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Dec 1, 2010 06:10 AM

Award Winning Chili?

Just informed of a Chili Cook-off going at work. I have my own go-to chili recipe, but never entered it in a cook-off. Anybody have any tips they want to share on making award winning chili?

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  1. Some people are very beanophobic, perhaps more in the SW than the NE. So you might want to offer beans as an option.

    As far as ingredients you might not think of go, I use a little cocoa in mine, beer, and corn flour (not corn meal) as a thickener.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jay F

      Real Texas Red don't have beans!

      With that said, I also put in a half a reg size dark chocolate bar. Hershey usually.

    2. Beans are against the rules in many chili cookoffs.

      If you're entering a serious cookoff use powdered onion and garlic in place of the real thing, and powdered chiles rather than fresh. Also, don't use any secret ingredients that are too radical. Chili judges have a sort of chili template in mind for what constitutes the perfect chile; stray too far from that ideal and you're left out in the cold.

      If you are dicing your beef instead of using chili grind, seek symmetry. The judges don't like different shapes and sizes of beef bits. And rinse them before cooking. Fluids from the meat can coagulate and produce less than aesthetically appealing chili.

      If you thicken your chili, use arrowroot. For whatever reason, other thickeners (such as masa harina) produce results that judges don't like.

      Do not add beer to your chili. It produces an offputting aroma.

      6 Replies
        1. re: Jay F

          Because recipes with powdered onions and garlic tend to win and recipes with fresh onion and garlic don't.

          There are exceptions, of course.

          1. re: Jay F

            With powdered onion and garlic you know exactly what you're getting and so can produce a consistent chili that meets your (and the judges) specs. Fresh ingredients, OTOH, are all over the board, and so will be the chili that's made with them.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              I think it's just preference. That logic doesn't seem to apply to other types of cooking competitions. Also, regardless of how good or bad the fresh onions and garlic available to you for a competition might be, they're really an entirely different effect and flavor than using powdered onion and garlic. Chili competition judges just seem to prefer powder, is all.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Chili cookoffs are different from other cooking competitions because chilihead culture is different. They have evolved from different cultural milieus. (I once saw a dude get his butt whupped for using the word "milieu" at Terlingua, by the by.) And on the chili cookoff grind, precision and consistency are the keys when you've got hundreds of competitors all using more or less the same ingredients. Insofar as powders are more consistent than fresh items, they are preferred.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  I don't use them in chili. I'd never even heard of substituting powders for the real thing before reading this thread.

                  I make a dry rub that contains garlic powder, but only because I want it to be nothing but a mix of powders. Other than that and a brief dalliance with Paul Prudhomme's cookbook back in '84, I've never used either one in powder form.

                  Anyway, thanks for the info.

        2. Can you find out more about how they are going to judge the chili? Are they trying to imitate a nationally recognized chili organization? Those groups publish recipes from past winners. Usually these use finely diced beef, focus on the chile powder blend, no beans, and a limited amount of vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers etc). On the other hand the judges may be looking for novelty, even favoring a baroque mixture of vegetables.

          7 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            That's right. If you're entering a cookoff sanctioned by one of the major chili organizations, you'll want to follow the advice noted above. The little, local cookoffs, OTOH, tend to be much more loosey-goosey, which means you might be rewarded for exotic ingredients and wild experimentation. But it will still have to look, taste, feel and smell good to win.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Yeah- I would guess that the feel of this thing will be fairly loose, a "let's see what everybody can do" kind of event. If it were more ICS based then the advice you gave above is spot on, but I've brought that kind of chili to casual events and been the only one with anything like it (and got very few votes for my efforts, fwiw. 'Unusual but familiar' tends to stand out in these things.)

              Keeping in the spirit of how the competition is intended I'd say that if the OP has a recipe that they are partial to then by all means submit that one. But just make sure that the ingredients are at their best, especially the chiles and beef (a more flavorful cut helps a lot), and tweak it to stand out in small doses (maybe a bit more salt than you'd normally add, or that trick of squeezing the jalapeno into it at the end, stuff like that).

              1. re: TongoRad

                Yeah, competition chili appeals far more to judges than to regular folks. It tends to be far too intense for normal consumption. That's why all of my recipes follow competition chili methodology (brown diced beef, add meat dump, add broth and gravy dump, add kicker dump at the end), but with a considerable reduction in actual spices. And I like it insanely hot and spicy, BTW.

                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                  P Khan: "add meat dump, add broth and gravy dump, add kicker dump at the end"


                  1. re: Jay F

                    A dump is simply a mixture of powdered chiles and spices. Most competition chilis contain three or four separate dumps.

              2. re: Perilagu Khan

                P Khan: "you might be rewarded for exotic ingredients and wild experimentation"

                Onions and garlic = exotic ingredients. Oy.

            2. I may be wrong here, but I think people are being a little bit too literal with the "chili cook-off" label - my impression was that the OP is just going to be participating in a workplace chili contest, not a sanctioned competition. I've won a few informal chili cook-offs with the red chili recipe in Cook's Illustrated "The Best Recipe" cookbook; if you've got that around, it's great. Some general tips:

              - Use evenly-cut 1" or so chunks of beef (brisket works well if you have time to slow-cook until it's falling apart). It's much tastier and more impressive than ground beef.
              - The chili should taste like chiles, not like tomato paste. Get the best mild chili powder you can find (Penzeys or other spice-specific shops are a good bet), preferably based on ancho and/or new mexico chiles, and use a lot. (I like mild because you can use a lot to get great chile flavor without overpowering spiciness.) Toast it a little first, then mix it with water, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper to make a paste, and sear the paste in oil a little before adding the liquid (beef stock is my favorite liquid). You can also add some canned chipotles, but scrape out the seeds first - those little suckers are hot.
              - Cook it down for a while, until the meat is fall-apart tender. At the very end, thicken and tighten it by stirring some masa harina with a little water to make a paste and stirring that into the bubbling chili until it's the right consistency.

              Good luck!

              1. I have the exact recipe that won the Terelinga contest some year's ago. Three important notes:

                1. Use finally cubed sirloin steak--not hamburger or chili grind.
                2. Use Gebhardt's chili powder exclusively. It makes all the difference in the world. (I've tried the same recipe with other powders and they're dreck.) Use 7 tablespoons of Gebhardt's as a starting point.
                3. Absolutely no beans.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Leper

                  Agree 100% on points 1 and 3. Regarding No.2, however, I prefer to use pure powdered chile (I've got a shelf containing ca. 20 different dried peppers and powdered peppers), and to add my cumin and oregano separately. It's not orthodox chili comp practice, but I like using all sorts of exotic chiles and creating unique flavors from them.