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by Ron Duckworth

A Texas chili cookoff can be as much fun as one person can stand. There's usually so much going on it's hard to take it all in. Besides the cookoff there's music and contests of all sorts and even other cookoffs to check out. That's why these things can run 2-3 days. Anyone and everyone comes to a Texas chili cookoff. Chili cookoffs are a very popular in Texas and are a major form of family entertainment. Before the main event there may be cookoffs and competitions for the best barbecue, brisket, salsa or dessert. The chili cooking teams are judged not only for the quality of their chili product but also on presentation which many times means a pretty good show. (Years ago for example there was a group that dressed up in 50s garb, sang oldies and called their brew Doo-wop Chili.)

In a sanctioned cookoff the chili must be prepared and cooked on site. Some events provide a table, set up under a tent but no electricity or water. You must provide all cooking tools, utensils and ingredients. The competition can be fierce.

The official chili sanctioning body in Texas is the Chili Appreciation Society International, CASI. CASI makes the rules. They award points to the best ten cookers and these points can qualify a team for the World Chili Championship held the first Saturday of November in the dusty ghost town of Terlingua. It's important to note that CASI is a not-for-profit organization and all proceeds from one of their sanctioned event go to local charities.

There is only one kind of chili recognized by CASI: Texas red. No fillers are allowed, or as the rules state: "NO FILLERS IN CHILI - Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, or other similar ingredients are not permitted." (In Texas putting beans in chili has replaced horse thievery as the number one hanging offense.)

Even with strict rules about content recipes can vary a great deal. The chili I cook is nothing like the chili my son cooks and we disagree on which is best. For the good of the family my son and I don't compete against each other. We don't want to jeopardize our relationship. And our chili recipes are secret known only to us and our wives.

Some of the most fun is the people watching. Just how much fun an event is going to be depends on who is throwing the shindig. Like, for instance, a cookoff sponsored by a Baptist church probably won't be as exciting as, say, one thrown by a radio station or a Texas singer. A guaranteed good time is when the cookout is connected with a birthday party especially if the guest of honor is a Texas singer and double special if that singer has 3 names (Robert Earl Keen, Gary P. Nunn, Larry Joe Walker, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc). If this is the case you might want to get a physical and check your insurance policy before attending.

Pointers and suggestions to aid in optimizing the total chili cookoff experience.

1. Arrive in pickup truck, the bigger the better. If you don't have one borrow one. You may substitute an SUV if it is the size of a small house, get 3-7 miles to the gallon and made in the USofA. What ever you drive, it must have a tailgate.

2. Ice chests. The more and the bigger the better. These should be filled with beer and ice and no more than 4-5 soft drinks and these should be Dr Peppers preferably bottled in Dublin, Texas.

3. Beer and how much. Preferably Lone Star and/or Shiner. No imported beer unless it's from Mexico. Best rule of thumb is two cases per cookoff day. In case of a beer emergency, you'll want to be able to share with a fellow in need.

4. Food. White bread, baloney, American cheese and mustard and a half dozen onions should do if you're planning full serious meals; a couple of bags of pigskins (the hot kind) if your just going to snack. You'll also need coffee and a pint of Wild Turkey or bottle of tequila to cut the dust out of your mouth in the morning.

5. Camping gear. You'll want to stay for the whole cookoff so plan to stay at least one, possibly two nights. Gear should include a sleeping bag, a gas stove, flashlight and a coffee pot. Tents are too much trouble. Typically you'll throw your sleeping bag into the bed of the truck and crash there. And don't worry about rain. It almost never rains.

6. Lawn chairs. At least two, any style.

7. Tables are optional. That's what a tailgate for.

8. A Texas flag or two.

It's aso important to know what to wear. Dress for comfort. Blue jeans are always acceptable and, in warm weather, shorts. Sandals, sneakers or hiking boots work for footwear. Or you can go barefoot. A ball cap with some sort of logo is also acceptable. The logo should be for a beer brand, a tractor brand or a football team (high school or professional). T shirts of any type with any logo or picture on front works. All shirts should have sleeves of some sort or someone might mistake you for a redneck and they won't share their beer and pig skins (the hot kind) which could be hazardous in case of a beer or food emergency. And that's how fights get started.

For women it's the same as above but tighter and shorter. (Note: if you are going to go "western' with the a cowboy hat, jeans, pearl snap shirt, boots and a dinner plate-size belt buckle then you'd better be ready to defend your cowboyness. Failing to do so is how fights get started. Most Texans don't dress like that anyways.)

Don't worry about your Yankee accent. At cookoffs everyone's welcome and everybody's equal. And please don't try to talk Texan. You won't fool anyone and that's how fights get started.

Dropping names is a good way to make friends and influence folks at a cookoff. Willie Nelson, George Jones and Bob Wills are good names to throw down. Don't ever mention Nashville. That's how fights get started.

And don't discuss politics. You might get a hold of a Yeller Dog Democrat and they're kinda touchy these days.

Most importantly eat as much chili as you are able and have as much fun as possible.

About Ron: "I've lived most of my life in Texas with the exception of a short stint living, working and studying in Europe. I'm the father of two and the grandfather of three. My favorite thing to do is wander around Texas seeing the sights, meeting the people and enjoying the varieties of it all."


terlinga - chili

To read more about the variety of cooking in Texas, from chili and BBQ to Tex-Mex, we recommend Texas Home Cooking by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison click for review

Ron at Terlingua Chili Cookoff



Chili Articles

chili article part one
chili article part two



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