Young and Hungry

Frozen Skyline Chili at Harris Teeter: Better Than You Think

skyline chili

Given the dearth of decent chili options in the area, save for Urban Bar-B-Que's smokehouse version and the thick, meaty one at Bobby's Crabcakes, I opted to do something I rarely do: shop the frozen food section at Harris Teeter. I had heard the chain sells Cincinnati's famous Skyline Chili.

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that, until I pulled the frozen block from its packaging and popped it into the microwave, I had never before sampled Skyline Chili. I was certain this was not the ideal way to taste one of the country's signature stews. I was, in fact, prepared for it to suck hard. I had a block of Parmesan cheese and a bottle of Mexican hot sauce at the ready, to cover whatever disgusting flavors I found inside this factory-made hunk of rock-solid meat and pasta.

skyline chili 2

I was utterly surprised at my first bite, and it had little to do with the signature sweetness of Skyline Chili. Most agree, after all, that the ultra-secret, locked-in-a-vault Skyline recipe includes cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa powder, both of which contribute to its distinctive flavor. I will not argue with those palates that have come before; this stuff indeed has a pronounced cinnamon sweetness. But it has more, too. It has  spice and depth. It has body, more than I would have imagined for a frozen product reheated in a microwave.

Still, I don't count myself among the Skyline faithful. My own beliefs are far too rooted in savory flavors to instantly convert to the church of sweet chili. In fact, after a couple of courtesy bites of Skyline straight up, I applied my hot sauce and grated a healthy layer of Parmesan over the top. I liked it better that way.

  • John

    Actually, if you're looking for a close approximation and you're willing to put in a bit of the work, you can buy packets of the spices and seasonings online. They're made by Skytime (not Skyline), but Skyline sells them in their restaurants. I brought a couple back with me from a trip in the area, and I couldn't notice much of a difference.

  • Becky

    Just some tips for next time:

    If you didn't guess from the picture, this chili is not meant to be eaten "straight up." Next time you might want to consider one of the following:
    On top of spaghetti
    On a pork hot dog
    As a dip w/ tostitos

    And always with a large large mound of CHEDDAR cheese! I promise you it will be an even better experience if done up one of these ways! yum!

  • Missy

    Ugh, I remember hating this stuff growing up in Ohio. True, that was when my palate gravitated towards such things as chicken broccoli Hot Pockets, Nachos Belgrande and chow mein, but still. Surprised it's edible.

  • Tim Carman

    Becky, take a second look at the package I bought. The chili came on top of spaghetti. Little broken up strands of spaghetti!

  • Daniel

    I used to travel to Cincy for business somewhat regularly. My company's office was just a couple of blocks from a Skyline shop. But in all my trips there, whether on spaghetti, hot dogs (coneys), in a bowl, I'm with Tim - just can't get past the sweetness.

  • James

    Wait... you just ate it, by itself?

    That's not how you eat Skyline.

    Put it over spaghetti and add some beans, diced onions, and finely-shredded cheddar cheese... or put it over a hot dog with yellow mustard, diced onions, and finely-shredded cheddar cheese.

    It's really more a sauce than a chili.

  • James

    Also, for a slightly more accurate Cincinnati experience (I was born there), you can order canned Skyline from their website: - that way you can put it on fresh spaghetti or on a hot dog.

  • josh

    Ew, don't by the gross kind with frozen spaghetti in it! You're supposed to pour it on fresh spaghetti (with onions) or on a hot dog with a ton of CHEDDAR cheese. Skyline rookies should always be supervised by a professional!

  • Tim Carman

    Josh and James,

    I apreciate your advice, but none of the preparations will change the flavor of the chili itself. I understand that a good meaty hot dog would cut the sweetness, which is good. I'd even imagine that the chili would act as a combination of sweet, umami-like ketchup (avert your eyes, you Chicagoans) and chili sauce on a dog. That sounds appealing. But none of the preparations alter the basic Skyline chili flavors, which is what I was addressing here.

    More to the point, Skyline can be purchased from Ohio to D.C. and beyond. If there's only a few "right" ways to eat it, the company would do well to tell everyone. Otherwise, most will follow directions as printed.

    But rest assured, I will be trying all the Skyline combos in the future.

  • Jennifer

    Yes, Tim... you bought the package with spaghetti already in it. But honestly, that is disgusting. You have to MAKE the spaghetti YOURSELF, then top it with the skyline chili. And then PILE ON the cheddar cheese. I add hot sauce myself... But that is a POOR first skyline experience. I've had that particular type of frozen (purchased by mistake). It's not very good.

    Give it another try! Or, make a coney: hot dog topped with the chili and cheddar cheese!

  • E-Rich

    Dude, you're doing it wrong. Josh, James, and Jennifer are right (though I disagree with James on the cans, but that's a matter of preference...I grew up eating the frozen as a kid). While I commend you giving it a shot, this preparation is borderline offensive to a native Cincinnatian. Imagine serving flat, greasy pizza in Chicago, or doing whatever the hell John Kerry did to offend the cheesesteak eaters of Philly. I'm only marginally relieved by the fact that you bought the chili with spaghetti since I never touch that.

    If I properly document how to prepare Skyline and send pictures, can you please update? I'll have it for dinner tonight. I have a brick of original, an onion, and the right cheese. You owe it to yourself to try it again and you owe it to your readers to give proper instructions on Cincinnati chili. I'm sorry to be so self-righteous about this, but I take Skyline very seriously.

  • inski

    Ditto E-Rich. I'm actually quite surprised that out of ALL the many Skyline products this is the one Harris Teeter sells. In local Cincinnati grocery stores Skyline offers a jumbo tub of frozen chili, which is preferable to this frozen dinner style. Though a die-hard Skyline fan and native Cincinnatian, I would prefer stockpiling cans while in the 'Nati to eating this pre-made nastiness. Frozen noodles? No thanks.
    P.S. Parm cheese? Seriously? Whether its Skyline or regular chili, who eats parm on chili?

  • E-Rich

    Inski, they have the real deal at Harris Teeter. Frozen plain original. It's wonderful. It's what's getting me through the snow.

  • josh

    also I think the point is that Skyline shouldn't be classified as another "chili." yes, it's obviously called "chili," but it's so far outside the general category that it creates its own. that's why cincinnatians talk about loving (or missing) "skyline" not about loving (or missing) "chili." i'm not articulating this very well, but since skyline is its own entity, you need to try it as it's supposed to be eaten. the chicago and philly analogies were good, but even more in this case, skyline is part of the entire meal -- it's not JUST the meal. that's why the other components are so important when eating it.

  • The Akron Assassin

    Hey - I love Skyline chili, but I love other chilis too. Guess what? I am pretty sure Tim can say one Cinci chili tastes better than another. But it doesn't mean he has to like it. He's a food critic, not the ultimate arbiter of your taste.

  • josh

    and speaking of dc, skyline and all the snow we're getting, i made a pot of "regular" chili (the beef, beans, peppers, chunks of tomatoes, smokey spices) to get me through this next round. in my mind, there's chili and there's skyline -- two COMPLETELY different things. i guess that's what people don't realize.

  • Kygirl

    I love skyline - "joy of cooking" has a recipe that is close. Got the stuff to make it yesterday (except oyster crackers:-(). Now if only I could get some graeters delivered today all would be good.

  • E-Rich

    Josh is right, but Akron, come on...this was an apples/oranges comparison to begin with and Tim acknowledged that. My point was, to be fully appreciated, Skyline must be properly prepared. And this was not a fair representation of Skyline. It's not about what chili is better. Tim still doesn't know what Skyline tasted like because he hasn't had it done right.

  • SteveL

    Native Cincinnatian here. I love Cincinnati chili, though I associate it with happy times from childhood.

    I'm sorry but the frozen stuff from the store just doesn't taste the same. It just doesn't. Like others said, unfreezing the spaghetti is unpalatable. The canned is a better option, but that tastes different, too...I don't know why.

    Spaghetti has to be the base. On top of that ladle the chili, then onions, then a fluffy layer of cheddar cheese sprinkled with hot sauce...Mmmmmm...the melange of flavors...oh my.

  • E-Rich

    SteveL, you forgot the oyster crackers (preferably from Skyline), but otherwise that's an excellent bit of instruction.

    While nothing's as good as the restaurants (corner of Clifton and Ludlow by UC--GO BEARCATS--is the best), if you make the frozen plain chili on the stove, and of course make fresh spaghetti, it's pretty good.

  • Edie Petrulis

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  • E-Rich

    KYGirl, Graeters is supposed to be going national soon. Expect to see it in the next year to two. God, I could go for some black raspberry chip...

  • notradebaxx

    I just picked up the last 2 packs of chilli at Harris Teeter, thanks for posting this !!! You ROCK my world


  • NovaGirl

    While I am capable of making a decent Cincinnati style chili from scratch, this is just fine!! Yeah, it's not al dente pasta, but most of the die hards say it's supposed to be overcooked anyway!

    Oh, by the way Wegman's carries the cans. I have no desire to go to Ohio for any reason whatsoever, so I'm glad it's available.