Gold Bar-B-Q

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Chili Guideline & Helpful Hints For New Cooks
By Ken Peach

Welcome to the fun of competition chili cooking! This information package is to help you understand what happens at a chili cookoff; what you will need to bring; general cooking rules; and, some hints to help make your first pot of competition chili a contender for the first-place prize.

What, when, where and who are these cookoffs? The cookoffs are usually sanctioned under the rules of one of the national chili organizations. Ours is The Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) based in Texas. Our international championship is held in Terlinqua, Texas, the first weekend in November each year. Each State has a chapter called a POD. In Washington State ours is called Puget Pod with most of its members living around Puget Sound. There are other Pods in the Northwest in Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia. Most cookoffs are held on Saturday and some on Sundays or holidays. Chili cookoffs are held at state fairs, community events, shopping center promotions, recreational areas, wineries, etc. The cooks in these cookoffs are called Chiliheads for their love of chili and their ability to cook it. They come from a wide variety of occupations and titles; executives of companies, engineers, sales persons, school teachers/janitors, flight attendants, CPAs, fire fighters, librarians, military, etc. Anyone who is at least 18 years old can be a chili cook!


Each team will usually have a 10x10 foot space for booth and equipment, except when cooking indoors (mall, store, etc.) where you will only have a table.
1. A cooking stove with one or two burners, usually a "Coleman" type camping stove using either propane or white gas. Propane is the favorite type of fuel since it is easier to use and control. Most chili cookoffs do not have electricity available. You'll need enough fuel for your stove for 3-4 hours cooking time.
2. A table on which to prepare your ingredients and cook. A sturdy card table is OK but you may find it a little small. Portability is important since you may have to carry your equipment from a parking lot to the cooking area. Also the size of the table depends on the size of the vehicle you will transport it in.
3. A cooking pot (and a lid) large enough to meet the cookoff rules. You will always need to cook at least one to two quarts of chili for judging. Some events may ask for one gallon of chili for public tasting. Usually this chili is cooked in a separate pot. Look for the individual cookoff rules in the flyers announcing the event.
4. A cutting board and knives to chop the meat, onions, etc
5. A water container or plastic jug for adding water to the chili; cleaning around your table; washing your hands/utensils, etc. Also bring along a pump soap dispenser; a catch bucket for waste water; and, a roll of paper towels.
6. Meat, vegetables, other ingredients, spices, a garbage bag, measuring spoons, spoons for personal tasting, plastic stirring spoons, ladle, pot holders, can opener, apron and matches. You will need a metal-stem food thermometer that measures from 0 to 220 degrees F.
7. A cooler to keep your meat and beverages chilled.
8. A fire extinguisher which is seldom needed but some places have special regulations requiring them.
9. Chairs to sit upon.
10. Some kind of small first aid kit for cuts and burns.
11. A Food Handler's Permit! While this isn't always required, it is a necessity if a Health Department Inspector shows up when we sell or give the chili away for public tasting. The health cards are easy to get only requiring about one hour of your time and they're good statewide.
12. Some kind of cover is nice to have against the sun or the rain. Also it may be a health department requirement at certain places. Some people use canopies, tarps, or just plastic sheets.
13. An optional item is a sign identifying the name of your chili team and its sponsor if you have one.
14. Other optional items would be booth decorations, costumes, props, and your most unusual hat.


8-10AM Arrive, set up your table and equipment; decorate your booth; have a cup of coffee; meet the other cooks; trade lies; make unsupportable boasts about your chili cooking skills; and, try to wangle a few "secret tips" from former winners.
10AM Attend head cooks' meeting. The event promoter (and maybe the Head Judge) will go over the day's schedule, judging rules, prohibited ingredients, special fire or health department rules, maybe give out the official judging cups, goody bags, and participants ribbons.
10-12AM Preparation time. Cut up your meat, vegetables, etc. You’ll probably want to start cooking around now. Under CASI rules, you can start any time.
12-3PM Your event promoter may well have games, booth and costume judging, and audience participation contests.
3PM Chili turn-in time. The show teams may start showmanship competition. And if there is public tasting it will start now.
4-5PM Announcement of winners, the actual time depends on how many cooks there are.

Chili is defined as any kind of meat or combination of meats cooked with chili peppers, various other spices, and other ingredients. Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy or similar items are expressly prohibited from being used in competition chili. While this seems odd to many first-time chili cooks, it is because competition chili is cooked Texas style and it does not include beans which hide the attributes the judges are looking for. Chili is judged on five criteria: aroma, consistency, red color, taste and after taste.

Ingredients will not be pre-cooked, marinated, smoked or treated in any other way prior to the start of the official preparation period. The exceptions to this rule include tomato products, peppers, pepper sauce, spices and any beverages to be used in cooking. Commercial chili mixes such as Wick Fowler's, Carroll Shelby's, etc.(mixes of various peppers, cumin salt, paprika, etc.) are prohibited. You must use your own blend of chili powders, cumin, and other spices. You may use commercially prepared chili powders such as Schilling, Spice Islands, Gebhardts, Crown Colony, etc.

Chili must be prepared in as sanitary manner as possible. You must be willing to taste your own chili, if requested by cookoff officials. All cooking facilities are subject to inspection by officials.


Booths: Your booth area are can be as plain or as elaborate as you wish. Good chili can be cooked in any kind of surroundings (except motor homes, travel trailers, tents, etc.. Of course, if you wish to participate in showmanship, some decorations will probably be needed. All entrants must cook chili, but being in showmanship is optional.

Meat: The rules allow you to cook with ground meat, but many cooks find it difficult to win with it because the judges do not like the flavor (often too greasy) or no flavor since it is so small it does not hold flavor. Also, the appearance of ground beef makes it look like spaghetti sauce. If you do use ground meat, try to find very lean meat ground with a course blade (often called chili grind). Most winners use hand-diced meat (such as chuck tender or mock tender, and/or Top Clod (cross ribs) with the meat cut into cubes of 1/4 to 1/2 inch . If you want to use a tough part of the steer, do it at home when you have more than 3 or 4 hours to simmer it. In competition your meat should cook in 4 hours or less. Most winning recipes call for 2, 2 1/2, or 3 pounds of meat. You'll need an extra pound of anything to trim off the fat, membrane and gristle. It's OK to have your meat pre-cut but if there is going to be public tasting or selling you cannot pre-cut your meat at your home. It must be pre-cut in a Health Department approved facility, i.e., butcher, cafe, catering business, etc.

Vegetables: The rules allow the use of any type of vegetables. Most cooks are now going to powdered onion, garlic, and even jalapeno pepper because of the consistency of taste in the jar as opposed to the inconsistency of fresh vegetables. Others enjoy the chopping and showing off while they're doing it. These vegetables must be reduced nearly to pulp so they'll blend into a smooth sauce and no vegetable matter is left floating in the gravy at turn-in time. Tomato sauce is almost universal in use (no seeds) as it gives a slight tomato taste without overpowering the sauce like tomato paste would do.

Herbs and Spices: Competition chilis will probably contain several kinds of chili powders, cumin, paprika (the Mexican variety), cayenne or Jalapeno, and either black or white pepper, plus varying amounts of one or two of the following: oregano, basil, coriander, bay leaf, cilantro, and even chocolate or sugar. Check the recipes on the brochures and either use them as is, modify them to suit your taste or use a recipe of your own.


In general winning chili has tender cubes of beef with a reddish brown sauce that is neither too watery nor too thick. It is not extremely hot, overly sweet, too salty and doesn't have a flavor that reminds the judges of spaghetti sauce or beef stew. While uncommon ingredients are not unusual in chili cookoffs, the winning recipe doesn't taste or smell like vinegar, farkeberries, chocolate, licorice, egg nog or honey.

Winning chili— Looks Good, Smells Good, and Tastes Good!

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