Don't Forget the Sides!

What's a cook-oof without the fixin's? Consider offering chili accompaniments like cornbread, cheese, coleslaw, beer and red wine so your guests can complete their meal.

Chili Cook-off Judging Sheet

Sadly for some, happily for one, every cook-off has a winner -- and choosing that winner is almost as much a process as the cooking part.

While judging by taste is always going to be subjective, the goal of any judging process is to limit that subjectivity as much as possible. In a chili cook-off, that begins with a set of five specific criteria by which each chili is judged:

  • Color -- Does the chili look appetizing? Does it look bright and colorful or dull and bland?
  • Aroma -- Does it smell good? Does the aroma make you want to dig in?
  • Consistency -- How is the meat-to-sauce ratio? It shouldn't be runny, mushy or overly thick.
  • Taste -- How is the flavor? Do the ingredients blend well, or is one too overpowering? Does the first bite make you want another one?
  • Aftertaste -- Once you swallow, is there a spicy taste ("bite") that stays on your tongue? Is it pleasant?

On top of the chili-quality criteria, judges have some guidelines of their own. They should use a clean spoon for each chili taste, cleanse their palates between tastes, write down their responses immediately after each taste (not after tasting all of the entries), never try to match entry numbers to contestants, and keep their choices to themselves. Judges should not chat with one another during the judging period.

Adhering to all of the rules and judging criteria can be easier with the right official judging sheet. To prepare one, list each entry number separately, with spaces next to each entry for the five criteria. Judges input a number (typically 1 to 10) for each element, and the score for each chili is simply the sum of those five numbers. The winner is the chili with the highest overall score after adding up the scores from each judge.

The prize for the winning cook can be anything -- money, cookware, a trophy, movie tickets or the simple joy of being the best. And while it's true there can be only one cook-off winner, that doesn't mean everyone else has to be a loser. Prizes for side categories like "Spiciest," "Most Colorful," and "Most Elusive Secret Ingredient" can really add to the chili-themed excitement. You're the host, so have fun with it!

For more information on chili, cooking contests and related topics, check out the links on the next page.