Tour Texas Chili Cookoffs in your RV

Experience Texas’s chili cookoffs from the comfort of your RV.

Judging Chili Cookoff

Who knew judging chili could be such hard work?

Last Saturday, my hubby and I served as judges for the Lone Star Resort‘s annual chili cookoff.

Held in Austin, it was a Chili Appreciation Society sanctioned event that allows participants to earn points that will enable them to compete in the International Chili Championship in Terlingua.

I never fully appreciated the complexities of chili judging before last weekend! My hat’s off to our host and event organizer, Ken Rodd. I learned a lot, and thought you might enjoy a few fun facts about chili cooking and judging, and the drama of chili cookoffs.

Frank Tolbert, who published the book, A Bowl of Red, in 1953, was one of the founders of the Terlingua cookoff.  Click on the photo for Frank's recipe.

Frank Tolbert, who published the book, A Bowl of Red, in 1953, was one of the founders of the Terlingua cookoff. Click on the photo for Frank’s recipe.

Rules for the Chili Cooks

CHILI MUST BE COOKED FROM SCRATCH – “Scratch” is defined as starting with raw meat. No marinating is allowed. Commercial chili powder is permissible, but complete commercial chili mixes (“just add meat” mixes that contain pre-measured spices) are NOT permitted. (Right. If I’m at a chili cookoff, I’m expecting something far more exotic than I can whip up at home with the help of my friend Wick. No offense, R.I.P. Wick.)

NO FILLERS – Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, or other similar ingredients are not permitted. (I guess there really is a rule about NO beans in Texas chili!)

PYROTECHNICS – No chili contestant may discharge firearms or use any pyrotechnics or explosives at a chili cookoff. Contestants discharging firearms and/or using explosives or other pyrotechnics will be disqualified from the chili cookoff. (I don’t even want to know what happened that resulted in this written rule!)

Rules for the Judges

JUDGING CRITERIA AND SCORING – A single score takes into consideration the five criteria for scoring chili: Aroma, Consistency, Red Color, Taste, Aftertaste.

TABLE MONITORS – Each judging table will have a knowledgeable table monitor to instruct judges, control table talk, answer questions, and enforce CASI judging rules. Discussion of the chili will not be permitted at judging tables. (And as we learned, spouses are not allowed to sit together.)

INSPECTION OF CUPS – It is the responsibility of table monitors – especially on the preliminary tables – to remove each lid, look at the chili, and check each cup for interior marks and fillers before placing the chili on the table for judging. (Chili judging IS an exact science. If you want to read even more rules and try to understand how the chili cups are assigned to judges and distributed, good luck! Here’s the link to the rules!)

The Drama

It took three years, from 1967 to 1969, to crown the first cookoff winner. Held in Terlingua, the first cookoff was declared a draw, and the results of the second were never known, since after a secret ballot vote, the ballot box was stolen at gunpoint and thrown into a mine shaft. In 1969, C.V. Wood, Jr., the man who built Disneyland for Walt Disney, entered and was crowned champ.

As is usually the case with human nature, chili politics eventually split the cookoff into bickering groups. Today, the two main groups that have evolved are: The Chili Appreciation Society, and the International Chili Society, which is based in California.

From the Texas RV traveler’s perspective, I think I’d rather leave the politics at home. I just want to enjoy the road trip, have fun camping, watch the showmanship, and taste some awesome chili. If you agree, you can check out the upcoming chili cookoffs on both societies’ websites above and start planning!

~ G. Elaine Acker

Lone Star Resort Front BuildingP.S. If you’re planning a trip to the Austin area, be sure to make a reservation with our friends at Austin Lone Star Resort. They did a fantastic job with this year’s chili cookoff – as always! The park is conveniently located right off I-35 in South Austin, and once you’re under the shade of those gorgeous oaks, you’ll forget the freeway is even there.





Leave a Reply