Some Notes on Developing a Skyline Clone Recipe

I occasionally get email from people asking about Cincinnati and Skyline chili — various things. But this email was from someone who has put a lot of really good thinking into developing a Skyline clone recipe. I’ll be using some of these discoveries in my next batch. Thanks for the great insights, Alexander.

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FDA requirements about allergen ingredients are not actually laws. Companies are not required to list ingredients that are known allergens. However, product liability torte law has persuaded most manufacturers to list ingredients that are known allergens. Failure to list allergen ingredients frequently leads to losses from product liability lawsuits. Based upon the ingredients listed on frozen Skyline, I concluded that Skyline has adhered to the full disclosure policy. This is the reason why you see the ubiquitous “spices” and “natural flavors” but also see specific trace ingredients. Onions, yeast, and paprika are known allergens. Therefore, they are disclosed. Keeping with this logic, I am comfortable ruling out ingredients such as peanut butter and cocoa (or any other form of chocolate) from the recipe. As you probably know, nuts are known allergens. Thus, I concluded there is not any cocoa in the chili.

FDA requirements also require that ingredients must be listed in order by volume. In instances of identical volume, ingredients are then listed alphabetically. This is useful information in determining how much onion powder, garlic, and paprika are needed.

FDA also requires nutritional information to be listed based upon the source ingredients…not the end product. A company can argue all they want about how their yeast is breaking down the sugar. The original sugar content still must be listed. This little tidbit is the key to unlocking how much tomato paste should go into the recipe. The ingredient order and the carbohydrate information gets you a pretty good lock on the tomato paste content. Once you do the calculation, however, you realize that there can’t possibly be any sugar, molasses, or other carbohydrate source in the recipe. Atkins diet followers love the frozen chili just for that reason.

Chemistry. I took tons of it in high school and college. Then, I had to teach it as part of my first career. I cursed it the whole way. Inevitably, I now consider chemistry in everything I cook. You were on the right track with the sequence of ingredients. There are two ingredients that must have a specific timing. One is the vinegar (for chemistry) the other is the yeast (for biology). The vinegar acts as a tenderizer to break down the meat. BBQ competitors will confirm that simmering ribs in vinegar water before grilling is often a “secret” to fall-off-the-bone ribs. The vinegar must be added early and given a chance to tenderize the meat.

Biology. The yeast must be added at the end after the chili’s temperature has dropped. Cooking temperatures will kill the yeast. You don’t need a tremendous amount of yeast. There isn’t a whole lot of carbohydrate in the recipe for the yeast to feed on. They are feeding on the sugar in the tomato paste. Also keep in mind that beef stock manufacturers use yeast in their product. So, the yeast listed on the Skyline box is cumulative.

Botany. Mr. X’s comment about cinnamon. Very few people know that most of us are buying cassia bark when we buy cinnamon. Cinnamon is made from the bark of a particular species of tree. There aren’t enough cinnamon trees to satisfy the worlds appetite for cinnamon. Enter the cassia. It grows faster and is more abundant than cinnamon. It also tastes fairly similar to cinnamon. However, if you want real cinnamon (which the Skyline people apparently do), you are better off paying a lot for cinnamon sticks. Recently, however, McCormick did us a favor and began selling actual cinnamon. It is labeled Saigon Cinnamon. It costs more. Compare its scent with the 50 cent “cinnamon” and you will see why it costs more. Neat tidbit. In many other countries, especially Asian countries, it is illegal to sell cassia bark as cinnamon. The two spices are labeled differently.

My Batch #5 recipe. All my batches are micro-batches. Pretty darn close. Close enough to fool most people. The real Skyline has more of a creamy texture and a clear pumpkin pie scent. The creaminess is what I am trying to decipher. The various ways I know to improve creaminess involve the use of known allergens.

Mix the following in a pot. Mix well and let stand for 30 minutes without heat. The vinegar will tenderize the meat.
1/2 pound of 93/7 ground beef.
14 oz can of Swanson beef broth. (salt contributor)
1.5 tsp of apple cider vinegar.

Heat on low until the fat melts and rises to the surface. Stir frequently.

Add the following:
1.5 oz tomato paste.
1 Knorr extra large beef bullion cube. (salt contributor)
2 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp onion powder (salt imitator)
3/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/8 tsp paprika (this is a tricky spice because it acts as a neutralizer)
1/4 tsp ground mustard (awesome find Jeff…I never would have guessed)
1/8 tsp salt (I don’t like to add this, but Skyline is salty)
1/8 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp Saigon Cinnamon
1/16 tsp cumin
1/16 tsp nutmeg
1/16 tsp cloves

Mix well. Increase heat from low to 2. Heat uncovered for 30 minutes. Stir often. Should simmer with bubbles.

Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 1 hour.

Remove from heat and wait until chili is very warm.

Add 4 pinches of yeast (not rapid rise). Store in the fridge overnight or longer.

When re-heated, thicken as desired with xanthum gum.

Final notes: According to my nose and tongue, there isn’t any allspice, ginger, turmeric or mace in the recipe. I am conversing with a food manufacturing contact to see if there are such bulk ingredients as pumpkin juice or squash juice. These may explain the creaminess and the pumpkin pie scent.