The Real Origins of Real Chili

Tarik Moody defends Wisconsin’s claim as the home of chili with spaghetti.

His first breaths taken in Louisville and many more in Atlanta, Moody is an architect-cum-deejay, intrepid cook and self-described food geek. His time in the South exposed him to regionally defining dishes like shrimp & grits and Brunswick stew. Living here in Milwaukee for 11 years, Moody was driven to find the dish that best defines our city. He keeps coming back to the bar-time and hangover staple, Real Chili:

Moody: I have tried to make this chili from recipes found on the internet – to no avail. Apparently, only two people know the recipe, which even makes the chili more special.

The idea of putting chili on top of spaghetti was foreign to me until I moved to Milwaukee. Some might say Real Chili stole the idea from its sweeter cousin in Cincinnati. Actually, they would be 100 percent wrong!

Real Chili and its recipe has origins at a spot called Chili John’s in Green Bay, established in 1913. An employee of Chili John’s left to start Real Chili in Milwaukee in 1931. According to the website What’s Cooking America, Cincinnati chili was invented in 1922 – nine years after Chili John’s.

Look out, butter burger! Saucy meat and simple ambiance. Real Milwaukee. ◆

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21 Ways to Eat Like a Wisconsinite


‘Eat Like a Wisconsinite’ appeared in the March 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.