For the complete rules for each organization, please visit
these web sites;
THE REAL CHILI COOKING WORLD
As you can see from each organization’s rules, it leaves the
cook with a lot of leeway for putting some pretty exotic things in their chili. Having cooked competitively for over 20 years,
I have learned that there is a rather narrow range of acceptability on the judging table. Representative chilies that would
be considered mainstream are those of previous champions from ICS and CASI. The recipes for these winning chilies can be found
at the following websites:
ICS World’s Championship winners; http://www.chilicookoff.com/Winner/Winner_Champions.asp?Cat=1
CASI International Championship winners;
These chilies, as you can see, have no exotic meats and exhibit a smooth,
clean gravy with meat cubes, for the most part. The meat of choice depends on your area of the country, due to its’
availability. West coast cooks opt for tri-tip. This cut of meat is highly marbled and has a triangular appearance. Cooks
in the other parts of the US have trouble finding tri-tip and so they normally use chuck tender (also called mock tender).
This cut of meat is a few dollars less per pound than tri-tip. There are some parts of the country where hamburger meat or
chili grind is used. CASI is trending more toward chili grind (coarsely ground beef), especially in the North Texas area.
One of the best things a new cook can do is to volunteer to judge. CASI is always looking for judges at their events. Let
the cookoff organizer know you are interested in judging. This will allow you to see what is considered "in range". Also,
talk to the cooks. Most will give you pointers on do’s and don’ts. Another interesting fact, from my experience,
is that there are no real differences in the end chili product between chili organizations. So don’t be afraid to try
WHEN AND WHERE ARE THE COOKOFFS HELD?
The ICS Newsletter is published quarterly. It is a tabloid newspaper
listing a host of ICS sanctioned chili cookoffs. A $42 membership fee will get you on the mailing list for the ICS
Newsletter and give you the privilege to cook in any ICS sanctioned chili cookoff for 12 months. Additionally, you
will receive a subscription to "Chile Pepper" magazine, for 6 bi-monthly issues. Write to International Chili Society, P.O.
Box 1027, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693.
Information regarding the TOLBERT cookoffs can be had by writing P.O.
Box 617, Corsicana, TX 75151.
Listings of chili cookoffs can be found on the Internet as well:
ICS‘s web site is www.chilicookoff.com CASI’s web site is
TOLBERT’s web site is www.abowlofred.com.
WHAT EQUIPMENT WILL YOU NEED TO GET STARTED?
Most chili cookoffs take place outdoors. Cooks must provide their own
equipment for cooking. Seasoned competition chili cooks will come to the cookoff with canopies, tables, decorated booths and
more. In addition to your meat and cooking ingredients, you will need to bring, as a minimum, the following extra gear:
- Table - Dipping or serving spoon
- Chili pot with lid*, 5-8 quart variety - Knife
(Glass lids not recommended for outdoor cooking)
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Portable outdoor-style camp stove - Heat diffuser (inexpensive
- Can opener metal device to spread flames)
- Matches - Propane fuel cylinder
- Pot holders - Tablecloth, paper towels
- Ladle, large and small - Ice chest and ice
- Long-handled spoon - Cutting board
- 1 to 3 gallons water - Dishpan, dish soap, scrubbers, etc.
Since samples of your chili are usually given out to the public, most
cookoffs fall under the jurisdiction of local health departments. You may need some additional equipment such as rubber gloves
or hand-washing provisions in order to serve samples to the public. Check with the Cookoff Chairperson for local health department
requirements for each cookoff.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO COOK A WINNING POT OF COMPETITION CHILI?
Preparing a pot of competition chili will cost you about $35.
A breakdown of the approximate costs is:
~ 2-3 pounds of beef chuck, mock tender, round steak or tri-tip…$3-$6/Pound
~ 8 oz. can of tomato sauce……………………………………………………………...$1.00
~ 14 ½ oz can of beef broth………………………………………………………….....$1.50
~ cooking oil……………………………………………………………………………….…...$1.50
~ an assortment of fresh spices……………………………………………….….……$12.00
~ propane gas for camp stove ………………..……………………………….………..$3.00
~ bag of ice for your cooler………………………………………………………….......$1.50
Some of these ingredients you will be able to carry over to additional
In addition to the cost of the ingredients, you will be asked to pay
an entry or registration fee. A representative entry fee for CASI is about $10-$20 and ICS fees are approximately $30 for
red, $20 for verde and $10-$15 for salsa.
WHAT PREPARATION CAN I DO AT HOME BEFORE THE COOKOFF?Chili cooks often cut the chili meat at home a night or two before the cookoff.
This saves time at the cookoff and provides the opportunity to take care of this time-consuming effort in the manageable confines
of the family kitchen. Most chili cooks cube the meat into 3/8 inch cubes and freeze it in sealed plastic bags. Here’s
a tip to cut and cube meat; Trim the outside of the brisket of silvery skirt and freeze on a cookie sheet. Take out of freezer,
partially thaw, and slice into 3/8 inch slices. Refreeze these on a cookie sheet, and then take out a group at a time and
cube. Don’t have time to do the whole batch? Put the extra slices in a freezer bag until ready. This way the meat won’t
wiggle around when you’re cutting it, resulting in better standardized cubes. On the other hand, many cooks will cut
their meat at the cookoff and that is perfectly all right. CASI is tending to go toward "chili grind only" (coarsely ground
beef only) cookoffs, so ask the promoter before you go.
Some cooks measure their spices at home and bring them to the cookoff
in separate containers. It is best to exactly pre-measure all spices and do it the same for each cookoff, so you can replicate
the results. Many cooks grind their spices in an electric coffee grinder to a fine powder. This process makes for a smoother
looking gravy and imparts better flavor to the finished product. If you experiment with something new, write it down so you
know what you did! This practice helps keep one from being distracted by spectators or the effects of a windy or inclement
day. This is your option.
WHAT HAPPENS AT A CHILI COOKOFF?
Typically a chili cookoff will start with the registration of the cooks
and organizing where the cooks will set up their cooking gear. Thereafter, the Chief Judge or some other cookoff official
will call for a "cook’s meeting" during which the rules of the day will be explained and the cooks will be given an
opportunity to ask questions.
The Chief Judge will announce when the preparation of ingredients may
begin and the precise time cooks will be allowed to light their stoves to begin the cooking process. The lighting of the stoves
typically provides a minimum of three (3) hours cooking time before turn-in of the chili samples to the judges. The Chief
Judge will see to it that the official sampling cups will be presented to the individual cooks.
At the designated turn-in time, all cooks will take their chili samples
to the judging tent or similar area. The Chief Judge will oversee the marking of the sample cups for the blind judging and
the process of determining the winning bowl of chili will begin. It could take from one to two hours for the judging panel
to complete the judging process. Announcement of the winners will be set at a time consistent with any other programmed activities.
SOME COMMON MISTAKES MADE BY FIRST-TIME COOKS
The following is list of "do’s and don’ts" to keep in mind
when you begin cooking in competition:
First-time chili cooks will often garnish the chili before it is turned
in to the judges. Sour cream, whole red or green peppers, mint, parsley, and, even, Maraschino cherries have been used to
make the chili look "pretty" for the judges. Such garnishments mark the chili by defeating the blind judging process, and
therefore may be disqualified by the Chief Judge. Don’t garnish your chili.
The excitement of the chili cookoff is infectious and a novice cook
may tend to rush the cooking preparation or fail to watch the cooking process closely. The result may be a scorched or burned
pot of chili. Using an inexpensive heat diffuser will provide protection against the hot spot in the center of the burner.
Diffusers can be found in kitchen stores and some hardware stores. Cook the chili well but save the "blackened" effect for
your Cajun dishes. Limit consumption of "adult beverages" until after turn-in to prevent "memory lapses" or ill-advised additions
to your chili.
Winning chili is that perfect blend of spices which serves to light
up the taste buds and to intoxicate the palate. As a first-time competition chili cook, you will be challenged by seasoned
cooks who already have discovered that a blend of spices which allows a single spice to predominate the flavor of the chili
will not obtain the favor of the judges. Be careful not to overdo one spice to the exclusion of all others (this includes
HEAT). REMEMBER; YOU’RE COOKING FOR THE JUDGES, NOT FOR YOU.
The chili most likely to win will possess that spectacular and elusive
marriage or blend of tender meat and a smooth, rich looking gravy. Of course, this blend must taste good. Don’t allow
poorly cut vegetables such as tomato, onion and garlic or seeds from tomatoes or peppers to float in the traditional red chili
gravy. Even though this may be allowed by the rules, floating objects tend to detract from the appetizing appearance of the
traditional red chili. The use of powders is one way of getting away from this problem. Also, rinsing your meat either before
or after browning will extract a lot of the blood. This process will significantly enhance the smoothness of the gravy. Grinding
of the spices and other ingredients goes a long way to achieve the look most pleasing to the judges. The exception to this
"rule" would be the chile verde competition, where almost anything goes. Feel free to experiment in this competition!
Cooks with experience will select a cut of meat that is marbled, has
a reputation for flavor, and is not so tender that it will cook down or cook away. Common cuts used by chili cooks are beef
chuck tender and tri-tip. Seasoned cooks stay away from sirloin and other very tender cuts of meat. The use of exotic meats
may also seem like a great idea, but experienced cooks find that it is better to stick with traditional meats for competition
Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the cookoff and start
giving away samples of your competition chili to the spectators long before you take your sample for the judges. Your sample
ought to come out of your full pot of chili.
Don’t panic at the last minute before preparing your sample for
the judges. Stick with your recipe. Of course, a minimal amount of "tweaking" in the final 20-30 minutes of cooking can often
help your chili, but avoid last minute major adjustments.
Let the chili cook without excessive boiling and try not to stir the
chili constantly. Both these processes, in excess, will break down the chili meat and create mush. It is recommended, however,
that you bring your chili to a boil for the purpose of adding your spices.
Fred Wieland, the former head judge at the ICS World Championship,
said each year just before the cookoff began, "If you don’t have a good time today, it’s your own damn fault!"
You will find that chili cooks world-wide are some of the friendliest and most caring people you will ever meet. Being competitive
doesn’t mean the cooks are not friendly. Cooking chili is a great leveler and you will find your status in life does
not matter among the competitors.
Edited,updated and used with permission of;
Jim Stoddard and Nancy Swenberger