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.

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I made this last week and it turned out well. I think it needs a little more kick and a touch more tomato redness for my liking, but can’t say what that does to its claim to authenticity! :o) As for the Saigon cinnamon, I already had some, having heard a couple years ago that it was finally available here again now that the US embargo against Vietnam was lifted.

Being a native Cincinnatian, I have followed your recipes for the past 5 years and 4 years ago decided to take your recipe (not sure which one, but now I use #5) and add this:

I buy a pumkin pie from my local Publix bakery (I now live in Orlando, Fla) I wait until the simmering is over and while still hot and bubbly, I scrape out the pumkin pie from the shell and add with a wisk. It gives it the flavor as well as the body. Who knows, could be the secret. My family loves it!

Saigon Cinnamon is in fact a high quality cassia bark, however it is not true cinnamon. It has a wonderful aroma and strong taste because it has a high concentration of cinnemaldehyde. It is still a much better investment than the cheaper “cinnamon” available. I plan on using it for your recipes, thank you so much for experimenting so we don’t have to!

Wow, you’ve put a lot of work into divining the perfect copycat recipe! Thanks for all the tips. I made a big pot today, incorporating many of your ingredients/techniques, and will be posting about it tomorrow morning (with photos!).

Keep up the good work. If you like, try my recipe and let me know what you think. It’s been kind of a while since I’ve had Skyline, so I’m not sure how close it is, but it sure was tasty.

I’m curious about the yeast in the list of ingredients in the original Skyline. Is the listed ingredient yeast, or “hydrolized yeast extract”? If the latter, I think that’s a friendly name for “natural” MSG (made by boiling down lots of veggies and grains to their essence). You can get the same results by adding a splash of something with umamai– soy sauce or, even better, Braggs amino acids. Or, you could add MSG itself, which is sometimes sold in Asian markets.

Um, I’ve been reading the recipes and comments. Creaminess seems to be a desired factor in the chili. Being a cook of 60 years, it is my belief that the ‘creaminess’ in the chili could come from either of two ingredients (or both): a can of refried beans mixed in somewhere in the middle of cooking or a little bit of cornmeal mixed with cold water and whisked in (also somewhere in the middle of cooking the chili).

The pumpkin pie scent could come from the addition of Pumpkin Pie Spice, a ready-mixed blend of spices used for pumpkin pies.

The recipes sound wonderful. Good luck in your quest and best wishes to you.

I was looking for Cincinnati Chili recipes and came upon your site. I was a little thrown by your comments on food allergens. Not sure what this has to do with your recipe trials, but you should do more research if you are going to write about them. In fact, it is a Law that companies are required to list at least the top 8 food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, & soy)on their labels. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act(FALCPA, which took effect January 1, 2006, is not to protect the companies from lawsuits, but was put in place to help protect the thousands of people with food allergies, some deadly. Allergens must be clearly labeled as such and are not just done so by simply listing them in the list of ingredients, such as onion. A peanut/nut allergy does not include cocoa. I am the mom of a child that had several food allergies and I felt responsible for at least educating you and your readers of at least the basics you mentioned.

Many the recipes I’ve read say to cook the ground beef in water (up to two quarts). This could account for the creaminess; cookng in water with stirring breaks the burger down to very small particles. We used to do 10 or 15 pounds at a time this way for sloppy joes at a deli I worked at.

Just a small tip, Skyline Chili uses “torula yeast power as a replacement for MSG. Most all Cincy chili contained MSG up until the 1980s. It really doesn’t mater the temperature. You might do better by using MSG until you get everything else down and then swap back to yeast.
Hood Luck

I have seen good comments on chili batch #5 but can’t find it here or on google. Can you please repost it or email it. Much appreciated.

TC

Thank you for all of your hard work! …in response to some of your sugar/creaminess issues… have you ever eperimented with condensed cream of tomato soup? Could it be the missing link…may be worth a shot! Keep up the great work!

Ok so being a Cincinnatian all my life and loving Skyline Chili, I had to try this out. We made a batch last night and today taste tested it side by side the real thing (not the canned or frozen stuff, chili straight from the restaurant). #1 Skyline is not this salty. #2 the consistency is finer (which I think I figured that one out). And #3 I think, after several tastings back and forth, that Skyline contains more clove then this recipe. My thoughts on “the creaminess” and the final texture is that it it pureed after refrigerating and before reheating. I pureed half of the batch (I made 4x the batch amount) and the consistency was much closer and it apperared creamier. With all that being said, even though it’s not Skyline, this is my family’s favorite Cincinnati chili recipe next to Skyline. Great recipe!!!!

How important is the cardamom and coriander? I still need to look at the grocery store and commissary here, but Wal-Mart wanted like $13 for coriander and $5 for cardamom. I had the other spices already but don’t quite have the $ for those 2 a2 the moment. I thought about making a batch without them, but I don’t want it to turn out messed up or something.

I have never had Skyline (Akron didn’t have one and I now live out of state), but my parents used to make Cincinnati chili all of the time. Was looking for a good recipe recently and a guy in my unit is from Cincinnati and said Skyline is the best. That brought me here. 🙂

I’ve been working on a Skyline clone for a few months now and I’d like to share a few notes with anyone interested.

Try a spice called Fenugreek, it has that special flavor that I think is missing from many recipes. I also once smelled an uncommon white powedered spice called Asafoetida (sp?) that reminded me of Skyline, but I’m concerned the rarity and variety of this spice may prevent me from finding exactly the same product. There are apparently some very unpleasant forms of Asafoetida. May be worth a try if all else fails.

Get rid of the chili powder all together. If you finally accept that you are not making Tex Mex chili you will understand. I’m sorry, but I don’t taste it in Skyline. Many of the spices you’re adding may in fact be futile attempts to overcome the inaccurate addition of chilis. Just use a little Cayenne for heat, and of course paprika is listed on the can.

If you want “true” cinnamon then the product you’re looking for is called Ceylon Cinnamon, NOT Saigon Cinnamon. Saigon is too strong, Ceylon is milder. Good luck finding it. If you’re in the Cincinnati area, Penzey’s spices in Hyde park has it.

I’m starting to doubt the presence of cloves. Same goes for cardamom. Use sparingly if at all. I think Allspice is present, but I’m undecided on the quantity. Going to experiment with nutmeg/mace next.

Yeast is clearly listed on the can, as is “cracker meal” on the inferior chili of Goldstar. Obviously this plays a significant role in the composition.

Cornstarch is also listed on the can’s ingredients…this could help with consistency.

Skim fat immediately after boiling the meat, before you add any spices. Use ice cubes to drop temp quickly. Otherwise you’ll be skimming flavor off with the fat at the end. Also, take the meat and break it up with a hand powered chopper to get it as finely textured as possible.

While the can doesn’t mention Cocoa, nor does GoldStar or other local brands. Cocoa is however a signature ingredient in savory Greek meet sauces, so I still maintain that it is in the chili, listed as “natural flavors”. TRUE Cocoa allergies are disputable, most of the time it’s another ingredient in chocolate that the sufferer is allergic to. Thus, chocolate is not required to be disclosed.

Most recipes online include Worcestershire sauce…I’m afraid I have to agree for now. Hard to replicate that flavor any other way. I also add msg.

That’s it for now. Hit me up at sauros1 (at) msn dot com to chat if you have other ideas.

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