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   How to host a chili cook-off party Posted by Chica 
November 3, 2008 
Chica
 

My friends and I have a tradition every fall of welcoming the colder weather by having a huge chili cook-off party. Party guests each bring a pot of their favorite homemade chili recipe and everyone samples them all and chooses their favorites. We always plan the party for the same time of year that Oktoberfest events are traditionally held, and we lovingly call our cook-off “OctChiliFest”. Whenever you have it and whatever you call it, a chili cook-off is a unique way to get together with friends and have a fun, food-filled party that everyone will love.

Having held this party for about 10 years in a row now, I’ve gathered quite a few tips and ideas that help make it run smoothly, and I’d like to share them with you.

  • chili cook-off invitationInvite everyone, but pressure no one. Because all your guests will bring the food for this party, your costs as party host are minimal, so make the guest list contain as many people as you have room for. (Check out our chili cook-off invitations!) The more, the merrier, with this kind of party. Encourage your guests to bring a pot of chili to enter into the contest, but don’t make it required or pressure them to participate. As long as you end up with at least 6 or 8 chili entries, you’ll have a great contest, so don’t worry if not everybody brings some.
  • Equipment is key. Ask each participant to bring his or her chili in a slow cooker for easier serving. Have a couple of power strips and/or extension cords on hand so that you can easily plug in all those cords so that all the pots of chili can stay hot during the evening. And if you expect to have more than 5 or 6 crock pots going, you probably want to split the electric load onto two extension cords that are plugged in to two different circuits in your house. Otherwise you might overload the circuit and trip the breaker (we learned that lesson the hard way!) Keep in mind, too, that some guests will bring a ladle to go with their chili, but it’s a good idea to have some extra ladles on hand for those who forget.
  • Have the party outside if possible. If weather permits, have the party outside. Get a couple of long folding tables (or several card tables) and line them up along the house or deck for people to put their chili on. Having the tables outside will let you have more room for all those slow cookers, and give everyone plenty of space. The best part about having the chili outside is that it will keep the inevitable dropped ladles and chili drippings off your carpet and on the grass instead!
  • chili cook-offKeep the entries anonymous during tasting. Your guests will find it much more fun if you keep the entries as anonymous as possible, so label them with numbers instead of names. Our chili pot labels make this super easy to do. Everyone will chat about how chili #5 is too spicy or chili #2 has a great flavor. It’s much more exciting when you don’t know who made what!
  • Have lots of sample cups and spoons. You want to encourage everyone to sample as many chilis as possible, and the best way to do that is to have a bunch of 2-ounce plastic portion cups. Combine that with plenty of plastic spoons and you’ll see that everyone can easily get one or two bites of each chili and be able to sample them all without getting full.
  • Have some regular bowls, too! Once the sampling is over, many people want to go back and have a full serving of the chili they liked the best. So, I always keep some regular plastic bowls on hand for bigger servings later in the evening.
  • chili cook-off voting systemDecide on your voting system. This isn’t just a party — it’s a contest — and you need people to be able to vote! The simplest approach to take is to have people sample all of the entries, select their favorite, and write that number on a slip of paper and put it in a bowl. However, this approach requires that everyone who votes must sample every chili in order to be fair (how can you say this is the best if you haven’t tried them all?). For smaller groups, that might work well, but when you get more than 10 chili entries involved, not everyone will be able to sample them all, and if they do they might not be able to remember which one they liked best! In this case, you’ll need a voting ballot that allows you to sample one chili and then score it individually, then move on the next chili and the one after that, and sample as many as you can. The winner will then be the chili with the highest average score for each category. We’ve come up with a system we really like for chili cookoff voting.
  • Have prizes for the winners. People will be much more compelled to participate if you offer some great prizes for the winning chili. In the past I’ve had prizes such as gift certificates for local restaurants (Chili’s is a fitting selection), chili-themed serving platters or sauce bowls, a mini Crockpot, or cooking equipment like a cutting board or mini food processor. I’ve even played up the Oktoberfest side of the party and given customized beer steins that declare their owner the chili champion of the year. You can also design a custom T-shirt for the winners that they will be proud to wear for the rest of the party.
  • Don’t forget snacks and kid food. As great as chili is, your average person doesn’t want to eat chili all night long with nothing else. To help cleanse the palate and keep everyone’s interest, offer a few snacks like a veggie plate, cornbread, crackers and cheese, cookies, or cupcakes. And if you’re going to have kids at the party, remember that they won’t all like chili, so a platter of hot dogs and fries or tater tots will go a long way towards making them happy.
  • Have a variety of drinks on hand. Of course you’ll need to provide soda, water, and juice to your guests. If you think you might have a lot of really spicy chili entries, you might even want to have some milk on hand, for calming those fiery tongues! My friends and I tend to play up the Oktoberfest aspect of our party once again by having a wide variety of unusual beer on hand, which is also fun to sample throughout the evening.

Those are my general tips for having a successful cook-off. If you want to go the extra mile, we’ve also got a few project ideas that can make a huge impact on your party.

Voting ballots and scoring worksheet

I’ve come up with a pretty cool system for voting and some cute voting ballots to match. Check out our chili cookoff voting ballots post for more details.

chili cook-off voting ballots

Chili cook-off invitations

I made a really fun chili cookoff invitation that features a crock pot with a lid you pull to reveal party details inside. Check out our chili cookoff party invitations post to learn more.

chili cook-off party invitation

Chili cook-off organization

If you’re looking for tips for how to number your chili pots and keep them organized and neat for the cookoff, check out our chili cookoff organization post.

chili cookoff decorations

Voting / sample boards

We have the same problem every year while trying to vote: How do you hold your sample cup, spoon, voting ballot, and pen all at the same time, AND be able to mark your score on the ballots? This year Jo and I decided to create a sort of tray for each person to use that would make this all easier.

We started with some simple, inexpensive clipboards. If you time your purchase right, you can find these really cheap at back-to-school supplies closeout sales!

chili cookoff sample boards

I then took three of my 2oz sample cups and positioned them on the board in a way I liked, then drew around them with a pencil.

chili sample boardchili sample board

Next I got out my hole saw set and found the one that was the right size for my sample cups — it has to be big enough for the cup to fit into but not so big that it would fall through. Just put a cup into each of the graduated saw blades until you find one that fits just right, like this:

chili cookoff sample boards

I then attached the saw blade to my drill and took it all outside, where I cut out the three holes in each clipboard.

chili sample boardchili sample board

When all the holes were drilled, I tested to make sure my cups fit and the result was great!

chili cookoff sample boards

I then took some 24″ lengths of ribbon and tied one to each clipboard and tied a pen on the end. I used a different pattern of ribbon for each board, so that people could remember which board was theirs during the evening (as in, “mine is the one with pink polka-dots!”). The voting ballots fit nicely in the clip and the hard surface and attached pen made score keeping so much easier for everyone.

chili sample boardchili sample board

We found after using these boards a couple of years that the surface wasn’t very easy to clean, so Jo later came up with a way to make them easier to wipe clean AND cuter, to boot. Check out her updated voting boards post to see how she turned them into this!

chili cook-off voting boards

If you like these ideas but need some help with the details, you might want to check out our Chili Cookoff Printables collection that’s available on Etsy.

chili cookoff printables

This collection has tons of coordinating printables that will help you make:

And for one last bit of inspiration, here are some fun decorations to add. I love these festive chili pepper dishes for condiments like cheese and sour cream, and decoration is easy with chili pepper garland and chili pepper confetti. And who doesn’t love a pinata?

Fiesta Chili Pepper Serving DishesFiesta Chili Pepper GarlandChili Pepper ConfettiChili Pepper Pinata

94 comments so far:

  1. Rachel said: (November 3rd, 2008 at 1:53 pm)

    This sounds like SO much fun! I really want to do this, any excuse to make my favorite chili. =) I’ll be linking.

  2. Kira said: (November 4th, 2008 at 5:04 pm)

    I love love love!!! (was that emphatic enough?) the sampler-voting-clipboard. Sheesh…you are one creative-creator!

  3. Chica said: (November 4th, 2008 at 5:15 pm)

    Thanks to you both!

    Kira, that clipboard idea was several years in the making… I finally came up with a great voting system this year and my friends really liked it, too. Your blog looks really fun. Thanks for commenting so that we could find out about you! :)

  4. Pye said: (December 14th, 2008 at 10:17 pm)

    Wow! You have covered everything! And the clipboards are a FABULOUS idea! THANK YOU! We’re just having a small cookoff/potluck with our staff at school to boost morale, but you’ve taken all the guesswork out of it for me!

  5. Chica said: (December 15th, 2008 at 8:47 am)

    Thanks, Pye. Good luck with your cookoff!

  6. DarStar said: (December 24th, 2008 at 3:13 am)

    You all are FABULOUS! On a whim i suggested a cookoff on the eve of new year’s eve. i neglected to think i would be the one to organize. your information is spot on. my event is for work and i have, of course, zero budget right now but i am a huge fan of trophies – and there will be some. thanks again for sharing your fantastic tips. i hope our event, to be annual, is successful and FUN! Thanks again.

  7. Chica said: (December 24th, 2008 at 10:59 am)

    Thanks so much for the great comments, DarStar!

    One idea popped into my head regarding low-budget trophies… chili is full of beans, and beans are cheap. Perhaps you can get a bag of dry beans and hot glue them all over something like a wood block, a bowl, or even an old trophy?

    Good luck with your event. Let us know how it goes :)

  8. Sandie said: (March 13th, 2009 at 1:44 pm)

    I’m planning my 4th annual chili cookoff. I like your voting ideas. We have ours in June of every year and everyone looks forward to it; it’s so FUN. We bought an actual trophy cup with our party title engraved on it. The 1st place winner get’s their name and year engraved on a plaque on the trophy and keeps the cup all year until the next cookoff (like the stanley cup). Our #1 rule is no crockpots. All chili has to be cooked in our back yard on portable stoves. It’s an all day event!

  9. Chica said: (March 13th, 2009 at 2:06 pm)

    Sandie, that sounds like so much fun! I love that you have all-day outdoor event, and I really love the trophy idea. Maybe I can get one for our next cook-off :)

  10. Barb said: (July 20th, 2009 at 11:35 am)

    Thanks so much for all the ideas. Our church is hosting a cookoff for the ladies in Oct. Since I had been a participant in a previous cook off. I was volunteered as hostess for this event. Though I have some ideas of what to do. I had never thought of the fairness issue on the voting before. I will def use your ideas on that. I also like the ideas of gift cert. for prizes. Since we are non profit and doing this as a fundraiser for another local non profit group. I am going to see if any of the area restaraunts will donate gc for prizes, and the trophy bean idea sound so fun:D Thanks again for all the great ideas. I am excited and cant wait for Oct to get here.

  11. Chica said: (July 20th, 2009 at 11:50 am)

    Hi Barb! Sounds like you’ve got a fun event planned. We’d love to hear all about your party when it’s over!

  12. Lisa said: (July 22nd, 2009 at 3:26 pm)

    Thank you so much for the great ideas! My husband is turning 40 next month and I was searching for a creative idea for his surprise party. I often host large events for our church and he’s always wanted me to do a chili cook-off. My 14 year old son said, “Why don’t you do that cook-off that dad always wants?” PERFECT IDEA! And finding all your great, detailed info will make my job sooooo much easier! Thank you, thank you!

  13. Chica said: (July 22nd, 2009 at 3:32 pm)

    What a fun idea, Lisa. Your son is so smart :) I’m glad we could help with some ideas. We’d love to hear how your party goes!

  14. Debbie said: (August 22nd, 2009 at 2:12 pm)

    Hi! I really like what you have done! I am hosting a chili cookoff for our neighborhood. I’m stuck on trying to figure out what to do to ge the people down and how to keep kids interested, Any ideas? I’m not creative enough to think of anything. We have already done 3 legged races,and such this year and I don’t want to do them again. Any help would be great!

  15. Rachel said: (August 24th, 2009 at 2:39 pm)

    Thanks for the great site. My friends of the library group is going to be doing a chili cook off as a fundraiser during the town fall festival and your site took all the guess work out for me!

    Debbie, as far as keeping kids entertained maybe you could set up a craft table so each kid could decorate pumpkins or make Halloween decorations. You could also try bobbing for apples, hay hurtles (race while jumping over hay bales), or a scavenger hunt.

  16. Jo said: (August 24th, 2009 at 4:16 pm)

    Rachel, glad you found us and hope your fundraiser is a great success. Please bookmark us because we are going to be adding to our chili cook off ideas within the next month as we gear up for our next chili party. Great ideas for helping Debbie out as well.

    Debbie, in addition to Rachel’s ideas, you could also have a cupcake decorating table for the kids and adults. It’s nice to have a little bit of sweet to eat after all that chili. You can have bags of the swirled icing made ahead of time if you want. Set out a few bowls of sprinkles and let the kids have a great time decorating and eating! Another inexpensive and fun activity is finger painting with Jell-o. Kids love it and they make an interesting texture on the paper. Check out our kid section for some other ideas as well.

  17. mmsalmon said: (August 26th, 2009 at 7:43 pm)

    We hosted a chili challenge last fall! I had all the items in your suggestions above. I supplied baked potatoes for people to top with chili and fixin’s if they wanted something a lttle more hearty. Our catagories included Best Tasting and Most Unusual.

    I really like the clipboard idea!

  18. Chica said: (August 26th, 2009 at 7:56 pm)

    Hi mmsalmon. Baked potatoes are a great idea, thanks so much for sharing!

  19. Toni said: (September 8th, 2009 at 3:34 pm)

    I love this site.. I am working on hosting my 4th Annual Chili Cook off and I found your site while looking for more catagory ideas. I like to change up my voting catagories to keep my guests on thier toes. I love the Clip Board idea! I wanted to share one of my favorite catagories with everyone. Best Presenation, I have the contestants dress up their pots, like Halloween costumes and we give a prize for the one with the most presntation votes. Prize for the catagory are two CRAZY Hats they wear for the night. It is so fun!

  20. Chica said: (September 8th, 2009 at 3:45 pm)

    Hi Toni! Thanks for saying hello, and I’m glad we can help inspire you. I like the idea of having different categories each year. The presentation idea sounds like a lot of fun! If you have any pictures from of some of the best costumes, we’d love to see them in our Flickr group.

  21. Jocelyn said: (September 29th, 2009 at 4:28 pm)

    This Halloween will be the second chili cook-off I’m hosting. This year, though, we are going to have scorecards and a trophy for the winner! Your website is just what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing all of these great ideas!

  22. Jo said: (September 29th, 2009 at 4:49 pm)

    Jocelyn, glad we could help! Make sure to come back next week. We will have another chili party related post then.

  23. Debbie Baker said: (October 2nd, 2009 at 4:14 pm)

    I opened my mouth at work about having a chili cookoff to collect money for a charity very near and dear to our employees hearts. Everyone loved it and now I’m in charge. HELP! We only have about 50 employees at our site. Should we charge an entry fee and then charge employees to taste and vote? We thought having a four week contest. Drawing names of entries and so many go that week, pick a winner, so many go the next week, pick a winner until we had 3 or 4 go head to head. Do you think that would hold employees attention week after week?

  24. Chica said: (October 2nd, 2009 at 4:21 pm)

    What a great idea for raising money, Debbie. I think charging an entry fee might discourage participation, and you want as many chili entries as possible. Instead, I think a tasting fee would be the better way to go. That way, people are getting a nice lunch for their money, and the money can go to the charity.

    As for stretching it out to four weeks, I think that will depend on your co-workers — how many of them will want to bring chili and how many of them will want to keep eating chili every week :) Maybe just two rounds or three rounds instead of four?

    Don’t forget to offer prizes to the winners, which will encourage people to bring in their chili to compete. Try asking some local businesses for donations (like restaurant gift certificates). Since the event is for charity, you may get some really great responses.

    Good luck, and please let us know how it turns out!

  25. Julie said: (October 20th, 2009 at 1:57 pm)

    Throphy idea, I found this idea on line then hit the trift stores. I found a brass looking bowl that looked like a little crock, cut a round styrofoam ball in half, put that in there then I inserted a spoon filled the pot with beans (i mixed the beans with a clear drying glue) and sprayed the whole thing gold. I also bought a throphy and took it apart and used the base and had a plate engraved for the front.

  26. Chica said: (October 20th, 2009 at 2:04 pm)

    Julie, I love that idea! Do you have a photo you can share with us?

  27. Cindy said: (October 21st, 2009 at 10:42 am)

    Wow! Love, love, love your ideas! My husband and I have been hosting a chili cook off at our lake home for the last 5 years and it is such a BLAST! We always give a trophy away that we have engraved with the name of our place “Maker’s Landing” and the 5th annual or whatever year it is on it. It has a big pot of chili on top of it. Plus we have a plaque that has brass strips that is engraved with that years winner on it that we proudly display at our bar in our home. In past years my husband and I have been the judges for the cook off and this year I am wanting everyone to participate in the judging.

    We do like you do in that we have all the chili’s put in a slow cooker and use the electrical strips, makes things so much easier.

    I found the cutest door prize tickets at Dollar Tree this year that we are going to use and give out door prizes every half hour. I make lots of crafts so I have made some to give away, plus we will have cd’s, dvd’s, t-shirts, hats, etc. to give away also.

    I love your balloting ideas and especially the clipboard idea..BRILLIANT! This is such a GREAT time and ours is this Saturday matter of fact…the weather has to have a chill in the air! Gotta love chili season! Thanks for all your neat ideas and sharing them!

  28. Chica said: (October 21st, 2009 at 10:59 am)

    Hi Cindy! Welcome to our site and thanks for your great comments. Your chili cook-off sounds like quite the event. Door prizes are like a really fun way to keep the party going, and I’m crazy about your trophy and plaque idea. I think you’ll enjoy having the guests vote this year — it certainly adds a new element to the party, and it’s lots of fun.

    Now I’m hungry for chili. Hmm.. I think I’m free Saturday if you need more guests! Hehe :)

  29. Christina said: (October 21st, 2009 at 12:17 pm)

    Awesome ideas! Hay Hurdles is a new idea that I will be using. We do a chili cook off as a Fall fellowship event at church and finish off the night with a camp fire & smores. Our Grand Prize is an apron personalized with the church logo and date that I print off my computer and iron. It’s a great prize and costs about $5.

  30. Chica said: (October 21st, 2009 at 12:27 pm)

    An apron is an excellent idea, Christina! It would be a good prize for anybody who wins (male or famale, young or old!)

  31. Hot Pants said: (October 21st, 2009 at 11:17 pm)

    Great ideas!
    This is our First Annual Block Party

  32. Donna said: (October 29th, 2009 at 9:05 pm)

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. And thanks to your fans for sharing theirs! I appreciate the time it takes to simply help others make life more fun. I have a limited # of contestants – 4 so far, with about 35 tasters. Do you think tasters could simply put a tally mark in a drawn on box on the table cloth by their favorite chili? Do you see any problems (aside from cheaters!) w/ that?

  33. Chica said: (October 30th, 2009 at 7:33 am)

    Hi Donna, and thanks for your lovely comments. While I like the simplicity of your voting idea, I worry that it won’t be as fun because the winner won’t be a surprise. Everyone will know the ‘score’ as the night progresses, which takes some of the fun out of the big reveal.

    Here’s another very simple voting idea that you might like. Get a small container (like a can) with a lid and cut a slot in it. Then hand each taster a small token like a poker chip when they arrive, and let them drop it into the can for the chili they like best. The lid will keep the votes from view, and the voting process is very simple.

    Good luck with your cook-off and let us know how it goes!

  34. Ran said: (November 4th, 2009 at 6:36 pm)

    We have a big prize for the winners, and then a small humorous fun prize for everyone (roll of Tums). This will be our third “annual” cook-off.

  35. Chica said: (November 5th, 2009 at 8:19 am)

    Ran, rolls of Tums are a great idea! I’ve also given out a bottle of Beano as a joke prize in the past :)

  36. Barb said: (November 11th, 2009 at 12:02 pm)

    When you judge the chili, do you judge with any condements the cook brings in with their chili or do you just judge the chili only?

  37. Chica said: (November 11th, 2009 at 12:14 pm)

    Barb, that’s your call, but I usually judge with whatever accompaniments the chef has brought. For example, I remember Jo made hot dogs with chili one year, so we judged that as a whole.

  38. Barbara G said: (November 21st, 2009 at 6:59 am)

    This will be a lifesaver for me for our first cook-off! I love the idea of the clipboard,probably wouldn’t have thought about it until I saw the people lining up, wondering what to do with what. Thanks.

  39. Chica said: (November 21st, 2009 at 9:16 am)

    Barbara G, I’m glad we could help. Our clipboards system definitely evolved over time. If you come up with any ideas after your cook-off, please share them with us. Have fun!

  40. Heidi said: (December 13th, 2009 at 11:04 pm)

    If everyone brings the chili in a crock-pot, everyone will see who brought which one and can vote that way. Have you ever had that problem?

  41. Chica said: (December 14th, 2009 at 6:53 am)

    Hello Heidi! Our guests are usually so busy talking to each other and having fun that they don’t pay attention to who brings in each crockpot. However, if you think it will be a concern, you could always take them from your guests as they enter and put them in the kitchen, then bring them all out at once after everyone has arrived.

  42. Carrie said: (December 16th, 2009 at 4:41 pm)

    Thanks for posting all this information! I’m working to put together a church chili cook-off, and your site is a life saver.

    I’m so glad I found your site, now I need to check out everything else!

  43. Chica said: (December 17th, 2009 at 8:04 am)

    Hi Carrie! We’re so glad we were able to help you out with your cook-off. Please let us know how it goes.

    We’re also happy that you’ve found our site, and we invite you to browse all our other projects. You may also want to subscribe via e-mail or RSS so you don’t miss any new posts!

  44. Angela said: (January 5th, 2010 at 2:18 am)

    I love your ideas, especially the clip boards and oven liners!! Question…where do you buy this plastic cups that you put in the clip boards? Thanks for all the great tips!

  45. Chica said: (January 5th, 2010 at 6:55 am)

    Hi Angela, and thanks! Those plastic cups are called “2-ounce portion cups and are available on Amazon or sometimes at party stores or restaurant supply stores.

  46. Angela said: (January 8th, 2010 at 10:52 pm)

    I’m so excited to use your ideas at our party. FYI, I ordered he portion cups from a website called Webstaurant and they were $20.99(plus shipping) for 2500 (Dart brand)cups. I also ordered the oven liners – already forgot from where-haha. I ordered 48 clipboards for $39 from a website called DollarDays ($5 off for new customers and found a coupon code for $10 off so that almost paid for the shipping). Thanks again for all the great ideas – you rock!

  47. Jo said: (January 9th, 2010 at 11:25 am)

    Angela, so glad we could help! We would love to see pictures of your event if you would like to email them to us or put them in our Flikr group!

  48. Janet said: (February 18th, 2010 at 1:34 pm)

    Thanks for all the great ideas. I’m in charge of our church cook-off scheduled for next month and I was in a panic. You have simplified it all for me. Much appreciated.

  49. Chica said: (February 18th, 2010 at 1:43 pm)

    Hi Janet! We’re glad we could help. Good luck with your cook-off and let us know how it goes :)

  50. myra fine said: (March 16th, 2010 at 12:35 pm)

    I want to do a first ever chili cookoff for the Heart Transplant Foundation as a fund raiser. Your ideas are great and am looking forward to using them.

  51. Chica said: (March 16th, 2010 at 12:44 pm)

    What a wonderful idea, myra! Good luck and let us know how it goes :)

  52. Jen said: (June 22nd, 2010 at 11:32 pm)

    I have a question. It may sound dumb, but when guests arrive with their crockpots, how do you prevent others from seeing thier crockpots?

    For instance, if “John” arrives with a blue crockpot and others see it, they will know it’s John’s chili when they see the blue crockpot during the tasting.

  53. Chica said: (June 23rd, 2010 at 6:57 am)

    That’s a good question, Jen, and a tricky situation to resolve. One option is for the host to take the crockpots when someone arrives and put them in another location until there are a few of them collected, then move them all at once. If you’re really serious about keeping anonymity, you could ask your guests to drop their chili off at your house before the party starts. Keeping the crockpots in an area other than where the guests are gathered and talking also helps. In reality, most of your guests will be distracted talking to each other and having too much fun to even notice who brings which chili :)

  54. Colleen Tschetter said: (August 17th, 2010 at 12:17 am)

    Thank you for all your good ideas. this will be our 4th chili cook-off, and we came up with prizes that allour friends fight for. We did 3 catagories of chili- for the best over all we mounted a golden ladle on a plaque that my daughter wood burns with the winners name on. the hottest has a wooden spoon that is burned off at the end. And most original chili has a wooded fork onit. they all get names put on for the winner each year. And the winners also get an apron that has the name of our challange on it that they get to keep. We call this the “Tschetter Tschili Tschallenge” Tschetter is pronounced-Chedder.

  55. Jo said: (August 17th, 2010 at 7:18 am)

    Colleen, love the burned spoon trophy idea! How creative.

  56. Gordon said: (September 7th, 2010 at 12:14 pm)

    Thank you for all the very good ideas, We are planning our very first cookoff and your ideas will definitely help make ours a success. The detailed information is outstanding!!!!

  57. Sue Bondie said: (October 12th, 2010 at 1:36 pm)

    Chica & Jo,

    Thank you, for all the great ideas. This site really assisted with helping us start our annual Chili Cook-Off, ours is the 2nd weekend in Oct. so has the feel of an Octoberfest. Your site gave us a good base to start from. We just hosted our 2nd last weekend. It was a HUGE sucess, we leared some do’s and dont’s from last year.

    We give the option on the invites of being a cook, judge or just an eater. Since we had so many entries, last year we found many didn’t sample all Chili’s the judging wasn’t fair, so this year anyone that wasn’t a cooker could put their name in a hat to be a Judge, we pulled 7 names. When the guests arrived with their chili, we used name tags, stuck them on the table in front of their chili with their name,then I assigned each a secret letter, we put the letters on the tasting cups with a sharpie, filled the tasting cups for the judges and brought to the judges table on platers to ensure a blind tasting.

    We give out a chili pot trophy for 1st, silver medal chili pot for 2nd and bronze chili pot medal for third from Trophys2go, each engraved with the year etc… also gave each entry a thank you gift, this year I found nice Coca cola mugs I picked up from the Dollar Tree,and filled them with candy corn and peanuts, tied a thank you tag on them.

    For extra food, I make a house Chili that is more basic and not too spicy, nacho chips and cheese and hot dogs. They put the chili on their nachos and hot dogs. We also include Sam Adams October Ale to go along with the theme of the day. Ohh and don’t forget to put a large bottle of Tums on the table :)

    We included a 50/50 raffle, raffled off a Halloween and Game Day themed baskets, we have Texas Hold Em tourneys through the day, bouncy for the kids, good music and of course a big bonfire. Fun for all ages! Thank you again for assisting in making our Chili Cook-Off a SUCCESS!

  58. Chica said: (October 12th, 2010 at 2:40 pm)

    Sue, thanks so much for sharing the details of your event with us. Sounds like you had a great cook-off!

  59. Kathy Doran said: (May 16th, 2011 at 9:43 am)

    Chica and Jo,

    Thank you so much for the wonderful ideas for a Chili Tasting Party. We just had our first Annual (or possibly semi-annual) chili tasting competition at our Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post. We made the clipboards. Our veterans and their families had a wonderful time. We used the function as a fundraiser for the Post’s new kitchen. Again, thank you for providing the ideas and guidance enabling us to have a very successful event.

  60. Chica said: (May 16th, 2011 at 12:01 pm)

    Kathy, we’re so glad that our tips helped you plan what sounds like an amazing party! If you post pictures online, let us know… we’d love to see them :)

  61. Stephanie said: (October 8th, 2011 at 11:21 am)

    Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas – this sounds perfect!

  62. Sunny Marrone said: (October 11th, 2011 at 8:37 pm)

    Conrats to who organized this and came up with all the ideas, the voting ballot and the scoring system…my quests were in awe over my party! …we all loved it and had a great time at our party! Thanks so much!

  63. Chica said: (October 12th, 2011 at 6:59 am)

    That’s great to hear, Sunny! You’re very welcome!

  64. Libby Adkins said: (October 17th, 2011 at 1:45 pm)

    My neighbor and I have a joint chili cook-off every October, usually the week-end before Halloween. We invite all of our neighbors and we have about 30 or so pots of chili. We make up new categories every year, complete with trophies and presentation! Strangest ingredient (edible), Dress up your chili pot, Name your chili, Most ingredients… we’ve really came up with some good ones over the years, and as always their is the “Crowd Favorite”, that’s the same title every year. We order trophies from Ole Season’s Shoppe in Morehead, Ky 606-793-1509. The trophies have a pot of chili on top, really cute!

  65. Chica said: (October 17th, 2011 at 6:08 pm)

    Libby, you guys really go all out! I love how you change up the categories each year. I’m having my chili cookoff this coming weekend… I’m so hungry for chili!

  66. drafted said: (October 26th, 2011 at 11:57 am)

    THANKS! all this info has really saved my bacon, I am having to pull an office chili fundraiser out of a hat and with all this info it will be a piece of cake.

  67. Eeseagle said: (October 28th, 2011 at 8:19 am)

    First page I found when I googled “how to host a chili cookoff” only one I used – Love the labels. Thank you for providing everything! I only had a week to pull this together – LIFE SAVER.

  68. nan said: (December 28th, 2011 at 1:28 am)

    We are having a chili cookoff as a cubscout fundraiser. Do you have an ideas for me on how I can charge people and what would be an appropriate amount. Should we charge an entry fee or by cup or a flat rate to sample them all? Looking forward to any suggestions.

  69. Chica said: (December 28th, 2011 at 7:22 am)

    Nan, my thought would be that the way you charge should depend on how certain you will be ahead of time as to the number of chili entries in the contest. In other words, if you end up with only three chilis but charge by the cup, you’re not going to make much money unless you charge a lot for each cup, in which case nobody will want to buy any. However, if you end up with 100 chilis, you could easily charge a hefty flat rate and people would be happy to pay it to get to sample so much. There are so many ways you can do it, so hopefully you can consider your audience and choose the best solution. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  70. Debe said: (January 5th, 2012 at 10:57 am)

    I am the Events Coordinator at a winery and this year we are hosting our 13th annual Chili Cook Off. Last year we had 500 people attend with 91 chili entries. We have 4 catagories to enter chili and 3 judges per catagory. We have developed our own scoring system that seems to work very well. I use 6 hole disposible muffin tins with papers for sampling and our guests love it!

  71. Chica said: (January 5th, 2012 at 11:58 am)

    Debe, I love the idea of using disposable muffin tins! Even non-disposable ones would work great for a smaller party, if you’re lucky enough to find them at a dollar store or on sale. We (and our readers) would love to hear about your scoring system, especially with such a large crowd with so many entries!

  72. Jennifer said: (January 7th, 2012 at 3:05 pm)

    Thank you for all of your great tips. I am hosting my first chili cook off party and I am curious as to how to invite people without saying they have to bring chili ? I want to have enough entries but I don’t want it to be mandatory. Any suggestions?

  73. Chica said: (January 7th, 2012 at 3:28 pm)

    Jennifer, I would just make it clear in your invitation that bringing your own chili is optional, perhaps with wording like “If you want to show off your recipe, bring a pot of chili to share” or “Appetites are required; chili is optional”.

  74. Kathy said: (January 11th, 2012 at 4:59 pm)

    Wow…what great ideas. I too volunteered to host one and had no idea really how to make it a success…but YOU and your readers do…Thank Goodness. Ours will be at the end of Feb for a church fundraiser. all ideas for how to raise funds much appreciated!
    We are in Florida…so we may be able to be outside. So many great ideas…do you have a vegetarian category ever?

  75. Chica said: (January 11th, 2012 at 7:06 pm)

    So glad we could help you out, Kathy! We have had vegetarian chilis entered in our cook-off, but have never had a category specifically for them. Good luck with your cook-off!

  76. Ruth said: (January 26th, 2012 at 5:41 pm)

    Awesome! You are taking a lot of the work out of this idea for me. I am hoping to host chili cook off with our motorcycle group. I have only scratched the surface of this great page, but bookmarked and definitely will be using it.
    Tks

    Ruth President STAR Touring and Riding Chapter 182 (Colorado)

  77. Cheryl said: (January 28th, 2012 at 7:53 pm)

    Chica and Jo,

    Thanks so much for this great website. I’m preparing for my first chili cook-off and feel so much more confident because I’m doing lots that you do. I think numbering the pots is a great idea. I was thinking of leaving people’s names on them, but I think I like numbering them better. However another site said that if people had their names on them and it wasn’t anyomous that the cooks could then introduce their chili to the crowd, sort of like a chef might introduce his dish? What do you think? Thanks Cheryl

  78. Chica said: (January 28th, 2012 at 9:40 pm)

    Cheryl, I like the name idea as well, but if you want to keep things anonymous you could try a mix of both ideas — maybe have the chefs describe their chilis on a card and post that near each pot of chili? Good luck with your cook-off!

  79. Cheryl said: (January 31st, 2012 at 8:23 pm)

    Thanks Chica, that’s perfect. I’ll do just that.

  80. Ginny said: (February 8th, 2012 at 8:37 pm)

    I am hosting a chili cook off with my Youth Group at Church to beneifit our local food bank. I need table center piece ideas. We are decorating with sombraros and maracas. Any IDEAS???

    I love alot of the stuff on your website and plan to incorporate alot of it into what we are doing.

  81. Chica said: (February 9th, 2012 at 7:00 am)

    Ginny, how about using a pile of fresh chilis or red bell peppers as a centerpiece? Or you could use some chili-shaped dishes and fill them with condiments like cheese and sour cream.

  82. Lori said: (February 9th, 2012 at 1:47 pm)

    OMG, this site is AMAZING! You girls have GREAT ideas and THANKS for sharing your ideas!!! My husband and 3 of his brother all make their own “special” chili. I thought it would be fun to have a Chili cook-off this year. I had a few minutes last week and goggled Chili Cook-off ideas. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have found your site. Now, I’m off to make the Valentine’s card for my hubby using one of your ideas as well. I’ll be a frequent visitor!!!

    Question: are the clipboards letter size or legal size?

  83. Chica said: (February 10th, 2012 at 6:59 am)

    Lori, we’re so happy you’ve found us! We hope you continue to enjoy our numerous projects, and good luck with your chili cook-off!

    The clipboards we used are letter size, but you can certainly use legal if that’s all you can find.

  84. Rae said: (August 20th, 2012 at 10:52 pm)

    Oh what great ideas I found here! I am trying to plan my first chili cookoff fundraiser for ALS Guardian Angels (ALS = Lou Gehrig’s Disease) I went to one once many years ago and now I find myself doing it on my own. I will definately use some of your ideas. We are going to have people bring the chili already made and put out “donation” jars at each pot of chili and people will put quarters in the ones they really like. The chili with the most money raised will get the “people’s choice” award. I can’t wait to get started. It’s gonna be a blast!

  85. Chica said: (August 21st, 2012 at 8:12 am)

    Rae, I absolutely LOVE the idea of using quarters as a way to vote. What a fantastic way to tie in the fundraising!

  86. shana said: (September 1st, 2012 at 12:21 am)

    We are having our 2nd annual cook off this weekend. We have 2 winners, best chili and kids choice, we have more kidsss than sense at some parties!

    we tried colored dots for voting and that caused issues because their were two different blues! haha

    this year I think i will give everyone a tongue depresser, jumbo for grownups and regular for kids. they can put their choice in a jar next to the chili…

    i liked the pan idea though!

  87. Lori said: (September 2nd, 2012 at 9:22 pm)

    Had my first Chili Cook-off party on 9/1/12 and it was a huge success. Thanks for all your great ideas, as I got so many complements and even got calls the next day thanking me! What I might tweek for next year: I might add three more holes to the clipboard so the participants will be able to judge more than three at a time. We also made up the samples in the clipboards and took them out to people since we only had five entries. This way no one knew who they were voting for (we used the children at the party to deliver). Again THANK YOU for sharing the ideas!

  88. Gwen said: (September 24th, 2012 at 9:17 am)

    Ladies, just had to say thank you!! Your website is so helpful! We’re doing our very first chili cookoff with our church in October and really appreciate all the info on how to do one, as well as all the fun things, like invitations, too! Thanks for making this process so easy for us!

  89. Chica said: (September 24th, 2012 at 9:44 am)

    So glad we could help, Gwen. Have a great cookoff!

  90. Traci said: (January 4th, 2013 at 12:38 pm)

    Thanks for your post. It will be very helpful in planning the first chili cook-off for our church. Great ideas!

  91. Bret said: (July 11th, 2013 at 8:09 pm)

    I have hosted a chili cookoff for the past fifteen years. You have some great ideas here but our problem is the voting always involves cheating. It is all in fun and everyone has a good time but it would be nice if we could have a true winner one time. Terrific web site.

  92. Patti said: (September 17th, 2013 at 1:55 pm)

    This will be my first time to do a chilli cook off for 2014 I’m so glad i found this website and i’m going to do it your way.I’m going to change it a bit for voting im just going to have rate each pot 1-5 then add up each pot to see who has the biggest number I will post next year to let you know how it went.
    Patti
    Brent i can’t believe that people would cheat.To solve that just set up a table and put up a cut plywood in front of the pots so no one can see the pots.

  93. Jennifer said: (February 26th, 2014 at 12:37 pm)

    I am planning a western themed first birthday party for my son. I was thinking of having guests bring chili and I will provide all the fixins and sides. I am stuck on the wording for the invite, as it not required that they bring chili. Any ideas? Thanks so much!

  94. Chica said: (February 27th, 2014 at 9:15 am)

    Jennifer, sounds like a fun idea! How about play off your guests’ competitive spirit and say something like, “Do you think your chili is the best in town? Fire up the chuckwagon and bring a pot of your best to serve up to the cowboys!”

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