Chili Cook-Offs

Today is September 1st and Fall is coming.  One meal that is a constant in The Great Lone Star State is Chili.

I have never actually been to a Chili Cook-Off.  My first will be in Terlingua in November.

While doing my research, I came across this helpful article.

All credit goes to Jessica Hickley at Speakeasy Content Studio for The State Fair of Texas.

All killer, no filler: America’s 7 best chili cook-offs

By Jessica Hickley – Speakeasy Content Studio

Chili pepper and meat.

Those fundamental ingredients have spawned countless interpretations of the saucy dish chili con carne — or, as it’s more widely known, just (but never plain old) chili. Chili remains a uniquely American creation, a simple yet infinitely variable stew that emerged on Texas’ legendary cattle trails and fed the cowboys that wor

ked them. In fact, chili

has become so associated with Texas that, in 1977, the State Legislature passed a resolution naming it our State Dish.

Competition is also deeply ingrained in the Texan character, especially if the contest involves good eating. The chili cook-off is perhaps the down-home crown jewel of all American cooking competitions. Fiery, savory and profoundly satisfying, nothing quite compares to what Dallas author Frank X. Tolbert liked to call “a bowl of red.”

So, where can you sample the country’s best chili? Here are our picks for the nation’s top seven chili cook-offs.

1. Terlingua International Championships (Terlingua, TX)

What could be more emblematic of the Old West than a showdown in a dusty little West Texas town?

The first Terlingua cook-off started bubbling away a full half-century ago. But not long after, a dispute in the cook-off rules led to the fracturing of the festival into two opposing cook-offs.

Now, both the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cook-off and the Chili Appreciation Society International Terlingua International Chili Championship occur on the same weekend in November, attracting thousands of attendees.

That’s good news for those of us who like our chili hot — Big Bend hot.

2. Tustin Street Fair and Chili Cook-off (Tustin, CA)

This 33-year-old event in Southern California’s Orange County welcomes around 35,000 participants and 50 competitive teams every year. From red to verde and restaurant-style to “People’s Chili,” Tustin has something to tingle every taste bud.

Not only does the Tustin cook-off deliver bowls of the best chili you’ll find in the Pacific West, but the concomitant festivities also include a salsa competition as well as pie-, watermelon- and jalapeño-eating contests. Live musical performances, square dancing and a car show further spice up this one-day extravaganza.

3. Texas Chili Cook-off (New York, NY)

Forget apples. Nothing says New York like a piping hot bowl (or three) of Texas-style chili.

That’s exactly what the Texas Chili Cook-off celebrates every May with this annual all-you-can-eat “best in show” hosted by University of Texas alumni (Texas Exes) residing in Manhattan. Taste what the East Coast has to offer. If you get overheated, you can always cool off in the nearby Hudson River.

4. Houston Pod Chili Cook-off (Houston, TX)

Claiming the mantle of “oldest chili cook-off in the world” (though they may want to talk to the folks in Terlingua about that distinction) is the Houston Pod Chili Cook-off.

This deep-in-the-Gulf-of-Mexico competition attracts chili aficionados from every state in the Union. It’s held in the bustling Traders Village, populated by 1,500 vendors whose stalls are packed with everything from electronics to fine art, making for both a delicious and an action-packed day.

5. World’s Champion Chili Cook-off (Location varies)

In addition to the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI), which sponsors the Houston Pod competition, there’s the equally renowned International Chili Society. Every year since the 1960s, the ICS has hosted a World’s Champion Chili Cook-off, which rotates from location to location across the country.

This October’s competition will be held in Reno, Nevada, and chili cooks will compete in four categories (not including the Miss Chili Pepper and the Mr. Hot Sauce pageants): traditional red chili, chili verde, salsa chili and homestyle chili. Yum!

6. Sertoma Chili Cook-off (Springfield, MO)

Believe it or not, but this charming town just south of Kansas City is famous across the Midwest for its distinctive cuisine. (If you don’t know the story of deep-fried Springfield-style Cashew Chicken, it’s worth reading about!) But now Springfield can also boast of hosting one of the country’s most popular chili cook-offs. They’ve kept the fires burning for over three decades now, and a generous portion of the Sertoma festival’s proceeds support charitable causes.

7. The Chili Cook-offs at The State Fair of Texas (Dallas, TX)

There’s a lot to love about the State Fair’s chili competitions. First, that’s “competitions,” not “competition.” Both connoisseurs of classic “no filler” (beans, rice, pasta) recipes and mad chili scientists are welcome to participate. Secondly, entering either the CASI Chili Cook-off or the “No Rules” Chili Cook-off secures you early access to the Fair, as these fierce throw downs get underway Sunday, Sept. 24 — the last weekend before opening day, Friday, Sept. 29.

While you can just pull up your chuckwagon and enter the day of the event, the State Fair encourages you to pre-register. However you choose to get involved, be sure to bring your fire extinguisher!

Whether you’re a chilihead or just chili-curious, start your cook-off season with a visit to Fair Park this Fall. There’s no tradition bigger, better or more full of fun (and flavor) than our great State Fair of Texas.

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