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Organizing a Chili Cook-Off

Whether it’s fundraising, just getting your neighbors together, or training for a national Chili Cook-Off competition, why not take the steps to organize a gathering in your area? A Chili Cook-Off could be just what you and your family needs to get into the spirit of the upcoming winter season, and is a great way to entertain guests and neighbors for a weekend.

Chili cook offs are held in every state around the country, and the event is also popular around the world. In Texas, the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) operates an organization with complete membership procedures, scheduled events, and training programs for participants. For your own chili cook off, you will need a little organization and planning, but it’s not hard to pull it together!

After collecting a head count and invitation list of your guests and participants, the next step in organizing a chili cook off is to arrange the location. Choose from a local park, your own back yard, or another venue that is easy to access. You’ll need to arrange an area for both the judges and the audience, so choose a suitable size of the location, as well as the date of the event. Check with your local town or city’s community events calendar for any major ‘clashes,’ and proceed accordingly. The more people in attendance, the more fun and exciting the event can be. This is why a contest or cook off can also be a perfect opportunity for fundraising. If you choose something outdoors, be sure to arrange for a weather-friendly alternative!

Create a prize structure or specialty item for the champion. Will it be cash, a medal, or a trophy? Can you send a picture of the winner to the local paper? Will there be an opportunity to feature the winner’s recipe in a magazine or other publication? Research some creative alternatives; if nothing else, your winner will have the bragging rights to winning your contest!

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Send out official rules and regulations for recipe and sample submissions. Either e-mail or mail out the campaign to all people involved at least 3 weeks in advance. This will give them plenty of time to prepare and practice, and bring everyone up to speed on the requirements. List the ingRedients that can and cannot be used; according to the International Chili Society, a Traditional Red Chili is defined as ‘any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exceptions of beans and pasta which are strictly forbidden.’ You can offer your own recipe for all participants to follow, or leave it as open territory for the most creative bowl! Depending on the size of the expected crowd, allow submissions of a specific number of saucepans of bowls.

On the day of the event, make sure all participants are ‘registered’ in some way. Offer name badges and labels for the chili bowls ready for taste-testing. Select your panel of judges and let the games begin! Getting the crowd involved is essential, so be sure to highlight each participant’s submission either with sampling, or allowing them to set up their own small tables where they can talk about and share their masterpiece. Make sure to provide plenty of spoons, bowls, and cups for tasting.

Let the judges grade the submission on cards, and count the ballots. Make sure that the panel has been fair and consistent, and voting takes place at a specific time.

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Announce the winner. Create a formal time for the final announcements and present your Grand Prize. Allow the winner to make a small speech, and engage your audience with pictures or even autographs of the lucky cook!

A Chili Cook-Off or contest is a great way to create an engaging and fun neighborhood or community event. If your event is going to attract a large crowd, fundraising for a local charity or church group is a perfect excuse for the get-together! Do make sure the winner has the ability to show off and take center stage at your contest for some well-rounded fun and perhaps a new annual event in the neighborhood!