I’m for that! Bacon makes anything better and how else do you make clams taste good?

  8. @fgk, tell us how you really feel.

    @kevinq, somehow, your “boiling the hell oult of the meat” description does not produce in me a desire to eat more cincinnati chili.

    @rachel, i, for one, would remain hostile to it.

  9. Oh, I am absolutely with you on the transition from PA to Ohio. I just did that in reverse last week and it was like Dorothy entering Oz when we crossed back into PA! As for the so called Cincinnati Chili, that is just so wrong on so many levels. It really does appear to be a meat pasta sauce gone horribly wrong. It’s not even the whole chili over pasta thing that disturbs me so much as the blanching and/or boiling of the meat. THAT IS JUST WRONG!!! Why would you want to leech all of the flavor out of the meat? Even putting this slop over a hot dog or fries would be a travesty. I’m a transplanted North Jersey girl, so I’m speaking as a veteran of many chili dogs from Hot Grill in Clifton and Libby’s, up by the falls in Paterson. The very notion sends chills of revulsion right through me.

  10. Once again you’ve made me laugh so hard I almost peed myself. There is only 1 other blog I read that can consistently bring me to the brink of an accident while laughing, you have a gift. Thank you! – S

  11. I can’t believe this since once I swore I’d never move back here, but I’m coming to the defense of Ohio. Sure, the weather bites, the landscape can be puzzling and flat, and this chili, well, I have to say I’m with you on this one. It’s definitely an acquired taste and I just stay away. But, seriously, sometime? Come to Columbus, where our current local food scene has exploded with awesomeness in the past ten years, both multiculturally and locally. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is our most famous example. Get her new cookbook and try some real Ohio recipes. Then judge us.

  12. Now here’s part of the problem. Christopher Kimball, god love ‘im, isn’t known for demystifying things. With the exception of Monsieur Keller, I’m thinking he gets the title of most persnickety kitchen experts (and I do think he’s an expert.) But here? BLANCHING the ground beef? That’s just nuts. That’s nuts and gross. I think Kimball was messing with you.

    And while I am fond of eating it four ways (like I said), the real beauty of Cincinnati Chili comes in using it as a topping for chili dogs (WHAT? You trust me even LESS now?) or chili fries (you can’t hate me for loving deep fried potatoes with chili. Whaddya want? I’m from the midwest.

  13. I don’t know if you have Steak n’ Shake restaurants, but they have the same ‘chili’ concoction. I live in Indiana and was raised on chili that’s more of a soup…with spaghetti in it. When I moved to Texas, I made a big pot of chili and brought some to work for lunch…I was laughed and pointed at when I explained that I was eating chili. I have since moved back to good ‘ol Indiana and I’m in the process of trying to convert my parents to Texas style chili. They think it’s ok, but I don’t think they’ll ever stray from the soupier version.
    Also? Blanching ground beef is gross. Just reading your description made me want to barf.

  14. @erica, i DO want to get my hands on the jeni’s book, even though her methods seem a little odd to me.

    @rebecca, kimball claims the blanching/boiling is a traditional part of the process. and while i usually trust him, i do feel a little burned by this one.

  15. I make an awesome Cincy-style chili. I don’t blanch the meat and I choose to eat it with pasta and use the chili as I would normal pasta sauce (i.e., mix the chili in with the just underdone pasta and allow to cook the pasta the rest of the way). Shredded cheese on top, but not the normal Cincy amounts. I lurve it and so does anyone else who’s had it.

    I used a recipe from Gourmet as the jumping off point.

    1.5 medium onion, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    2 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 lb lean ground beef
    2 2/3 Tbsp spicy chili powder
    1 Tbsp paprika
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1/2 tsp ground coriander
    1/2 tsp ground allspice
    1/2 tsp dried oregano
    1/4 tsp cayenne or chile arbol powder
    1/4 tsp cinnamon
    pinch ground cloves
    pinch ground nutmeg
    1 bay leaf
    beef soup bones
    1 C water
    1/2 C beef broth
    8 oz canned tomato paste
    1 Tbsp vinegar
    1 Tbsp molasses
    1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    salt, pepper to taste

    1. Heat oil in dutch over and saute onions and garlic until onions are soft.
    2. Add ground beef and brown thoroughly.
    3. Add spices (chili powder through nutmeg) and heat for about 1 minute.
    4. Add bay leaf, soup bones, and liquids (water through Worchestershire).
    5. Cook uncovered for about 1 1/2 hours, keeping liquid just above beef. Top off with beef broth as needed. Adjust seasoning as needed.
    6. Continue to simmer until desired consistency, probably another 1/2 hour.

  16. First of all, lose the beans. Most Cincy chili heads DO NOT eat it with beans. Then, the meat must marinate a looooonnnnggg time, in the greasy sauce. Then, the cheese must be in shreds like fine threads. No home recipe can match it, and even frozen and canned varieties of Gold Star or Skyline pale in comparison to the restaurant fare. Greek guys came up with it, they do it best. It’s a true native addiction which sadly is far from my house here in Northern Ohio. Plus, if you think Ohio is boring to drive across, wait until you hit Indiana!

  17. @sallyk, I’ve driven across indiana. hell, I’ve driven all the way across nebraska, which is not something ANYONE should ever have to do.

    i knew my cheese was inadequate. drat.

  18. I’ve happily drunk enough of the ATK koolaid to integrate it into my cooking repertoire, but as a long-time (and now former) Cincinnatian and Skyline devotee, I read that recipe back when it was published and took a pass; fortunately for me, I get up that way still often enough to satisfy my jones.

    On your effort to replicate, I must note – and I think some others may have already done so – that the cheese needs to be very finely shredded and then fluffed before piling on, and the onion needs to be minced; not finely chopped, but minced. And yeah, lose the beans; the onion four-way is the real deal.

  19. I’m from a town near Columbus, went to college Dayton (near Cincinnati) and now live in Cleveland. I won’t fight you on the weather, or the landscape on the eatern half of the state. It’s pretty bleak. But for the love of God, do not judge Ohio food by Cincinnati’s famous culinary exports. Columbus and Cleveland have great food scenes. Cleveland’s even got an Iron Chef (though a couple of his restaurants are a little over-hyped). And Erika is 100% correct; Jeni’s ice cream is the best I’ve ever had (brown butter almond brittle…yum). Please, pity those Ohioians who have no real access to restaurants other than chains, but do not judge us all so harshly based on our sad, sad majority.

  20. I lived very close the the junction of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky for a few years. I always felt like an outcast because I could never get behind the Cincinnati Chili. It stems from my dislike of most things cinnamon. So, cinnamon chili was like a food abomination to me. But kudos to you and Brian for attempting this one.

  21. I make a chili recipe that is a family recipe. It is not fancy, or foodie. It is browned ground beef, sauteed onions and garlic, canned chili beans, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, and cumin. It is homey and delicious. Growing up, we always ate it over macaroni. I still do. It tastes like home, and is so good.

  22. 1. My favorite teeshirt is navy blue with a yellow outline of the state of Ohio and the words “WORST STATE EVER.” I could not agree with Brian more.

    2. The true beauty of a Philly cheesesteak can only experienced at 2 am after a few too many drinks. Under those conditions, CheezWhiz is, in fact, sublime.

    3. Please do not judge the Philly food scene based on cheesesteaks. It is incredible.

    4. Do not argue with Chicago deep dish pizza. You either get it or you don’t and you never will.

  23. Not a Cincy chili fan. I don’t mind rice in my chili for a change of pace, but can’t abide raw onion in much of anything (cooked onions are great in most everything, though). But chili over pasta is just kinda weird.

    Having been to Ohio numerous times, I can’t say that I ever saw much to recommend it except I saw Mickey Mantle play baseball there when I was a little kid and he was playing in his last season.

    And it was the Cuyahoga River they set on fire.

  24. Hmm, I make Cinci chili based on the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, another Kimball monstrosity, but there is no blanching step. You make the sauce and then toss in the raw hamburger and moosh it up with a potato masher. And honestly, it is delicious.

    But I agree with an above poster who said that the cheese has to be grated very finely, it almost has to melt.

    And I also muck about with my beans, because I love the Steak & Shake beans. I heat up the kidney beans in a mixture (I am almost ashamed to admit it) of ketchup & Worcestershire sauce.

    I also don’t think of it as chili, but as an oddly spiced pasta sauce.

    Crap, now I want to make it …

  25. Okay, so I live on the East Coast and am from Cleveland, and also it is true that I moved so I wouldn’t be sad in the depressing depressing winter which lasts from October to April. My first blue January sky was a revelation.

    But: Cleveland food is AMAZING. It really is, no lie. And Ohio is an acquired taste, one that rewards patience and perseverance. You just really have to like Polish food, go to the West Side Market, and drink a Great Lakes Burning River to understand.

  26. Cult of Kimball. So true. They suck the joy right out of cooking. Speaking of Joy, both editions have a pretty good rendition of Cincy Chili. You HAVE to let it settle overnight to let the flavors meld or it’ll just taste like tomato water with cinnamon. Finely shredded mild cheddar or colby is an absolute must. I’m happy to see you tried the coney! It took us a long time to realize that we had to steam the buns in oder for it to taste even remotely close to Skyline. Duh. Now, get in your car and drive across Ohio and have the real thing. I promise you that it won’t be wormy, lol. It’ll be a great excuse to hit Jungle Jim’s! Have you ever driven across Texas? Much worse!

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