What Is Competition Chili?

Pepper2.wmf (4102 bytes)

Ask a seasoned competition chili cook why he or she cooks chili and among the answers you get will be:

(1)  they enjoy the camaraderie that develops among cooks and the lasting, meaningful friendships that are established and

(2)  they want the "bragging rights" that come with cooking and winning.

HistoryPepper2.wmf (4102 bytes)

In 1951, George Haddaway and Jim Fuller started the first formal "society", following a loose association which began in the 1930's to "improve the quality of chili (con carne) in restaurants and broadcast Texas-style recipes all over the earth."  While it is not surprising that chili-lovers would ban together, it is surprising that these large-egoed folks would not challenge a competition until 1967, sixteen years later.

After an article appeared in Esquire magazine, the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) held the first chili cooking contest in the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas in the Big Bend country of the Rio Grande.  That first cookoff pitted Wick Fowler (inventor of the "Two-Alarm Chili" Mix) against Dave Chasen of Beverly Hills.  Chasen became ill and was replaced by humorist, H. Allen Smith who had written an article in Holiday Magazine that year entitled "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do."  Need we say more about  egos?

The 1967 cookoff was a promotion for Frank X. Tolbert's book, A Bowl Of Red and local land sales for Dave Witts and Carroll Shelby.  These were the first chili cookoff sponsors, and Tolbert and Shelby went on to become leaders in the chili movement and key figures in the future split society.

The first cookoff was declared a draw; the third judge and swing vote declared his taste buds paralyzed by Smith's chili and could not judge the second entry.   The second cookoff, in 1968, was also declared a draw; referee Tolbert had no choice when the ballot box was stolen by masked men with guns (in the glowing tradition of the Old West).  C.V.Wood won the third competition in 1969 and Wick Fowler won in 1970.

The chili cookoff phenomenon began to grow.  In 1974, C.V. Wood and Carroll Shelby brought a TV crew to Terlingua.  When Frank Tolbert was snubbed by the media, he invited Wood and Shelby to take their International Chili Society (ICS) World's Championship Chili Cookoff to California and to "save the freight."  They did just that and ICS subsequently selected the old Tropico Gold Mine near Rosamond, California for their cookoff.  Thus ICS separated from CASI.  To add insult to injury, ICS also trademarked the term "World Championship Chili Cookoff."   Maybe Texas just wasn't big enough for both Tolbert's and Shelby's egos.

Despite the feud, CASI and ICS both continue to sanction local chili cookoffs and hold their respective annual championships to the benefit of chili lovers around the world and the many charities that all of the cookoffs raise money for.  A cookoff can be 15 cooks in someone's backyard or, like the 1985 Texas "Chilympiad," 700 cooks in four days of competition.  Cookoffs are sponsored by all form of service groups and businesses, including most fraternal organizations, civic groups, brewers, and antacid manufacturers.  More importantly, chili cookoffs always raise funds for a worthwhile charity.  Regardless of whether you win, lose, or sample, chili cookoffs are always fun!

Both CASI and ICS support the promotion of chili as our national dish and fund-raising for local and national charities through chili competitions - cookoffs.

Pods and sanctioned cookoffsPepper2.wmf (4102 bytes)

CASI regional chapters are called "Pods" and their member cooks elect a chapter representative, the "Great Pepper," to represent their interests at national meetings.  CASI rules for chili cookoffs are established and maintained by member cooks at national meetings of the "Great Peppers."

Established rules, used for judging "sanctioned cookoffs," include requirements for the minimum number of cooks at a cookoff, the number of judges and chilis at each table, procedures for preliminary and finals judging, and chili judging.  Chili is judge on five criteria: color, aroma, consistency, taste, and after-taste (bite).

CASI requires that judging be conducted using a double-blind system.   The cooks' judging cups have a sealed envelope, taped to the outside of the cup, which contains a numbered ticket.  The cook holds a corresponding ticket stub with the same number.  The cups of chilis are protected so there are no unique marks that could associate the cup with the cook.  The cups are subsequently marked with judging numbers for scoring.  The judges score each cup of chili on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best).  The cups with the highest total scores are advanced to the finals table.  Finals judging is conducted the same way, usually with more experienced judges.

The chilis receiving the ten highest scores are awarded points to qualify for the Terlingua International Chili Championship.  CASI-sanctioned events award points as follows: 4 points for First, 3 points for Second, 2 points for Third, and 1 point each for Fourth through Tenth. 

The cumulative points required to compete in Terlingua vary depending on the number of cookoffs held in the state the cook resides.  In addition to the State championship cookoff, states having one to five cookoffs require six points; states having six to ten cookoffs require nine points; states having 11 or more cookoffs require 12 points.  Maryland is a nine-point state.   Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware are all currently six-point states.

What happens at a chili cookoffPepper2.wmf (4102 bytes)

Typically, a chili cookoff will start with registration and the cooks setting up their gear.  Thereafter, the Chief Judge or some other cookoff official will call a cooks' meeting during which pertinent information and the rules will be discussed.  Cooks will be given an opportunity to ask questions.

At the end of the cooks meeting, cooks are free to return to their stoves and begin cooking.  There is usually a minimum of three hours from the end of the meeting until judging samples must be turned in.  The Chief Judge will see to it that official judging cups are distributed to the cooks prior to turn-in time.

At the designated turn-in time, all cooks will take their judging samples to the judging area and the judging process will begin.  During the judging, there will usually be entertainment and the public will walk around tasting samples of the individual chilis, voting for the Peoples Choice Award.

Announcement of the winners will be set at a time consistent with any programmed activities and it could take from one to two hours for the completion of the judging process.

You can cook competition chiliPepper2.wmf (4102 bytes)

If you can cut up meat, measure spices, and stir a pot, you can be a competition chili cook.

What you will need

1. Cooking stove and fuel - "Coleman-type" propane or white gas
2. Cooking pot, cooler (for meat and liquid refreshments), paper towels, spoons, can opener, matches, and pot holders.
3. Meat (hand cut or chili-grind), spices, other ingredients for the chili.
4. Table and chairs.  You usually have a 10' x 10' cooking space.

Basic chili cooking rules

1. Only one judging cup per chili pot may be turned in for judging.
2. Chili must:
a. be cooked on site the day of the cookoff
b. be prepared from scratch (no commercial chili mixes)
c. contain no fillers (beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, etc.)
d. be prepared in as sanitary a manner as possible
e. be prepared in the open (no motorhomes, closed tents, etc.)
3. Cooks must sign number slips in ink when they receive their judging cups and must not tamper with or mark the judging cups they receive.
4. Each head cook must bring his/her judging cup (filled to the designated level)to the designated place at the set judging time.

Sample recipePepper2.wmf (4102 bytes)

The following sample three-step recipe gives you a basis to build your own winning "bowl of red."  Remember to keep your recipe simple and avoid exotic ingredients.

Step One
2-3 lbs. beef, cut in cubes or chili grind
8 oz. tomato sauce
4 1/2 oz. can of beef broth
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. onion  powder
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
2 tsp. beef bouillon
1/2 tsp. salt

Sauté beef to a light grey color using shortening.  Add tomato sauce, broth, and 8 oz. water.  Bring to a boil and add seasonings.    Reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours.

Step Two
1 Tbsp. cumin   
2 tsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. white pepper

Bring to a boil and add seasonings.  Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.

Step Three
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. onion powder

Bring to a boil and add seasonings.  Reduce heat and simmer 1/2 hour.

Thanks to Susan Marshall and Wahnne Clark for their kind and knowledgeable contributions to this page.