Regional favorite Spaghetti Red is a pasta dish where the noodles are covered with a savory beanless chili that also works great on its own on or as a topping for hot dogs and more.
I received a phone call back in 2008 from a gentleman, whom I had worked with a couple of years earlier, asking if I would meet him and three other gentlemen from Texas and California at Fred and Red’s Diner in Joplin for supper. I said, “Sure, what’s up?” He told me that the gentleman from Texas wanted to go eat Spaghetti Red. I told him that I would meet them there. Well, to make a long story short, this group was in the process of starting a new manufacturing facility in Grove, Oklahoma and made me an offer to come on board to help them, which I did. I had worked with this group on another project a few years earlier and enjoyed it, so it was a no-brainer, that I accepted their offer.
So why did we meet in Joplin at Fred and Red’s, instead of somewhere in the Grove area to secure a deal? Because, as I mentioned before, the Spaghetti Red. In our earlier years of working together in the Joplin area, the gentleman from Texas had acquired a love affair with the food served at the Joplin Diner, in particular, the Spaghetti Red. The night we met at Fred and Red’s, I was working in the Ketchum/Langley area, these guys were in Grove, and we all drove to meet for dinner in Joplin. When people drive that distance, then stand in line to get in, that’s a pretty good sign some good eats are being served up there!
As most of you know, Fred and Red’s is an icon to the Joplin area, having been in business for many years and known for its chili, which they serve in a bowl, on burgers and fries, and Cincinnati Style, over spaghetti, which they call Spaghetti Red. As far as just eating a bowl of chili, I don’t consider the Fred and Red’s chili the best I’ve eaten, but, for Spaghetti Red it is my favorite. Yet, I have had many people tell me, it is their favorite chili, bar none! I do have to admit, that when bellied up to the counter in their old style diner on a cold winter day, the nostalgically atmosphere there makes for a very good argument of that, as you enjoy a warm bowl of their chili.
As with all famous chili parlors, the chili recipe used in these places are always considered a guarded secret. A few years ago, I stumbled onto a chili recipe that the author claimed as being the Fred and Red’s Chili recipe? I had my doubts as to whether it actually was or not, but took a look at the recipe anyway? When I looked at it, there were several things that caught my attention, one being, the recipe had no tomatoes or tomato sauce in it? It also insisted you not use lean beef; in fact, the suggestion was to us a 73/27 mix? Then the process of using a crushed sleeve of crackers in the chili was another aspect that was foreign to me? But, I decided to give the recipe a try and whether or not it was the original recipe made no difference, as it was close enough, and this recipe has now become my go-to recipe for chili, when I serve it Cincinnati Style (Spaghetti Red) or on Chili Dogs. I have made the recipe many times and just refer to it as Fred and Red’s Copycat Recipe. I suggest you give it a try if you like good Spaghetti Red. Serve the chili over spaghetti with some pickles, onions, and saltine crackers to create a little nostalgia at home. I like mine sprinkled with parmesan cheese over the top. Also, I have cut the below recipe in ½ and it still turns out great, plus, if you are able to make the chili and refrigerate it overnight before serving, it is even better!!!
Copy Cat Fred and Red’s Chili
Ingredients5 lbs - Ground beef, 73/27 or no more than 80/20 4 ounces - Williams chili seasoning, about 3/4 cup 1 tbsp - Garlic powder 2 tbsp - Paprika (not smoked paprika) 1 tbsp - Ground cumin 1 tbsp - Dried oregano 2 tbsp - Kosher salt (or 1.5 tbsp regular salt) 1 sleeve - Saltine crackers
In a large pot, brown the ground beef until it's just brown. Make sure to break up the meat into a very fine texture.
Don't drain the grease!! I know there will be a lot of fat at the top but don't drain it.
Add the garlic powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, salt and 2/3 of the chili seasoning to the beef. Stir it up really well.
At this point it will be dry, colorful and aromatic. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Get the crackers ready. If you have a food processor, add the sleeve of crackers to it and pulse until there are no pieces bigger than a pea. If you don't have one, mash the crackers with your hands, rolling pin, or a potato masher until they are in really small pieces.
Add 6 cups of hot water and the crackers to the chili. Stir well and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, stir well so the chili doesn't burn at the bottom and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer at least 30 minutes up to 3 hours. Stir every 15 minutes or often enough so the bottom doesn't burn.
After the chili has been cooking for a while, there will be a nice layer of red grease at the top. If you are making spaghetti to go with this, ladle off about 1/3 cup of the grease and save to mix in with the spaghetti after it's cooked.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, add the remaining 1/3 of the chili seasoning and stir well. Taste and add salt if needed. You can add up to 2 cups of water if the chili is too thick to your liking.
After cooking the last 15 minutes, the chili is ready. Make sure to stir it thoroughly before serving.