How to Host a Chili Cook-Off

If you're thinking about having a chili cook off, check out these can't miss tips (photo credit:

If you’re thinking about having a chili cook off, check out these can’t miss tips (photo credit:

There is just something about chili.  You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like it and there are no two recipes alike.  For some, chili must have beans.  For others, chili with beans is almost sacrilegious.   You may like yours with lots of heat or with lots of meat.  But no matter how you like it, odds are that you think your chili is the best chili around, hands down.

As the temperature dips lower and the fall heads towards winter, hosting a chili cook-off can be a fun way to add some spice to the shortened days.  The reason for having a chili cook-off can range from a simple way to get people together to a community-wide fund raising event.  Whatever the reason, if you are hosting a chili cook-off this season you will need to do a little work ahead of time to ensure that everything goes smoothly.  Obviously, you will need a date, a time, and a place.  You will also need a way to get the word out and to encourage people to sign-up.  But there are some other things that may not be quite so obvious that can make all the difference between a lackluster chili fest and a red hot chili cook-off.

Here are our tips for hosting a hot and happening chili cook-off.

1.     Set-Up

Make sure participants know to bring their chili in a slow-cooker that can be plugged in to keep the chili at the optimal tasting temperature.

The number of participants you can accept may depend on the availability of electrical outlets.  While you can extend this with extension cords and power strips, make sure you aren’t overloading circuits or creating a fire hazard.

Create a “name tag” for each chili that provides the name, heat level, and notes any ingredients that are common allergens.

2.     Supplies

While disposable bowls may seem like the obvious choice, most of your tasters aren’t likely to eat a full bowl of chili from each participant.  Look for smaller, low cost options that allow tasters to use a new receptacle for each entry.

Don’t forget the spoons!

Make sure you have enough cups and beverages available for all the tasters and judges.

3.     Rules

You may want to define what constitutes “chili” for the purposes of the cook-off.  Because there are so many different interpretations of this dish, you may find that without this definition the broad range of “chilis” make it difficult to judge.  On the other hand, half the fun is seeing all the different ways that people make chili.

Unlike more formal cook-offs, you will likely want your participants to come to the cook-off with their chili already made.  Since this is a difference from the standard formal rules, you may want to let participants know this ahead of time.

Entries should be kept anonymous, especially if your cook-off is amongst family, friends, coworkers, or community members.  This ensures that the best chili wins regardless of who made it.

4.     Judging

There are two basic ways to judge a cook-off, with pre-determined judges and with every taster receiving a vote.  If you opt for judges, you will need to set clear judging criteria in order to ensure that all judges are basing their decisions on similar things.  If you are going to allow each taster to have a vote for their favorite, you will need a way for them to vote like written ballots or tallies and you will need to let participants know how much chili they need to bring to accommodate the number of tasters you expect.


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