Photo: Dlyan Frout, Unsplash
Chili cook-off posts are popping up all over social media. As the fall season looms, let’s take a look at how you can prepare your family, friends and fridge for a day of fun foodie competition.
If potluck dinners were the fad of the fifties, and cocktail parties were all the rage in the sixties—where does that leave us lowly millennials? Don’t fret. Just check your Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest feed, and you’ll see a whole world of foodie collaboration gaining popularity. One phenomenon, in particular, had a huge ‘moment’ last fall and winter season, and that’s the chili cook-off.
Before chili competitions hit the mainstream, there were plenty of major cook-offs taking place across America—and the world. To this day, many are still organized by the International Chili Society, a group of chili enthusiasts who have been crockpotting for over fifty years. Today, they’re fittingly sponsored by Bush’s Baked Beans (clearly, these people take the craft seriously).
But beyond the state fairs and festivals, chili cook-offs have become quite the trend as of late. Now, everyone from home chefs to culinary professionals are showing off their stew-making skills in contests both public and private. While we all aspire for Michelin greatness, today, we’re going to focus on the types of cook-offs taking place at home.
The premise is simple: invite your friends and family, tell each person (or couple) to bring a batch of their signature chili, and prepare for a fantastic day of cutthroat competition. Why is the chili battle so enticing? To start, it taps into our competitive spirits, taking the typical ‘bring a dish’ request into an actual event full of fun anticipation.
What’s more, chili cook-offs cater to another human desire: hunger. Is a game of monopoly going to fill your tummy? Will a game of flag football send you home with leftovers? We think not. Therefore, it seems only natural that people who love food embrace this unique chance to interact with friends while testing their culinary chops. Not to mention, there has to be a winner. And when there’s a winner, there’s a prize.
Traditional recipes are usually comprised of ground beef, beans, chiles, onions, tomatoes and a host of everyday spices. However, the chili community is indeed an inclusive one. Today, chefs are swapping out the main protein for tons of other options including chicken, ground turkey, pork chili, tofu and beyond. They’re also toying with different ethnic ingredients and flavor profiles, which breathes much-needed life into our grandma’s back-of-the-packet recipe.
If you’re a beginner, we recommend exploring some popular recipes online (such as Ree Drummond’s Simple Chili, Bobby Flay’s Red Beef Chili, Gordon Ramsay’s Chili Con Carne, Taste of Home’s White Chicken Chili, or Robin Miller’s Vegetarian Chili). Then, put a special spin on it. By adding an unexpected spice, local vegetables, a unique cheese, or some other outside-the-box topping, you help your chili stand out. This is the only way to win over the taste buds of friends and family. Browse Pinterest or a similar food-focused site, and you’ll get tons of inspiration. People put coffee, sriracha, chocolate, olive, mango—even lager in chili. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to step into your hosting shoes. Let’s cover the key criteria necessary for a successful chili contest.
Photo Annie Spratt, Unsplash
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