How to Host a Chili Cook-off

Sure, a hot bowl of chili is delicious at home, but when part of a regulation cookoff, chili-eating becomes a social event.
Sure, a hot bowl of chili is delicious at home, but when part of a regulation cook-off, chili-eating becomes a social event.

For die-hard chili lovers, the meaty, saucy, sometimes spicy meal-in-a-bowl is practically a lifestyle. Few foods boast the contests, cultural links, secret ingredients and prized ancestral recipes that surround chili, and there has recently sprung a twist in the traditional fan-base: It's not just for cowboys anymore.

You can find chili cook-offs in cities all over the country with all types of folks in attendance, from ranchers to hipsters to food critics. They've made their way into restaurants and backyards. Some are serious cooking contests, others mainly an excuse to drink some beer; but no matter the kind of event, there are going to be some common requirements.


Some are obvious: cooking tools, serving bowls and lots of fresh spoons for sampling. If it's a public event, you'll need some posters, maybe a banner.

Somewhat less obvious are the specific rules, regulations and judging guidelines for a traditional chili cook-off. Perhaps the easiest way to host a cook-off is to register with a sanctioning body that provides, for a fee, everything from bowls to official judging sheets. But for hosts who want to keep costs down or just keep it extra casual, it's simple enough to do it yourself.

Here are the basic rules, regulations and judging criteria that will help you host a chili extravaganza. Get ready to turn your party into a cook-off.

First, the rules ...