What is Skyline Chili made of?

Skyline Chili is a popular chili restaurant chain located primarily in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Known for its unique style of chili and signature dishes like chili spaghetti and cheese coneys, Skyline has developed a cult-like following over its 70+ year history. But what exactly goes into Skyline’s famous chili recipe? Here’s an in-depth look at the ingredients and secrets behind this beloved chili.

The History of Skyline Chili

Skyline Chili was founded in 1949 by Nicholas Lambrinides, a Greek immigrant who came to Ohio by way of New York. Lambrinides developed the original chili recipe using family traditions and his own creative touches. The first Skyline location opened in the Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, which is still home to the company’s headquarters today.

The original chili recipe used by Lambrinides is still the basis for Skyline’s chili today. It includes ground beef, water or beef stock, a proprietary blend of spices, and a unique chili bean variety. Over the years, a few minor tweaks have been made to the recipe, but the core flavors and ingredients remain unchanged. Part of Skyline’s appeal is the consistency and familiarity of their tried and true chili.

Ground Beef

Ground beef serves as the base of Skyline’s chili, providing protein and hearty texture. Skyline uses a coarse grind of beef which gives the chili a pleasant, meaty chunkiness. The ground beef is cooked fresh in the individual Skyline locations throughout the day.

Skyline sources its beef from Midwest farms and processes it locally. Only select cuts of chuck, round, and sirloin are used. This ensures high quality beef with the right ratio of fat to lean meat. Too much fat results in greasy chili, while using just lean meat results in a drier, less robust chili.

Water and Beef Stock

After the ground beef is cooked, it is combined with water and beef stock. The right levels of liquid are critical to the consistency of the chili. Too much liquid would make the chili soupy and thin, while not enough liquid would create a chili that is overly thick.

The liquid adds flavor and balances out the thickness created by the addition of spices. Water and beef stock also allow the flavors to develop as the chili simmers. Rather than just water, Skyline uses a mix of water and beef stock to provide an extra boost of meaty flavor.

Spices and Seasonings

Skyline Chili relies on a proprietary blend of spices that gives the chili its trademark taste. The exact amounts and types of spices used are a closely guarded company secret. However, some of the spices known to be included are:

  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Ground red chili peppers (likely a blend of ancho, chipotle, and cayenne peppers)
  • Ground cumin
  • Dried oregano
  • Paprika
  • Ground black pepper
  • Salt

In addition to dry spices, ingredients like tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar add layers of flavor. Vinegar provides a brightness while Worcestershire sauce contributes a savory, umami kick.

Getting the optimal spice blend is instrumental to recreating the Skyline chili taste. The secret spice blend contains a careful balance of chili peppers, herbs, and other seasonings. Too much of one spice would throw the entire flavor out of balance.

Chili Beans

Like the spice blend, the chili bean variety used by Skyline helps provide a distinctive taste. The small, reddish bean is not your typical kidney, pinto, or black bean. Skyline soaks and cooks the chili beans from dried. The beans have an earthy and slightly sweet flavor.

Texture is another important factor when cooking the beans for the chili. Skyline prepares the beans so they maintain a slight bite but are tender. If the beans were cooked until completely soft, they would disintegrate into the chili.

The chili beans are a supporting player to the ground beef. They add texture and the right amount of thickness to give the chili its signature hearty consistency. Other beans like kidney or black beans would likely overpower the chili flavors.


One of the most surprising secret ingredients in Skyline Chili is unsweetened chocolate. A small amount of chocolate is melted into the cooked chili. The chocolate adds subtle depth, richness, and a touch of sweetness to balance the spices.

The chocolate flavor blends into the background and is not readily distinguishable. However, it contributes greatly to the complexity of flavors. Leaving out the chocolate would significantly alter the chili’s taste profile.

In general, unsweetened baker’s chocolate or dark chocolate work best for providing rich chocolate flavor without being overly sweet. Semisweet or milk chocolate have more sugar so they could make the chili too sweet.

Other Ingredients

In addition to the core ingredients, Skyline’s chili includes:

  • Diced tomatoes – Adds tangy flavor and color
  • Dehydrated onions – Provides onion flavor without the texture
  • Cornmeal – Thickens and adds subtle corn flavor
  • Beef suet or vegetable oil – Adds richness

These supplemental ingredients enhance the flavor or texture of the chili without changing the overall taste significantly. For example, the cornmeal adjusts the consistency while the tomatoes reinforce the red chili color.

The Chili-Making Process

While the ingredients are paramount, the chili-making process itself is also vital to achieving Skyline’s distinctive taste and texture. The cooks who make the chili follow meticulous procedures to ensure consistency.

Here are the key steps Skyline uses to turn raw ingredients into finished chili:

  1. Beef is cooked in water until no pink remains and is broken down into crumbles
  2. Chili beans are boiled until tender but still have a slight bite
  3. Beef stock, tomatoes, spices, chocolate, and other ingredients are added to the cooked beef
  4. The mixture is simmered for 2-3 hours to allow the flavors to fully develop
  5. The cooked chili beans are added toward the end and cooked just until heated through
  6. Salt and spices are adjusted as needed
  7. The chili is portioned for serving

Timing and temperature are carefully controlled during the chili cooking process. The low and slow simmering blends the ingredients into the harmonious finished product that Skyline is known for.

Key Tips for Recreating Skyline Chili

While the exact details of Skyline’s recipe remain secret, you can come close to the distinctive Skyline taste at home with these tips:

  • Use high quality ground beef with an 80/20 lean to fat ratio
  • Cook the beef until crumbled and no pink remains
  • Simmer the chili for 2-3 hours to allow the flavors to develop fully
  • Use a blend of chili powders like ancho, chipotle, and cayenne
  • Include unsweetened chocolate for subtle richness
  • Finish with chili beans and season to taste with more spices if needed

The most important element is allowing the chili to cook low and slow to properly meld the complex blend of ingredients. Rushing the process will lead to chili that is lacking in flavor.

Unique Ordering Style

In addition to its famous chili, Skyline is also known for its unique ordering style. Diners choose the basic components of their dish and the servers assemble it for them cafeteria-style from the ingredients available.

There are three chili styles to choose from:

  • 2-Way Chili – Chili served over spaghetti
  • 3-Way Chili – Chili served over spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4-Way Chili – Chili served over spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese and onions

The classic Skyline order is a 3-Way Chili with an outer casing of spaghetti, a core of chili, and a topping of shredded cheddar cheese. Onions can be added on top to make it a 4-Way.

Other popular menu items allow you to customize in a similar mix-and-match fashion. For example, cheese coneys feature Skyline’s beef chili spooned over hot dogs and cheese. Chili cheese fries load french fries with chili, cheese, and optional onions.

The creative ordering style is part of the fun at Skyline. Diners can craft their perfect chili dish by combining their favorite elements.

Flavor Variations by Location

While Skyline Chili aims for consistency across all its restaurants, minor variations in flavor can exist between locations. Because each restaurant makes chili fresh on-site, slight differences in things like staff, equipment, water supply and local tastes may impact the final product. Fans of Skyline enjoy tasting the chili at different locations to detect the nuances.

In general, the chili served at restaurants near the Cincinnati headquarters seems to be the most acclaimed. The northern Kentucky locations across the Ohio River from Cincinnati also have ardent fans. Farther flung locations in Florida and beyond tend to get mixed reviews for remaining faithful to the classic Skyline taste.

Skyline has shared that they do make very minor tweaks to the spice blend for different regional markets. The restaurants in Florida add a bit more sugar to appeal to local preferences for a slightly sweeter chili. But the core recipe remains unchanged everywhere.

Nutritional Information

Like many comfort foods, Skyline Chili is not the most diet-friendly menu option. A typical 3-way Skyline order delivers a hearty portion of meat, carbohydrates, cheese, sodium, and fat. Here is the approximate nutritional information for a medium 3-way chili:

Nutrition Facts Per Serving
Calories 670
Total Fat 35g
Protein 27g
Carbohydrates 53g
Fiber 4g
Sugar 7g
Sodium 1590mg

Diners can reduce calories, fat, carbs, and sodium by ordering a 2-way or 3-way chili in a smaller size. Opting for low fat cheese or skipping cheese altogether also cuts down on fat and calories. Load up on onions for added nutrition with fiber, vitamin C and antioxidant compounds.

Skyline Chili Copycat Recipes

Diehard Skyline fans have worked to crack the code on perfectly replicating the famous chili at home. Copies of purported secret chili formulas circulate on the internet along with recipes that aim to achieve the Skyline taste. While results may not be exactly the same, some come impressively close according to customer reviews.

Two of the highest rated copycat recipes include:

AllRecipes Clone of Skyline Chili Recipe

This recipe from AllRecipes replicates the taste by using a mix of chili powders, spices like cumin and cocoa powder for chocolate flavor, and canned tomatoes for tanginess. With over 300 rave reviews, many customers say it’s indistinguishable from the original. The recipe makes a large batch, so you can freeze leftovers.

CopyKat Skyline Chili Recipe

The CopyKat recipe uses unusual ingredients like grape jelly and vodka to achieve the ideal chili flavor. Reviews say the results are amazingly close to Skyline’s product. Make this recipe for your next chili night to see if you can fool people into thinking it’s the real deal from Ohio.

Where to Buy Skyline Chili Products

In addition to dining in at over 150 Skyline restaurants, there are other ways to get your Skyline fix:

  • Grocery Stores – Packaged Skyline chili and cheese coneys are sold in the freezer sections of Kroger, Publix, and other grocery chains in Skyline regions
  • Online Store – The Skyline Chili online shop sells canned chili, spice mixes, hot sauces, and merchandise. Items can be shipped nationwide.
  • Amazon – Third-party sellers offer canned Skyline chili and seasoning mixes on Amazon.com.

Skyline Chili has expanded beyond the Midwest, but remainsnostalgic for fans of the original restaurants. Getting to savor the familiar chili taste at home lets you enjoy a taste of Cincinnati wherever you live.


Part of Skyline Chili’s appeal is the aura of mystery surrounding its recipe. The secret spice blend and unique chili bean variety create a flavor unmatched by other chilis. While the exact formula is under lock and key, some clever sniffing out of key ingredients and special techniques can help amateur chili cooks get close.

At the core, it’s all about the pureness and balance of flavors. Cooked low and slow, with the optimal amounts of good quality beef, spices, chocolate, and chili beans, Skyline magic can happen in your own kitchen. Then just serve it Cincinnati style over spaghetti with shredded cheddar and onions for chili perfection.

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