Cincinnati, the city I grew up in and call home, is known for our very particular kind of chili. Texturally, it’s close to gravy, and it’s packed with rich, warming flavor. We serve it on a bed of pasta with a mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese on top, sometimes with beans and sometimes with onions. But that’s just one way we serve it.
As proud Cincinnatians, my family and I eat chili at least once a week. Partly because we love it, partly because it’s SO versatile. Chili of all kinds – chunky, saucy, veggie – is a stellar starting point for any meal. It’s definitely not just for bowls. Here, organized by the style of chili, are my favorite other ways to serve chili:
Meaty, thick, and traditionally made without beans or tomatoes, Texas chili is much like the state of Texas: not messin’ around. Typically it’s very well spiced with chili peppers. It’s sturdy in its texture and taste, making it a delicious binder for ground beef.
Mix together equal parts Texas chili and cooked ground beef to serve as a sloppy Joe sandwich with a scoop of creamy slaw on top, or as the filling for tacos with avocado and lettuce, or even as the stuffing for homemade tamales. You can also mix three parts raw ground beef with one part chili for a hearty homemade meatloaf or stack of juicy burger patties.
Chicken chili is usually lighter in appearance and flavor, often only lightly thickened, if at all, and quite temperately kissed with heat. It works wonderfully as a sauce for layering and dipping. Stuff flour tortillas with cheese and roasted vegetables, roll them and line ‘em up in a casserole dish, then spoon chicken chili over top and bake until the cheese has melted. Or warm up some chicken chili on the stove, low and slow, and whisk in shredded pepper jack cheese until it all comes together as a homemade queso dip.
Seasoned generously with cinnamon and clove (and chocolate, some say), Cincinnati chili is definitely an acquired taste. Even a loyalist like me recognizes it can be a tough sell to non-natives. And even I almost never serve Cincinnati chili in a bowl by itself, because there are so many other ways to enjoy it.
Cincinnati chili-marinated steaks are my go-to for first timers. Score a flank steak, cover it with the chili and refrigerate for 24 hours. Just before dinner, grill the steak, thinly slice it and serve it on a bed of cheddar grits, or on a hunk of crusty bread for a killer sandwich. You can even eat it for breakfast! Spoon it over scrambled eggs and homemade biscuits with hot sauce on the side.
My favorite way to serve veggie chili, no matter its texture or flavor profile, is baked. That’s right, baked. With eggs! I ladle the chili into a small roasting pan until it is halfway full, make several wells with the back of the ladle, and crack eggs into the wells. I bake it until the eggs are to my liking and serve it with homemade corn bread. Veggie chili is also a great way to get more vegetables on your kid’s plate – spoon it over hot dogs or smoked sausage and sprinkle with cheese for a healthy twist on chili dogs.
With so many different ways to serve chili, the kids can’t possibly get bored with it. Chili really is the best!