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Cincinnati, Texas, and Midwestern traditions make for very different -- very delicious -- chilies. Find out which is your favorite.

By Adam Ried
February 7, 2010

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Chili styles vary by region almost as much as barbecue styles do. True Texas chili is about the beef -- chunks, not ground -- and peppers. It contains no tomatoes and/or beans. The chili often called Midwestern style is made with both, along with plenty of ground beef. Perhaps most intriguing is Cincinnati chili, which is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and chocolate or cocoa, and kept saucy to accommodate the custom of serving it over spaghetti (see Kitchen Aide for more on traditional Cincinnati add-ons). Garnishes and sides dress up any type of chili; I like finely chopped onions, fresh tomatoes, cilantro and lime, fresh or pickled jalapenos, grated cheddar or Monterey Jack, avocado chunks, or sour cream. As sides, consider warmed beans, corn tortillas, corn bread, biscuits, or crackers.

Cincinnati Chili Serves 6

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and black pepper

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 large onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely grated

2½ pounds 90 percent lean ground beef, broken up

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

1½ tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

5 bay leaves

In a small bowl, mix the chili powder, cinnamon, oregano, cumin, 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper, allspice, cloves, and cayenne, and set aside. In a large, heavy Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the spice mixture and chocolate, and cook, stirring, until dark and fragrant, about 40 seconds longer. Add 1½ cups of water, increase the heat to high, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown film on the bottom of the pot until it is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the ground beef, and cook, stirring, until it is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, bay leaves, and 2 more cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly but still liquid, about 1 hour. Remove the bay leaves, taste the chili, and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot with Cincinnati-style accompaniments (see Kitchen Aide).

Texas Chili Serves 6

4 pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch chunks

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons canola oil

4 large onions, chopped

8 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup chili powder

2 tablespoons ancho chili powder

1½ tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

3 cups packaged or homemade low-sodium beef broth

¾ teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or more, to taste

1½ tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons masa harina (or 1½ tablespoons cornstarch)

In a medium bowl, toss the beef with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. In a large, heavy Dutch oven, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add half the beef in a single layer (do not crowd), and cook without moving until deeply browned, about 4½ minutes. Turn the pieces and cook, again until deeply browned, about 4½ minutes longer; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat 2 more teaspoons of oil and repeat to cook the remaining beef; transfer to the bowl.

Reduce the heat to medium, heat the remaining oil, then add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chili powders, cumin, oregano, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until dark and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth, Tabasco, and vinegar, increase the heat to high, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown film on the bottom of the pot until it is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked beef with its juices, bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the beef is tender, about 2½ hours.

In a small bowl, mix the masa harina or cornstarch with ¼ cup water. Add the mixture to the pot, stir to mix, increase the heat to medium, and cook until the sauce thickens, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste the chili and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot.

Midwestern Chili Serves 6

4 slices bacon, cut into thin strips (about 4 ounces)

2 large onions, chopped

Salt and pepper

3 medium jalapenos, seeded, if desired, and minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2½ pounds 90 percent lean ground beef

1 28-ounce can tomato sauce

½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or more, to taste

1 28-ounce can pink, red kidney, or pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-low heat, fry the bacon, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside. Heat bacon fat in pot over medium-high heat, add the onions and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the jalapenos and garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, and oregano, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add half of the ground beef, break up, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining beef, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Add the tomato sauce and Tabasco, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown film on the bottom of the pot until it is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Increase the heat to high, bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low, partially cover the pot, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Add the beans and cooked bacon, and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until beans are warm, about 15 minutes. Taste the chili and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Add the cilantro, stir, and serve hot.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.