How to Host a Chili Cook-Off


Here’€™s a fun idea for fall: why not host a chili cook-off and compete with your closest pals/neighbours/family members for the title of master chili maker? It’€™s an easy and inexpensive way to spice up a weekend, and great encouragement for your favourite people to gather before the holiday season.
The experts at the International Chili Society (yes, really) have a laundry list of rules and regulations for official cook-offs that you can consult, if desired, but I prefer to keep things simple and fun. Here’€™s how to execute your own chili throw down to see who among your friends has the best red recipe:


  • Invite guests at least two weeks in advance’€”they’€™ll need some time to research and plan their winning recipe.
  • Include the judging criteria and prize information in the invitation/email (i.e. if you have five entries or less, structure the competition so there is a 1st place winner and runner-up. If there are five or more chili recipes competing, award categories like Best Overall Chili, Best Vegetarian Chili, Spiciest Chili, etc.).
  • Encourage a variety of options by suggesting entries be meatless, spicy, white, or full of adventurous ingredients (like chocolate and beer!).
  • Ask guests to bring their chili in a slow cooker, warm and ready to serve.
  • Let your guests know what you, as host, will provide. Your own chili recipe plus drinks, cornbread, and toppings are good ideas.
  • Make a ballot for the judging of the chili and be sure each guest receives a ballot.

The Cook-Off:

  • Make tags for each chili and include the name as well as a rating for heat level.
  • Set up a long table with extension cords and power bars for the slow cookers.
  • Have enough cups/bowls for each person to try all of the chili recipes. Also, keep plenty of spoons on hand.
  • Set up the chili toppings bar, if you are providing one. Include items like shredded cheese, hot sauce, chopped onion, sour cream, and pickled jalapeños.
  • If possible, keep the cook of each chili secret so as not to throw the vote. Assign each slow cooker a number and ask guests to reference the number during the judging.


  • Invite guests to taste each chili and ask them to write the number of their favourite chili on a slip of paper and then toss it into a basket. Votes are tallied and the chili with the most votes wins. The runner up is award to the chili with the second most votes.
  • Announce the maker of each chili and then announce the winner and award the prize(s).

In the spirit of friendly competition, these should be fun, inexpensive and creative. Here are some suggestions:

  • A basket of assorted fresh chili peppers, hot sauces, dried beans, spices, etc.
  • A tiara or crown made from fresh or plastic chilis
  • A string of chili pepper lights
  • A dozen beer
  • Handmade trophy to be passed around each year.
  • A chili cookbook


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