Tips for Planning A Top-notch Chili Cook-off

The seasons are changing; you can feel winter’s chill around the corner; and the leaves have fallen. You know what that means? It’s chili season! And what better way to start the chili season than with a cook-off? Here are five must-dos to make your cook-off a hit.

Choose Your Competition

via Southern Arkansas University,  flickr .

via Southern Arkansas University, flickr.

This one is easy. There are the usual suspects to choose from: family, friends, and coworkers, but let’s weigh each one. You’ll be seeing your family a lot during the holidays, so maybe invite just your favorites (or siblings or those in the same town). Of your friends, pick your closest pals—or invite your fantasy football friends, and add to the game day competition.

Last but not least are your coworkers! A cook-off is a great opportunity to bring the office together, and if you do it on Friday afternoon, it’s a great way end to the week. (If you need to woo over management, you could say it’s to celebrate a big goal accomplishment in the office!)

Pick a Location

This depends on your competition, but a crucial factor to your chili cook-off is logistics. For example, you want to make sure there are enough power outlets for all the crock-pots that will be camping out in the area. Also make sure that your spot is nice and open, so folks can move around as they are tasting (and discussing the merits of their competition).

Last, make sure you have ample amounts of sample cups and spoons—so many spoons!—as everyone will probably use at least one per chili.

Set the Rules

Things get interesting here. There are so many possibilities that we could be listing rules until Christmas if we wanted, so here are our favorites:

via  Jules,  flickr .

via Jules, flickr.

  • Anonymity. This means clearing the room when each chili arrives. Assigned each one a number, and if you want to take it a step further, make your judges wear blindfolds while they taste!
  • Agree on the staples, and divide them up between people—otherwise, you’ll have more chips and sour cream than you would know what to do with. If a participant has some crazy topping, that’s on them.
  • Last, constrain the ingredients. You could make categories for people to enter their chili in, like hot or savory. You could also go Iron Chef-mode, and have a special ingredient that must be featured in every chili!

Choose Your Judges Wisely

Judging can be a real make-or-break situation in a serious cook-off!  One simple option is to give everyone one vote. But if you have some serious competitors, it’s probably best to pick a panel of judges made up of those not competing, so that they’re unbiased. If you go this route, make sure to choose an odd number so that there are no ties.

One last option is to give everyone a vote, but makes the judges’ worth more.

Pick the Winnings

It is time to crown a champion, but what do you give them?  Obviously they should get some kind of trophy, but it doesn’t have to be fancy—you could even make one!  

Sometimes winning alone isn’t enough though, and a prize makes the pot a bit sweeter. You could do a buy-in with the top three getting a cut of the pool. A fun, free idea is to let the winner take home a competitor’s recipe.

If you are in the office, you could try getting your boss to offer up a prize, maybe lunch with them or an extra vacation day.

Enjoy the Leftovers  

Remember: it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It’s all about having fun—okay, and maybe winning!

So, what makes a good chili? Share some of your tips or secret ingredients in the comments below.