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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.


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  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.

                      2. What does ISO stand for? Or is it the word for "equal"?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: herby

                          I meant "In Search Of", but I'm no expert in modern acronyms. Maybe it also means something shocking!

                          1. re: Robin Joy

                            Thank you, Robin! Couldn't figure it out for the life of me.

                        2. Very many thanks for these and any future contributions. Just what I was looking for.

                          First trial this weekend, using home made spice mix and chocolate.

                          For 500g (about 1lb 2oz) ground beef I would normally add two drained and rinsed 14 oz cans of red kidney beans and two14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes. Are these anywhere near correct ratios please?

                          Are properly cooked dried beans a better ingredient?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Robin Joy

                            I know this is treading into religious territory, but have you considered leaving the beans out? Just letting the meat and the sauce speak for themselves? That's how it's done in Texas.

                            1. re: Soul Vole

                              Yes, I think I'd heard that many do not include any beans in their chilis, so I'll make a trial pot to see how it comes out. I personally quite like plenty of beans though, so I'll take a bit of convincing!

                            2. re: Robin Joy

                              I would prefer two cans of tomato and one of beans for that amount of meat.

                              Lately, I've been cooking dried pinto beans for my chili. We like it a little better than kidney beans.

                              1. re: Robin Joy

                                If you're going to use beans, yes, cook up some dried beans, and rather than kidney, I'd use black beans or pinto beans.

                                1. re: Robin Joy


                                  oops note to self read the whole thread before posting...

                                  1. re: Robin Joy

                                    The big difference is in allowing beans and veggies. You'll have to make your own judgement on those proportions.

                                    You asked about chocolate. Don't go overboard. The idea of using chocolate comes from some of the moles, complex sauces from central Mexico. Chili has its origins in the north, and is no where as complex. Chocolate darkens the color, and adds some bitterness. It should not be obvious.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      Agree with paulj on chocolate. This is not a mole. It is not a Mexican dish, or even a Tex-Mex dish. Competition chile is just Tex. You can add "secret ingredients", but they won't win you a competition. Focus on the chiles themselves, first and foremost.

                                      That said, I explored the Web site you linked to, and if what is listed under the "recipes" section is at all correlated to what wins in the UK, you can toss all this advice out the window. Celery?????????? Carrots??????? If there were visible celery in a Texas competition chile you would get laughed right out of the venue. Just sayin'. So there might be a local style that wins, and who knows, maybe they would turn up their noses at a competition-style Texas chili.

                                  2. I have judged, as well as entered and won, chili cookoffs in Texas, and have attended many more. So I am very well-versed in Texas chili, but what passes for chili in the UK may be something very different. I wish I could see a list of judges for your event.

                                    I'm going to start with the most important thing. The big mistake that people from non-chili areas (and that includes most of the US) make when cooking chili, is to forget that the whole point of the dish is the chiles themselves. They are the star of the show. Which is not to say that the dish needs to be particularly hot, as mild chiles are what really forms the base flavor.

                                    So for this gallon of chili you need to make, let's start with the chiles themselves. I have no idea what you can get in the UK. You can use whole chiles, which you would have to toast, soak, and grind into a paste, or you can use ground chiles. Ground chiles work fine even for competition chile, and I imagine that's what you'll get. The thing is, and this is where most people go wrong, you need to measure the ground chiles by the handful, not by teaspoons or tablespoons, even for the gallon of chili you need to make. Start with a couple handfuls of a mild New Mexico chile, then add an handful of guajillo, and a handful of chile anhco. Add a handful of chipotle for smokiness and some heat, and then for heat, add a hotter chile Where you are, I'd actually recommend "red chilli powder" from an Indian grocer, which will be about the same heat as cayenne, but have a richer flavor. And maybe if you can't get ground chipotle, add a bit of smoked Spanish paprika, and if you can't get New Mexican chiles, experiment with mild paprika. Using the very best quality, freshest you can find, in unbelievably large quantities.

                                    Now on to the meat. Do not use supermarket ground beef. In Texas competition chili, the meat will not be ground, but diced. If you want your meat ground, grind it yourself in the coarsest grind imaginable. Otherwise chop it into 1/4" pieces. And for a gallon of chili, you need to be using a lot more meat than you are.

                                    Beans. Well, these do not appear in competition chili, but may be OK, or even expected, where you are. I have no idea. And honestly, even though I'm from Texas where we supposedly don't put beans in our chili, if I'm making a batch for a Superbowl party, I put beans in there because I like them, and it makes the whole thing less expensive. But if you do use them, please, please, do not use canned beans. Cook them separately with some onion and salt, and get them good and tender, or don't use them at all.

                                    Tomatoes... another hot-button issue. I can tell you that what I do NOT want to see in my chili is bits of tomato. So if you use them, use crushed or pureed tomatoes, and not very much at all, and make sure they are cooked down to make a perfectly smooth sauce.

                                    Other veggies. Do not use bell peppers, carrots, celery, or any such thing. These fresh veggies clash with the dried chiles and are just all wrong.

                                    The sauce part of the chile should be dark and smooth. I don't want to see bits of tomato or other veg in there. Mince any onion or garlic extremely fine, finer than most home cooks are capable of, or puree it, or once you've sauteed it, pass it through a food mill on the finest setting. Competition chilis usually use powdered garlic and onion, precisely for this reason. I do not do this when I cook (use powdered, I mean), but I do take pains to get a smooth sauce.

                                    Beer and other liquids. A lot of people add beer to chili. It's kind of something you do by default because you are drinking it while you cook, and why not feed a bottle to the pot? I actually do not think beer adds much. Try some red wine instead (sacrilege, but try it and see). This will only work if you have your chiles at the right proportion (way more than you think).

                                    Since you are in a part of the world not known for chili, I would strongly suggest travelling to another event sanctioned by the same group to see what wins. The expectations might be quite different than what I am used to.

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: MelMM

                                      Wise words Mel, wise words. Thank you, I'll take what you say onboard.

                                      (The quantities in my earlier post were not expected to produce a gallon.)

                                      1. re: Robin Joy

                                        I'm going to add that any tomatoes, if they are present at all, should not be even detectable. Chili shouldn't taste tomatoey, at all.

                                        Also, if you use oregano, try to get Mexican oregano, ground to a powder, and use it very sparingly. Flecks of herb should not be visible. Both oregano and cumin should be used more minimally than most people think.

                                        1. re: MelMM

                                          I totally agree with you on the tomatoes.

                                          Chili should not taste tomato-ey and you shouldn't see peices of tomato in your chili.

                                          That said, a small amout of ground tomato puree can give a good background note.

                                      2. re: MelMM

                                        You wouldn't believe what passes for chili here in NYC. Its often all tomatoes and veg with a bit of ground beef. Could be spaghetti sauce. I've had arguments with people that the name is chili con carne because its chilis cooked with meat because they think it means that "chili" has no meat and is just beans. Oh the horror of being invited over for chili and being faced with a pot of tomato bean soup.

                                        1. re: Bkeats

                                          Someone must like Vegetarian Chili
                                          though I'd feel like an intruder if I asked what makes a vegetable stew 'chili'.

                                          1. re: Bkeats

                                            Oh, I believe you! I've travelled around enough to have what some people call chili in other parts of the country, and wow... but yes, I've seen people serve beans in tomato sauce and call it chili. I was once actually served orzo in tomato sauce with slices of sausage in it, and the guy called it chili. Mind-boggling.

                                            1. re: MelMM

                                              Apparently some people make it with turkey. Yuck!!!!

                                              1. re: MelMM

                                                That beans in tomato sauce goes back to Depression era Midwest chili parlors, and possibly earlier to small town cafes in 1890s Texas and Oklahoma
                                                Planet Taco

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  I don't get that from the referenced text. Care to elaborate?

                                                  1. re: MelMM

                                                    p121 - 'including beans, a version that became more common during the Great Depression'

                                                    No explicit mention of tomatoes. However in a recipe that only calls for a tablespoon or so of chili powder, you aren't going to get much sauce or color without them.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      OK, but what we are talking about above is not simply the inclusion of beans, or even the inclusion of tomatoes, but these monstrosities that taste more like tomato sauce than the namesake chiles. Or that have completely incompatible vegetables such as carrots, bell pepper, or celery in there. I don't know how far back such abominations originate, but you do not find these in Texas (nor OK, in my experience). I think it is possibly to make a chile that includes beans, and/or tomatoes (although not in detectable chunks), that still tastes predominately of chiles. It won't win you any competitions, but it can be done. But that is not what we were referring to above.

                                          2. Most everything has been covered, but I have one more to add: Dice your meat into perfect little cubes. The judges around here prefer, in fact, demand, that the winning chili has cubed meat. You might want to slightly freeze it prior to slicing to make it a lot easier. Hamburger is a no no.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: primebeefisgood

                                              Right: no mince. The sauce is smooth, the meat is not.

                                            2. winner 4 years in a row of the Texas Girl Scout Chili cook off..
                                              No beans
                                              if you can make your own capsation extract
                                              grind your chili powder
                                              dont forget cumin
                                              1 to 1 hambuger and susage

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: girloftheworld

                                                I never heard of 'capsation extract.'

                                                Are you referring to 'capsaicin?'

                                                1. re: ChiliDude

                                                  "Capsation" or capsaicin extract doesn't belong in chili. It adds heat without taste.

                                              2. Here's a picture of my first stab at competition style chili (no beans, 1/4 inch cubed beef, smooth sauce with very little tomato). Does this look anything like what I should be aiming for please Hounds?

                                                12 Replies
                                                1. re: Robin Joy

                                                  I am not sure on the color rendition of the Photo but if it is close to true I would expect chilli to be a much darker deeper red.

                                                    1. re: Robin Joy

                                                      I believe the sauce is too thick--almost looks like too much flour. Try reducing a stock to get most flavor and using minimal flour. Also, the meat looks too large and perhaps not uniform enough. Seriously, you may find it easier to freeze the meat. Also, like chef, the color appears a little too brown. That won't kill it buy a little more red color might be better received. Do you get frozen Bueno Red Chile? If so, one 14oz container of the mild would brighten the color quite a bit.

                                                      1. re: primebeefisgood

                                                        Thanks chef and prime. That's a small bowl and those peices are really only 1/4 inch (mostly!). Actually no flour was harmed during the making of this chili. The base is chopped onion and garlic gently cooked in a minimum of water for about 20 minutes. This is then pureed in a blender and slow fried for about 10 minutes before adding the first dump of spices, pre browned meat and broth with a little tomato paste. More liquid next time.

                                                        1. re: Robin Joy

                                                          No need for Water when cooking the Onion and Garlic. Should be done in fat.
                                                          In Texas Chili Competitions granulated or powdered Garlic and Onion are usually used.

                                                          1. re: chefj

                                                            It's a technique used widely in Indian cooking (with the addition of ginger), and I was just seeing how it translated for chili! It's a little laborious but does produce a lovely savoury sauce base without flour or fat. It is indeed fried with a little oil after pureeing.

                                                            I think ground beef produces a better flavour and is probably what the UK judges will be looking for, so I don't know if I'll use cubed again.

                                                      2. re: Robin Joy

                                                        You are still using too much tomato and nowhere near enough chiles. Try making a batch with no tomato at all to get the feel for it.

                                                        1. re: MelMM

                                                          Two teaspoons of tomato paste to one and a half pounds of meat is too much? OK, I'll try none next time.

                                                          1. re: Robin Joy

                                                            Judging by the photo it's not so much a question of too much tomato paste as not enough chile. A dark maroon is the desired color.

                                                            1. re: Soul Vole

                                                              Though the color may be from the chiles themselves. While the ones favored for chili tend to be dark (ancho, pasilla), others are a brighter red. Guajillo is popular Mexican one that is bright. New Mexico red is in between.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                Are the chilis everyone here has been referring to dried? Here in the UK the availability of such a wide variety of chilis is very restricted. Specialist shops and mail order only really. Most supermarkets carry only dried chili flakes and a small selection of fesh, usually "Bird's Eye", "Finger", or "Mixed", with the occasional Scotch Bonnet making an apperance.

                                                                1. re: Robin Joy

                                                                  Yes, dried chiles are what are used. They can be either whole or ground. Most competition chili uses ground. What were you using?

                                                                  Dried (or dried and ground) Ancho, Mulato or Pasilla chiles are very dark, so are good for getting color. You may need to mail order. You might try contacting Pendery's to see if they ship overseas. They have a huge selection. http://www.penderys.com

                                                                  It's really important that you get a large amount of a mild chile in your mix. It forms the base of the chile flavor, and then you add hotter ones to get the level of heat you want. Done properly, your chili can be anywhere from quite mild to incendiary, but either way will have that chile flavor.

                                                      3. Keep it simple. DO NOT INCLUDE BEANS IN THE CHILI! DO NOT INCLUDE VEGETABLES THAT ARE EXOTIC TO CHILI LIKE BROCCOLI, CARROTS, TURNIPS, PEAS, etc.

                                                        Avoid supermarket 'chili powder' which contains salt as its 1st ingredient, and uses Mediterranean oregano. Use good ground 'chile' powder made from one variety of chile (hot pepper). You could incorporate several chile powders.

                                                        Access the following website for recipes by cook off winners. The recipes will give you a clue.


                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ChiliDude

                                                          Preach it Brother! Always nice to have the contribution of a Texas chili fundamentalist! :)

                                                          Now we'll return to the BBC World Service.

                                                        2. I'm not sure of how it is in the UK, but in the US, much of what is sold as Chili Powder is actually a blend of Chili Powder with other stuff like Garlic, Cumin and Salt and other stuff. If you're getting straight chili powder, such as from an Indian grocer, careful with the amounts as it can be much stronger than a recipe might have intended.

                                                          10 Replies
                                                          1. re: Atomic76

                                                            In the US if it is 'chili powder' it is the mix. If ground chile, or ancho, passila, or New Mexico chile, is should be just that.

                                                            Gebhardt chili powder is the oldest brand of chili powder. Current ingredients are: Chili Pepper, Natural Flavor, Spice, Garlic Powder, Silicon Dioxide, Ethoxyquin (to Retain Color).

                                                            There are competition recipes that do call for Gebhardt, though rarely as the sole source of chile.

                                                            1. re: Atomic76

                                                              Where I come from, chili (with an "i") is a dish, and chili powder (also with an "i") is a spice blend. Chile powder (with an "e") is pure ground capsicum, nothing added.

                                                              The "with an i" and "with an e" distinction reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Good Eats episodes, "The Big Chili". Very apropos to this thread. I won't link to it directly but Google can find it for anyone who's interested. Alton Brown makes a fairly solid, traditional chili in that episode.

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  Hah. In my book it doesn't. But I'm not militant about it. Brits can spell things however they want. Certainly we Yanks do too.

                                                                  1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                    Yes, SV, we generally use the double L over here.

                                                                    Atomic and Paul: Almost all widely available "Chilli Powder" here is a blend of ingredients designed to produce an acceptable bowl of red without any further flavourings, and I must say it mostly works ok for us Brits.

                                                                    The only purer chilli powder in the US sense which you are likely to find in a supermarket is cayenne. How is cayenne rated in Texas?

                                                                    1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                      Thanks once more for all the posts.

                                                                      FWIW here is a recipe guide from the crew who won two of the very few cook-offs held in the UK last year.


                                                                      I'm expecting a couple of derisory views of the "That's Not Chili" type, but this is likely to be the sort of thing the judges here will want to see.

                                                                      1. re: Robin Joy

                                                                        Thanks for posting that link. I had in fact just been looking at the recipes on the site, especially that one, because of their winning record, and was getting ready to post something to the effect of "we may be leading you astray"! These recipes have all kinds of things in them, some of which wouldn't even be allowed in a cookoff in Texas, much less win. And it might be that an "authentic" Texas chili, or competition-style chili, would not go over well where you are.

                                                                        1. re: Robin Joy

                                                                          Well you will never find beans or certain of the other ingredients in *my* chili, but after a few deep breaths in a paper bag, half a Valium, and acceptance that I can never again step foot in Texas, I will admit that that first one actually does not look like a terrible recipe.

                                                                          Anyway, if anyone from the U.S. ever gives y'all a hard time, just remind them of Cincinnati-style chili: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinna... Why they're serving that stuff, calling it "chili", and still in the union, I cannot explain.

                                                                          1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                            While I understand the no-bean dictum, I sometimes include a modest amount of black beans in my chili. I first tried this with a chili made with oxtail, and found that the beans absorb excess fat.

                                                                          2. re: Robin Joy

                                                                            The only things on that ingredient list that IMO absolutely do not belong in chili are celery, fresh thyme, butter, brown sugar and sweet paprika.

                                                                  2. Practice makes perfect. Chipotle peppers in adobo (blend smooth) can help make a tasty base (Embasa is a decent brand here and there are others). Chipotle also helps make the dark crimson colored sauce you are looking for. Maybe consider trying some chipotle powder. Test smoked paprika in your recipe or another good fresh paprika spice for color & a mildly hot flavor boost. Test lots of chili powders every one is different. Make your own chili powder combination. Locally I like chili powder made hot with habanero (Winco bulk bins). Use fresh spices nothing dated. Old spices do not have the same flavor. Consider making a good salsa and then cooking it down for your base. For salsa I like fine chopped onion, fine tomato possibly pulsed in the blender (fresh roma or other paste tomatoes work when can get fresh or consider canned), fresh lime juice (sometimes a little lime zest), then usually make hot with a personal to taste combination of serrano / habanero / pablano peppers sometimes with others as well as various powdered spices in moderation (paprika, chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, granulated garlic, granulated onion, cumin for its taco flavor, a little mexican oregano, etc). There are lots of good peppers available dry to grind and experiment with in your chili. I sometimes add a few drops of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire (not too much because will overpower and take over then taste bad).

                                                                    If unable to come up with a good combination of pepper heat from scratch on your own. Consider adding some good hot sauces to your chili in your own combination. Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce is a personal favorite (brings a complex habanero heat profile great in moderation too hot for some if overused). Secret Aardvark is kinda expensive so I make a clone - can find recipes online to start with. There are many Mexican hot sauces which can add to chili when used in moderation. If use bottled pick hot sauce(s) that add heat and flavor without too much of a vinegar kick. Excessive vinegar is not good in chili.

                                                                    I often make my chili really spicy HOT. So hot most can hardly eat it plain, but do. I almost sweat when eat. As someone said above the peppers are the star in a good chili sauce. To those who do not like so much heat I serve them chili over cooked small red beans, noodles (like macaroni), or extra meat to take the edge off as well as add texture (good but not traditional). Or a combination. The less heat they want the more beans / meat / noodles they get below as a base. Noodles sounded weird but when tried HOT spicy chili over macaroni found it can be a very tasty combination to many. Chili is also good over the more traditional small red beans so people can choose if they want beans or not when eat it. To prepare soak dry beans overnight then cook to desired texture about two hours - no one likes crunchy or mushy beans eat a few often until done as desire.

                                                                    To take it to another level consider having toppings to add more flavor and texture to your chili for personal tastes. Things like chopped onion, grated / chunk cheddar cheese, crunched up corn chips, with corn chips, various salsa, various hot peppers, sour cream, etc. Going the extra mile can set yours apart from others in some chili competition formats.

                                                                    The serving bowls, utensils, decoration, atmosphere, sides, even napkins, may also make your presentation uniquely good. Remember we eat with our eyes and all our senses.

                                                                    In case you have not already found them there are some chili recipes to get ideas from here on CHOW at: http://www.chow.com/galleries/298/11-...

                                                                    Have fun with it. We are rooting for you!

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: smaki

                                                                      Generally in cookoffs you serve to the judges in a container specified in the rules, and often provided by the competition. This is to make all the chilis look the same, and so the judges will not be swayed by presentation. The "official" judging container is usually something very humble, like a paper or styrofoam cup. The judges are not interested in garnishes either. In the rules for the OP's competition, it says that judging containers will be provided.