Cincinnati, OH: Skyline Chili

Usually, when I order a “3-way”, it involves two hookers, a cheap motel, and a fifth of cheap vodka. And a cantaloupe. Always a cantaloupe.

But when I’m in Cincinnati or Cleveland, a 3-way has more innocent connotations. Why, I’m just ordering chili, sir. On my spaghetti noodles. Topped with a mountain of shredded cheddar. And if I’m feeling crazy, I might just add oyster crackers and hot sauce.

You never know!

It’s called “Cincinnati chili” or “Skyline chili”, and it’s a regional delicacy in certain parts of Ohio (the latter nom de plume refers to Ohio’s top chili parlor, and yes that’s a real term). You can make it a 4-way with diced onions or a 5-way with onions and beans. Any way, really, even 2-way – honestly, you can’t go wrong.

To borrow a phrase a Skyline Chili owner once told me, “this ain’t your mama’s chili!” The beef is ground beyond recognition. As a stew, it has a greasy, almost watery consistency. Not so promising of a base, I’ll admit, but it’s the seasoning that transforms Cincinnati chili from mundane Midwest slop to a truly transcendental experience of epicurean proportions.

A weird combination of traditional Greek flavors, from allspice to cinnamon and chocolate, the seasoning is more sweet than hot, more the girl next door than Playboy bunny. In other words, it might not result in a chili your mama would make, but it’s a chili you can take home to mama. After a few one night stands with some red hot Texas chili – and the resulting trips trips to the bathroom – any sensible Ohioan comes crawling back to the nearest Skyline with their tail between their legs.

Some even eat Skyline chili straight out of a bowl, but if it’s your first time, I’d strongly recommend the 3-way. It’s tradition, and the chili makes for a boss spaghetti sauce. If you wanna do it right, eat it like its pie, your fork held firmly in a horizontal position. It makes for a savory gut-busting dish, not at all dissimilar to chili mac, but with a real ‘tude. For Christ’s sake, it comes with a bib!

Legend even has it that some establishments in Ohio put the chili on hot dogs with mustard and onions and try to pass it off as a “Coney”.

Now, I’m from Michigan (if you couldn’t guess), and there, people consider the state the sole originator and owner of the venerable Coney dog. We pride ourselves – no, stake our entire identity – on grounding up beef hearts and plopping it on hot dogs. To think that there are imposters from Ohio daring to make a Coney a different way is well… unthinkable!

We’d just chalk it up as another reason to hate Ohio.

And honestly, we do. To tell you the truth. I’ve never eaten an Ohio Coney. A man has to draw the line somewhere, and for me, it’s at vodka and cantaloupes.


Here I am, enjoying a 3-way at a Skyline Chili north of Akron. I got off and then back on a toll road just to get my fix.


4 thoughts on “Cincinnati, OH: Skyline Chili

  1. Ha what an introduction! I’ve only eaten Skyline one time, you don’t want to see those pictures! Although, you might not be able to tell if its the chili or ….:-)

  2. There aren’t any within the city limits of Cleveland, but there’s one in Brooklyn (OH, of course) and another in Mayfield Heights.

    And get this: I was in a Kroger here in Richmond, VA (my temporary home for the moment), and I saw Skyline chili and “Coney” dogs for sale. Guess I’m not the only Midwest transplant.

  3. In a rare move, I went with a “safety pick” when I was in Cincinnati and ordered a burger instead of this chili. That seems like a bad choice now. Wish I would have tried it.

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