9 November, 2009  |   11 Comments

How to host a chili cookoff

Our Thursday night bocce league hosts a yearly chili cookoff.
This year, we had more┬átasters, judgers and enthusiasts than we’ve ever had.
(And the whole thing ran smooth as can be.)

Preparation was simple.
1. Get the message out.
2. Get supplies ready.

The message was delivered by email, in person and our sometimes-updated bocce Facebook group. We picked a date and let potential participants know the details.

Serious Discussion

Prior to the event, my chili-cookoff-preparing partner Katie and I exchanged a few emails. We really just needed to decide on the following subjects:
1. Who’s bringing bowls and spoons? (Katie)
2. Who’s making the awards? (HJ)
3. Who’s managing the voting process? (Combination of the two.)
4. Who’s bringing the fixins? (HJ)

On the day of the event, Katie arrived early to set up the tables with tablecloths and utensils.
I arrived after Katie.
I arrived full up with fetus at eight months pregnant, lugging a sixteen month old, the awards and the chili fixins.

Nora Lea and Papa
Note to potential chili cookoff hosts: This is not the most efficient way to run a chili cookoff, what with waddling, chasing of a toddler away from slow cooker cords and award preparation. It’s much more effective to hire a baby sitter and not be so awkwardly pregnant. But in the words of Alanis, “You live, you learn.”

Entrants learn the rulesUpon entry, each chili contestant labels their chili or cornbread and takes a small glass cup to set next to their dish. Each taster is allowed one red bean to vote for the best chili and one white bean to vote for the best cornbread. The host will want to keep an eye on the voting process, especially as wine is consumed. You’d be surprised how enthusiasm for one’s favorite chili can lead to a quadruple vote.

Bean Counting

The photo above is from last year.
This year I forgot the beans. (I blame my pregnancy-addled brain)
We made it work with popcorn kernels for voting.
I suppose pebbles, pasta or Barbie shoes would also work.

Table of love

Top ten chili cookoff throwing tips:
1. Have plenty of electricity available.
2. Have plenty of table space available.
3. Come prepared with awards for participants to circle and eagerly anticipate.
4. Have a partner or two to help cover all the bases.
5. Make sure there’s a hard tasting cut off time to allow vote counting.
6. Let guests vote via the bean method.
7. Have a prepared space for guests to label their chili.
8. Designate bringing of bowls, spoons and chili fixins.
9. Find someone with a big voice to announce the winners.
10. Don’t forget to photograph the winners.

First year champions:
Chili Queen and King

Second year champion — see, I didn’t follow my own advice and have no photo of the second place winner:
Annie wins!

Third year champions:
Chili Winners!

Reasons to throw a chili cookoff:
It’s cheap.
Chili can be an inexpensive dish to prepare for attendees and inexpensive for hosts as well.

It can easily be repeated year on year.
You just can’t beat that competitive spirit. People want to top the one they had last year, they want to do better and win again.

It’s inclusive.
Due to the loads of chili, everyone can taste and participate. Strangers on the street, entrants and friends alike.

So, when are you going to have at it, my chili kings and queens?

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11 thoughts on “How to host a chili cookoff

  1. 1
    Jessica says:

    Just curious, as my fiance and I have hosted 2 annual chili cookoffs in May, and will be hosting the 3rd this coming May, what do you use for awards? We have a smaller crowd with about 8-12 chilis. And we only voted on the best chili. Do you also provide condiments for the chili? Always trying to search for ways to make it better!

  2. 2
    Helen Jane says:

    This year, I made a construction paper “1st” and “2nd” place sign with a string punched through it for the winners to hang around their neck.

    Usually, we string peppers as necklaces — inexpensive and easy.

    I’ve also spray painted wooden spoons gold and mounted in a disposable foil pan — looks like a plaque that doesn’t require too much work.

    And yes, we provide condiments for the chili — it’s what I refer to as “fixins” On a side area, we’ll put out cilantro, green onions, sour cream, hot sauce and shredded cheese for those that can’t leave their chili well enough alone.

    Fun!

  3. 3
    kerewin says:

    This is brilliant! As I was reading it, I was already trying to figure out where and when I can hold this party. Thank you!

  4. 4
    Carrster says:

    That sounds like a lot of fun! I think I want to give it a try – but I’ll wait til March when I’m ‘full-up’ with fetus too! hee hee. I love the bean-voting idea. That is awesome.

  5. 5
    Anne says:

    I won 2nd place in a chili contest 2 years ago and it was written up in the daily newspaper. My recipe was way more complex than I ordinarily bother with, but fun and tasty. I put some Portuguese sausage in with the other meat — chourico being a staple in southeastern New England — and called my chili “New England Ch-ch-ch-chili”. Don’t know if you can open the recipe without signing up at the newspaper:
    http://www.projo.com/food/content/fd-annechili_03-07-07_EO4KJH0.f12353.html

    Now I make ground-turkey chili in the crockpot, and it is FIIIIINE. :-)

  6. 6

    You have the best ideas, Helen Jane. :) And I love seeing all the fun you guys have!

  7. 7

    [...] and I throw the end of the year Bocce Chili Cookoff each bocce season. From the four years we’ve been hosting it, it’s grown from two teams [...]

  8. 8

    [...] few years ago I put together some of my favorite tips for hosting a chili [...]

  9. 9
    Melissa says:

    Ha this blog made me chuckle. We have a chili fest every year. Last year was the first year I decided to have a “vote for the best chili”. Anyway….for us, everyone brings a crockpot of their chili, and dessert (optional) they are to also bring their own beverage of choice and lawn chair. I am the hostess so I provide hot drinks, chili fixins, and table settings, as well as desserts. People still end up bringing their own fixings (cheese, crackers, sour cream, etc…) which is fine. We are never low on food. This year for the voting, I printed numbers and taped them to a crockpot. I try to keep the “secret voting type thing” (like we aren’t suppose to know who’s crock pot is whose. lol) Anyway for the ballot voting, I made off ballots and held them, when the person was ready to vote they looked for me, received their ballot and put it in the ballot box. I decorated a small box and table for the voting station. The “prize” was sitting right there. It was a cheap $5 plastic trophy cup from the party supply store. IT WAS PERFECT. Then I also bought a $2 paper chef hat and wrote Chili Champ 2012 on it. I couldn’t believe the response I received from the whole voting, and champion chili campaign I was running up until Chili fest day. It is soo much fun and so easy cause the main dishes are brought from everyone else. I look forward to it every year!!!!!!!!!!

  10. 10
    Karen says:

    We are about to host our 4th Annual Chili Cook-Off. Last year we had 23 chilis entered. We have a panel of judges to pick hottest, most unique and most traditional. The rest of the guests pick the most popular vote. We’ve used beans as well as just asking guests which was their favorite. Our prizes have been trophy cups, aprons, and last year certificates in frames with a ladle attached. We also have bands for entertainment (my husband is a musician). We’ve never had a cornbread contest, but I just might add that this year! Guests who don’t bring chili or cornbread often bring a dessert or some other party food offering. Always a good time!

  11. 11
    Colleen says:

    We are getting ready for our 8th annual Chili cook off. we have Plaques made up that each years winners name gets engraved on it. I am re-thinking the voting process. We normally had out ballots and everyone gets to vote. We have 3 categories(hot- normal-Unique). It is taking too long to count the votes this way. the beans sound different. Not sure about it. Any other ideas out there?

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