Food / Travel / USA

A Chilly Chili Cook-Off

Chili hat

When living in Dallas, Texas, we learned that every day was a perfect day for chili. However, on the East Coast, it’s more of a cool-weather warmup dish. And on St. Simons Island last weekend, 47°F and blustery winds made it a perfect day for chili … and a chili cook-off.

Lighthouse and crowd

Fifteen enthusiastic teams competed in this annual charity event, each hoping to take home the “Hottest 2013” trophy.


There was an amazing array of flavors and ingredients, and honestly, no two chilis tasted alike. The entrance fee bought samples from all contestants, and three votes for the best chili. Now that’s what I call a culinary democracy.

Stirring the chili

Chili is serious business, and these chefs cooked and looked the part.

Sea Island Chefs

On the other hand, the caviar crowd wasn’t in attendance, so most folks just had fun with it.


It was great fun sampling so many types of chili, and we particularly enjoyed guessing the single spice or ingredient that made each unique.

Chili Samples

Personally, my secret ingredient is a teaspoon of cocoa powder. How about all you other chili-heads out there. What’s your secret ingredient?

Happy Heartburn,

Serious sampling

25 thoughts on “A Chilly Chili Cook-Off

    • As a traveler, my first experience with chili-spiced food (other than American Tex-Mex) was with Indonesian food that I had in the Netherlands. I enjoyed it so much, that I then found a good Indian restaruant, and it has been one of my favorites since then. However, on our travels in India, I did learn that when the menu says hot, it means HOT, so I had to be careful how I ordered.

  1. Love this post! Power of chili… Chili is really important to my cuisine. It is like drugs that you hunger for and fill the happiness in your day. If I have western food for week without something to burn my mouth it will drive me crazy and thinking about this appetite stuff all the time.

    • Luksana, you comparison to drugs is accurate. I have found that as times passes, I like my food with more and more spice. And one of the things I enjoy about Thai food, is that it can be hot and cool at the same time, like Tom Kha Gai soup. I love that stuff.

    • Thanks Debbie, for dropping by the blog and for the comment. This could be a new shopping challenge for you … a chile pepper hat for Ascot. It would certainly make splash.

  2. Yumm. I attended my first chili cook-off competition here in Colorado (Evergreen). Too bad that they only had 4-5 vegetarian chilies to try but I still had fun. I am going to try your cocoa powder idea next time I make it at home 🙂

    • Yes, there’s just something about the cocoa powder that softens and enhances the flavor of the chili. However, it’s easy to overdo it, so start with a small amount. Another thing that I usually do with chili, or for that matter any very spicy food, is to let it rest overnight before I eat it. The flavors mix and the hot and tangy spices seem to lose their edge.

  3. A bottle of Killian Red, ground pork to balance the beef, and plenty of spice. That’s how we play the chili game!

    • Hi Anita, that sounds totally delicious. You’re the second person who mentioned pork – gotta try it. And one of the chilis at the cook-off said they used beer – really tasty. Gotta try that too. ~Terri

    • Thanks for the comment Cynthia. We love Splenda around our house. I use a bit of Splenda in any of our recipes that have a sharp spice “edge.” Somehow the slight sweetness seems to soften the flavor a bit. Also, if you read the other comments, you see that folks add: coffee, italian sausage, pork, cinnamon & honey, and Killians Beer. I love chili and got some good ideas from this post. I add cocoa, so I’m interested to try the coffee. ~James

  4. Ithaca, NY has a chili festival in the winter, and boy is it freezing cold! But the chili warms you up.

    My secret ingredient is more of a different kind of chili, rather than ingredient. We love to make a mushroom chili with a few hearty kinds of mushrooms (portobellas are a must), a few kinds of beans, and the best ingredient – a tasty dark beer.

    • Hey Jen. Mushroom chili. That’s a new one, but it sounds great. As we normally say, “What’s not to like.” And one of our favorite chilis at the cookoff had beer in it as well. BTW, glad to hear that you got the apartment in Paris. We’ve booked apartments all over Europe, and sometimes, as you discovered, we have to up the budget a bit. But our choices have always turned out good, and your “gut” is important. ~James

      • Thanks for the feedback! Mushroom chili is great when you want to bring it to a party too- never know who will need vegetarian food.

        We can’t wait for our trip! We are both upping the exercise so we will be in shape for 2 straight weeks of walking and sightseeing!

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