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A Healthier Crock Pot Cincinnati Chicken Chili Recipe

by Jeanette on January 30, 2013 · 22 Comments
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Slow Cooker Skyline Cincinnati Chili © Jeanette's Healthy LivingA little while ago, I went for a walk with a friend of mine who brought up one of her husband’s favorite meals – Skyline Cincinnati Chili. Although I’ve never eaten authentic Skyline Cincinnati Chili, I made a version of it a few years ago and the kids seemed to like it, so this time around, I reached out to friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook and asked for their favorite recipes.

There are some spices that everyone seems to agree goes into Cincinnati Chili, like chili powder, cinnamon and allspice. Then there’s the unsweetened chocolate or cocoa that gives the chili a nice deep richness, and vinegar to give it some tang. Some recipes use tomato sauce, others use tomato paste. Some people add ground cloves. One friend suggested adding some vanilla. Cayenne or black pepper also add some heat. One recipe added some steak sauce, another used barbeque sauce, and others use Worcestershire sauce. As for the cooking method, some recipes called for browning the meat first, others said that was a big no-no – that the meat should be cooked in water to give it a softer texture. Most people agreed that the key to an authentic Cincinnati Chili was the texture of the meat – it should not be chunky, but should be fine.

Crock Pot/Slow Cooker Cincinnati Chili © Jeanette's Healthy Living

So, off I went to take all the bits and pieces that I picked up from different recipes to come up with my East Coast rendition. Although traditionally, Cincinnati Chili is served over pasta with optional toppings of warm Red Kidney Beans, Onions and Shredded Cheese, I decided to throw the beans in with the chili because I wanted to make sure my kids didn’t opt-out of this topping. I broke with tradition the first time I made this, using ground chicken instead of beef. To get the fine texture that everyone was talking about, I cooked the ground chicken in water first, then pulsed it in my food processor a few times before adding all the spices and sauces. Since this chili needs to be cooked for a long time, I let it simmer away in my crock pot all day for the flavors to develop. The second time I made this, I used organic lean beef (90%) and did not need to pulse it in the food processor. Although the original Skyline Chili is high in fat and calories (I’m guessing the beef used is higher in fat and the fat may not be strained off; also, pictures I’ve seen of Skyline Chili are piled high with cheese), this version is a lighter version. Not only did I use leaner cuts of meat, but I strained the juices off after cooking the meat, leaving behind most of the fat. In addition, by using extra extra sharp cheddar cheese (from Trader Joe’s), which packs a lot of flavor into a smaller portion, you can use less and still get that intense cheddar flavor. I shredded my own cheese using a fine shredded disk on my food processor (so much better than the pre-shredded cheese you buy from the store). Of course, portion size plays a big part as well, so I was also mindful of the amount of pasta I served this with (the kids got bigger portions). According to Calorie Count, one serving of 5-way Skyline Cincinnati Chili has 790 calories, and is not only high in fat, but extremely high in sodium too. By watching portion sizes, using leaner cuts of meat and serving the chili with a modest amount of cheese, you can substantially improve the nutritional profile of this popular chili dish. Skyline Cincinnati Chili Nutrition One serving of this skinnied down Cincinnati Chili made with ground chicken and served with 1 cup cooked gluten-free pasta and 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese has 540 calories, 14.6 grams fat, 4.9 grams saturated fat, and 767 mg sodium. If you like more cheese, just know that doubling the amount of cheese per serving to 1/4 cup will add 50 more calories, 3 grams fat, and 90 mg sodium. Made with 90% lean ground beef, one serving would have 600 calories, 100 calories less than if you use 75% ground beef. Skyline serves their chili five different ways so you can choose your favorite toppings (or not): 1-way: Chili only 2-way: Chili served over spaghetti 3-way: Chili served over spaghetti with grated Cheddar cheese 4-way: chili served over spaghetti with grated Cheddar cheese and onions 5-way: chili served over spaghetti with grated Cheddar cheese, onions, and beans

Crock Pot Skyline Cincinnati Chili © Jeanette's Healthy Living

I served this “Skyline” Cincinnati Chili 5-ways, along with a big green salad and a bowl of raspberries for dinner. For an even healthier meal, try serving this chili on top of quinoa or a baked sweet potato. This chili would be great for Super Bowl – it’s different from your typical chili, a little sweet and tangy, but oh so good. And, don’t forget to check out the Skinny Philly Cheese Steak Dip and Healthy Italian Sub/Hoagie Dip recipes that I posted earlier this week – these dips will satisfy the foods people crave for Super Bowl without all the fat and calories. For more Super Bowl recipes that are on the healthier side, check out these recipe roundups: Healthy Chili Recipe Roundup, Jeanette’s Healthy Living A Super Healthy Gluten-Free Super Bowl Recipe Roundup, Tasty Yummies A Healthy Super Bowl Sunday Recipe Roundup, The Spicy RD Have A Low Carb Gluten-Free Super Bowl, All Day I Dream About Food 25 Super Bowl Recipes – Cookin’ Canuck Healthy Super Bowl Recipe Roundup – This Mama Cooks Healthy Super Bowl Recipes & Menu Ideas – Danica’s Daily Today, Food Network and a group of bloggers is featuring Chili for this week’s Comfort Food Feast event. Please stop by and see what everyone made: Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Crock Pot Cincinnati Chicken Chili The Heritage Cook: Gluten-Free Green Chile and Chicken Taco Bowls The Cultural Dish: Crock-Pot Chili Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Healthy Chicken Chili With Barley What’s Gaby Cooking: Smoky Chipotle Chicken Chili Feed Me Phoebe: Chicken and White Bean Chili Dishin & Dishes: Lean Mean Game-Day Chili The Lemon Bowl: Beef Chili With Black Beans Devour: 4 Twists on Chili for the Super Bowl Thursday Night Dinner: 3 Most Favorite Chili Recipes Mooshu Jenne: Pinto Bean Chili FN Dish: 7 Chili Recipes for the Big Game

5 from 1 reviews
A Healthier Crockpot Cincinnati Chili
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Ground chicken and turkey tend to lump up when cooked, so I pulsed the cooked meat in a food processor to get the right consistency. If you choose to use lean (90%) ground beef, you shouldn't need to process the meat as it won't lump up like chicken or turkey.
Serves: 4
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 pound ground chicken, turkey or lean (90%) beef
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ cups cooked kidney beans, rinsed and drained
To Serve
  • Cooked spaghetti (gluten-free or whole grain)
  • chopped onions
  • 2-4 ounces shredded low-fat sharp Cheddar cheese
  1. Place water and ground chicken in a large pot. Stir to break up pieces. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook on low for 30 minutes. Strain chicken and place cooked meat in bowl of food processor. Pulse until texture is fine (you do not need to pulse the meat if you use beef unless it is lumpy). Place mixture in crockpot with remaining ingredients. Cook on low for 6 hours. If desired, add beans to chili and cook another 30 minutes to warm through. You can also leave out the beans and use them as a topping when served, which is the traditional way to serve it.
  2. To serve, spoon chili on top of cooked pasta. Top with onions and cheese.
More Cincinnati Chili Recipes: About.com Cincinnati Skyline Chili (a friend who lives in Cincinnati referred me to this recipe) What’s Cooking America Cincinnati Style Chili Cooking Light Cincinnati Turkey Chili and Cincinnati Five Way  Chili Bunkycooks Cincinnati Chili What’s Cookin’ Chicago Cincinnati Skyline Chili

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  1. Growing up in PA, I have heard a lot about Cincinatti Chili over pasta but never actually tried it. This is a version that looks worth a shot!

  2. That looks so yummy! I love red onions as a garnish.

  3. Ohhh! My grandpa always talked about chili on spaghetti! Must try this…love that you picked a healthy recipe today also!

  4. The only time I’ve had Cincinnati chili was in Cincinnati, on a cross-country road trip ten years ago. Maybe it’s time for me to make my own.

    • My friends who have lived in Cincinnati are crazy about their chili. I’ve actually got a can of Skyline Chili that a friend gave me, so going to compare my chili recipe to the real thing.

  5. I am from Cincy, our chili is a version of Greek chili and yes it is very unique. I will try this version soon.

    • Marsha, I’d love to see your Greek chili recipe.

      • I don’t think she means that she has a Greek chili receipe… The Skyline recipe itself IS Greek. :) It’s from the Lambrinides family, who are Greek and took a lot of the flavors from their traditional cooking and put it into chili!
        And, just an FYI, a 4way is spaghetti, chili, cheese and a choice of onions or beans. :) And just so you know, the canned version is not nearly as good as the real deal, which I’m sure you can imagine. And I’m sure the less fattening version is still tasty, but there’s just something about even the cheese that skyline uses that makes it unique! It’s so light and fluffy, and just…delicious! I moved out of the cincinnati area about a year ago, and have had the canned version a few times, and it’s just NOT the same without skyline’s cheese. :)

        • Hi Cerena, thanks for teaching us more about Skyline chili. I just got a lesson this past weekend in how to assemble the proper Skyline Chili. I made it for Super Bowl and had a few friends over who are from Cincinnati. Another friend actually gave me a can of Skyline chili to try so I could compare the two. The canned version is very salty and a lot more watery than I expected, so I tweaked my recipe for this past weekend and added more water and upped the spices.

  6. I had know idea that some chili could be so fattening. I guess I really never thought about it. Great info Jeanette.

  7. Thanks so much for the mention and I will definitely give your healthier version a try. My husband prefers Cincinnati Chili to any other chili recipe.

    • You’re welcome – people seem to go crazy over Cincinnati Chili but everyone always talks about how unhealthy it is, so it was fun dissecting the dish to see where the calories and fat come from. With just a few substitutions (lean meat and low-fat cheese (and just using less), and by draining the meat, I think you save a lot of fat.

  8. I’ve never had authentic Cincinnati Chili, but my mom used to make a version which came from an old Campbell’s soup cookbook and it was a family fave :) Last year I did a slow cooker feature for Clean Eating and came up with my own healthier version too! I should make a batch soon, you’re reminding me of how good it is!

  9. There chili looks amazing and I love all the ideas you gave for serving chili. Thanks for including me in your Super Bowl Round Up.


  10. Tried this tonight and my boys LOVED it ages 7, 9, 17 and 40 plus : )
    My 9 yr old grated the sharp cheddar and we all enjoyed it.

    • Hi Lisa,
      I’m so glad you tried this your boys (young and older) loved it. My boys love it as well and I’ve made it for guests. It’s a fun meal to serve since everyone can put their own toppings on it. I appreciate you coming back here to let me know that you tried this recipe and enjoyed it.

  11. If I use 3 pounds of ground turkey do I triple the rest of the ingredients? Thanks!

  12. Lifetime Cincinnatian here and I can honestly tell you that Skyline chili is one of my least favorite local foods. However, in saying that, your recipe sounds delicious and might just convince me to give making it at home a chance….maybe substituting the chicken/turkey with beans.

    Want a secret to that delicious cheese: grate it very thin and then toss it in some corn starch. The corn starch will keep it from clumping!

    Thanks for sharing!
    p.s. Cincinnati is misspelled a couple times in the first three paragraphs

  13. Solange says:

    I have made it with spaghetti squash around fall as well. It’s very good.

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