Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jun 3, 2013 11:29 AM

ISO Chili Cook Off Advice.

CCOs are hardly known here in the UK, but this year a series of charitable contests are taking place and I've entered our local event which is on 27 July.

I've never done anything like this, so I'm looking to my Hound friends for a little help. Any tips to wow the judges please?

Please don't trouble to post full recipes, just some pointers like "don't ever add chocolate" or "organic beef makes a real difference" would be much appreciated.

It's a fundraiser for a children's' hospice, so I want to put in some real effort.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Chili cookoff winner here! Ground turkey habanero chili to be exact.

    I always add unsweetend chocolate.

    I simmer a few habanero peppers in my chili which I remove before serving.

    I also dont use a lot of tomato.

    I rehydrate a few dry ancho peppers and use their meat (scraped from the dry skin). I usually make them into a paste with my chili powder, cumin, adobo and chocolate, which I then stir intothe chili at the beginning.

    Beer is the liquid i add.

    3 Replies
    1. re: C. Hamster

      Never done a cookoff, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard you need to go for a different flavor profile than you would if cooking for a meal. That is, you can't think about someone eating a whole bowl - they're going to have a spoonful. So flavors have to pop in a way that would be too much for a big portion.

      If that's the case, any suggestions for how to adjust a typical recipe?

      1. re: C. Hamster

        Hamsters got some pretty good recommendations. Something he didn't mention, is don't use lean turkey, although he might.

        1. re: hankstramm


          Well all turkey is pretty lean but I use the higher fat kind. Both white and dark meat.

          Ground all white meat turkey is useless.

      2. I think that your biggest challenge is going to be obtaining pure ground Chili in the U.K. .
        Do you have access to Ancho, New Mxico or Guajillo chili powders?
        As for tips:
        Add your spices in batches also know as "dumps" usually 3( the last 20 min or so before the end of cooking)
        This add to the depth and complexity of the finished dish.
        Do not make it to lean. Chili should be pretty rich.
        Bacon never hurts.

        Good Luck

        12 Replies
        1. re: chefj

          Use a mix of dried chilis (new mexico, cascobel if you want some heat, ancho, pastilla, chipotle in adobe or dried) - toast the dried chilis lightly and then grind them to make your own powder - if you're using chipotle in sauce, add that to the ground - to this add a cup of very strong coffee so you get a nasty delicious slurry - most chili powders have the same taste and no depth. add the slurry to your browned meat and whatever else you're using. yes to a bit of chocolate: I like an ounce of unsweetened grated into the slurry mess.

          1. re: teezeetoo

            Did you mean to post this to the O.P.? He/She is in the UK and I highly doubt that they can obtain any Mexican Chilis to grind their own powder. They will be lucky to get pure powders I would think.
            If it was to me, I would not use that mix of Chilies or the Chocolate and Coffee. I like mine a little more straight forward than that.

            1. re: chefj

              Amazon in the UK offers anchos, cascabels, pasillas, chipotle, New Mexico red chillies (no chiltepins, though)....

              The real issue is avoiding: Italian crushed red pepper and peppers from the Indian subcontinent (though Dundicut chillies might work out...) and SE Asia

              1. re: chefj

                well taste in chili is pretty individualistic but my chili wins accolades. it might depress you more to know I even add some soy and a bit of Marmite to this mix. The chilis are in fact available in UK and starting with real dried chili and with a mix of sweet, hot, and deep peppers rather than a "one note" taste will defiinitely make you a better and more subtle chili. As to chocolate and coffee, they are common ingredients in Mexican cooking, particularly Oaxaca cooking. Nothing wrong with "plain" chili powder if you prefer it but I don't.

                1. re: teezeetoo

                  I assure you what you add to your Chili does not effect my mood at all.
                  As far as Oaxacan Cooking goes I have never seen a dish like Texas Chili or even Chili Colorado in Oaxaca. Chocolate is a common ingredient in a couple of Oaxacan Moles but rarely seen in other sauces or savory preparations. As stated below by MelMM the point of Chili is the Chilis

                  1. re: chefj

                    You are absolutely correct! Chili is of Texas origin, and the Mexicans do not claim it as their own. It was first concocted in San Antonio, Texas.

                    Frank X. Tolbert has documented the history of chili in his book entitled 'A Bowl Of Red' originally published in 1953. Amazon has the 2002 edition.

                    1. re: chefj

                      and, as my original post said, the mix of chilis (real as opposed to sitting on the shelf forever canned) is the key to good chili.

                      1. re: teezeetoo

                        Who disputed that? Not I.
                        I grind my own and use a mixture, just not the one you use.
                        There was never any suggestion of using"sitting on the shelf forever canned"
                        that is not to say that pre-ground chilies do not produce a great product. Almost every Winner of Texas Chili Cook Offs use pre-ground Chili Powder.

              2. re: chefj

                I'm sorry but I completely disagree with the recommendation of adding the vital dry spices at the very end.

                IMO they need to be added at the beginning to cook into the dish and dissolve.

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  You may disagree but it wins chili cook offs all the time.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    I have read this before. He wasn't saying add them ONLY at the end, just to add the last batch near the end. You then get a variety of flavor compounds formed.

                    1. re: sbp


                      That makes more sense. But right at the end seems dicey

                2. It is hard to say what your UK judges will expect.

                  Here are winners in a major US competition

                  Their ideal chili characteristics
                  "12. Judges will be told that they should vote for the chili, as defined by the ICS, based on the following major considerations: good chili flavor, texture of the meat, consistency, blend of spices, aroma and color."

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: Karl S


                      6 anchos
                      2 pasilla
                      2 costeƱas
                      2 guajillos
                      4 chiles de arbol
                      2 chipotles in adobo
                      1/4 cup masa harina
                      1/3 Mexican hot chocolate tablet, grated

                      Not USA powders, but lots of Mexican ingredients.

                    1. Seems for cookoffs, everyone uses Tri Tip for the meat, cut into small cubes. When I make chili for home, I like to use chuck roast or short ribs, and braise it till pullable. Gives off a lot of fat, but I refrigerate, the fat rises, and I peel it off. I guess this doesn't work at cookoffs, where you don't have that time.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sbp

                        Sbp, I also use chuck...and ground beef too.