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Some Like It Hot!

Now that the weather is getting cooler, itís a great time to warm up with some great-tasting all-American fun, a Chili Cook-off.

Since the late 1960ís, chili cook-offs have been a popular American phenomena. Chili cook-offs can be held anywhere when two or more people get together to see who can cook the best batch of chili. They range from backyard affairs that are held "just for fun" to very large, highly organized special events used to raise money for charity. They are held at state fairs, historical or holiday events, races, parks, parking lots or shopping centers or anywhere people gather. In our case, friends are organizing a cook-off between friends at their beach on the lake in October.

There are two main governing bodies which preside over most of the large public chili cook-off events. One is the International Chili Society, or ICS, ( and the other is the Chili Appreciation Society International, or CASI, ( The ICS sanctions over 300 chili cook-offs a year worldwide. CASI sanctioned over 500 cook-offs throughout the United States, Canada, and the Virgin Islands last year. All sanctioned cook-offs are advertised to attract as many participants as possible. You can find event calendars on the web sites of both organizations. Information about the history of chili and past championsí recipes can also be found on these sites.

If you decide to enter a cook-off sanctioned by one of these groups, make sure to familiarize yourself with their rules and judging criteria. Neither group allows any beans or pasta to be added to the chili. CASI provides separate judging rules for beans and other dishes as well as chili. Both groups use their cook-offs to raise money for worthy charities, as well as to promote the enjoyment of chili.

To start a chili cook-off, you may want to first join one of these groups and ask them to sanction it. If your cook-off is going to be a public event, and will be used to raise money for charity, having it sanctioned will help give it credibility. It will involve paying a fee for the sanctioning, and every participant in your event will have to join and pay a fee to be a member of the group you request sanctioning from. In return the sanctioning body provides forms, organizational tools, and banners to help organize your event and run it smoothly.

If you just want to get together with friends and have a chili cook-off you can ignore the rules or make up your own. Simple organization, together with the help and involvement of a few friends, are the main ingredients for a successful chili cook-off. As your cook-off increases in size, so will the time commitment and organization required. The ICS or CASI web sites have lots of information to help you get started.

Once you have set your date and sent out invitations, you will need to get people to let you know ahead of time if they plan to enter as contestants. You will need plenty of room to set up some tables and chairs. There needs to be some way for the contestants to cook or heat up their chili. Since these events are typically held outdoors a propane cooker is one of the easiest ways to provide heat. You can require contestants to provide their own heat. Sanctioned cook-offs require the chili to be made onsite, but for a group of friends that may not be practical. In either case you will still need a source of heat for keeping each batch of chili warm.


For a friendly get-together, ask friends to bring a cooler with their beverages, some folding chairs, and heat source for chili. Ask non-contestants who plan to attend to volunteer to judge as well as bring paper products, crackers, desserts and other accompaniments.


If you want the tasting to be ďblindĒ you must devise a judging cup numbering system, have the cooks sign out cup numbers secretly, and have judging forms with the cup numbers made up for the judges. Make sure there are plenty of tasting spoons, and that they are only used once before being discarded! The following criteria are usually judged:

∑  Aroma

∑  Consistency

∑  Color

∑  Taste

∑  Aftertaste

Donít forget to arrange for trash bags, and ask for volunteers for the clean up after the cook-off! See the Recipe section for my Hearty Chili recipe.


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