Here are some tips for hosting a chili cook off. They’ve worked for me, and hopefully they will make your party easier!
1. Use crock pots. Have everyone bring their entry to the party in a crock pot. Then plug them in to keep the chili warm. It is a good idea to have some extension cords on hand, in case you don’t have enough plugs. I was also worried about blowing a fuse at the last cook off we had, but it was a newer kitchen and we didn’t have any problems. But be aware that blowing fuses can happen, and have a back up plan.
2. Dish up the chili for judging. If everyone is voting for a favorite, it gets all crazy at the crock pots with everyone trying to maneuver and taste each entry. Instead, glue small “taster” cups onto a paper plate, with the entry number written in sharpie on each cup. (Do this ahead of time, before the cook off begins.) Fill the taster cups with each entry, leaving a spot in the middle of the plate for your palate cleanser (which can be crackers, cornbread, or my favorite, Fritos). Then hand out the paper plates to your judges. This not only eliminates chaos in the kitchen, but it also disguises whos chili is whos. After judging is over, everyone can go back for a bowl (or two) of their favorite entry.
3. Judge each chili with its accompaniments. If the chef wants cheese added to the top of his/her chili, by all means add it before judging.
4. Make sure you have enough serving utensils – each entry needs its own ladle and spoon. Ladles work great to dish up bowls of chili, but are too big to fill taster cups. Instead use a smaller spoon for that task.
5. Make the competition more fun with prizes and awards. That’s where we come in – see my earlier post about awards for ideas.
6. Bibs aren’t just for babies – they’re also for chili cook offs. We had some issues with spilling at our last cook off; some chili ended up on people’s shirts instead of their mouths! To prevent ruined clothes, I suggest disposable bibs, like the kind used for lobster bakes. I’m working on a vendor for those at the moment – check back to see when they’re in. Aprons work well too – check out our selection.
Have a great cook off and please share what has worked for you!