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First Time Cooks

Chili cookoffs are held in virtually every state and in many countries around the world. Usually held as fund-raising events for charity, they serve also as an outlet, a hobby, for countless competition chili cooks. Everyone loves Mom’s chili and everyone seems to have the recipe to end all recipes. So the reason for chili cookoff competition is to settle the score and, in the process, raise money for a good cause. Chili is cooked on site and from scratch. A panel of judges, using a blind selection process, determines the winners.

Cooking competition chili can be a rewarding experience. Seasoned competition chili cooks enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow cooks and especially enjoy the opportunity to exercise their “bragging rights” when they have won or placed in a chili cookoff contest.

What to expect at your first cookoff

Typically a chili cookoff will start with the registration of the cooks and organizing where the cooks will set up their cooking gear. Thereafter, the Chief Judge or some other cookoff official will call for a "cook's meeting" during which the rules of the day will be explained and the cooks will be given an opportunity to ask questions.  You will receive your judging cups at this time also and given a time to turn in that cup to the judges.

At the designated turn-in time, all cooks will take their chili samples to the judging tent or similar area. The Chief Judge will oversee the marking of the judging cups for the blind judging and the process of determining the winning bowl of chili will begin. It could take from one to two hours for the judging panel to complete the judging process. Announcement of the winners will be set at a time consistent with any other programmed activities.

5 Criterias judges are looking at:

Color-Taste-Consistancy- Aroma-After Taste

Judges will judge 1-10 on each chili, 10 being the highest score. At the end of judging all judges sheets will be tallied into a whole score.  Whoever has the highest score is the winner for that day.


What are the rules?

It is unfortunate when a new, excited chili cook attends his or her first chili cookoff, spends quite a bit of money for the entry fees, travel, ingredients and equipment, and finds the chili cooked is not “competitive”. This turns many first time cooks away, and they never come back.  Depending on what category you're cooking in please read rules for each.


A. CHILI COOKED ON SITE - All chili must be cooked from scratch on site the day of the cookoff. All chili must be prepared in the open (no cooking in motorhomes, etc.).  Chili is cooked usually under canopies.

1. CHILI COOKED FROM SCRATCH - "Scratch" is defined as starting with raw meat. No marinating is allowed. Commercial chili powder is permissible, but complete commercial chili mixes ("just add meat" mixes that contain pre-measured spices) are NOT permitted.

2. NO FILLERS IN CHILI - Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, or other similar ingredients are not permitted.

3. SANITATION - Cooks are to prepare and cook chili in as sanitary a manner as possible.

a. INSPECTION OF COOKING CONDITIONS - Cooking conditions are subject to inspection by the head judge or his/her designee and CASI Referee. (Failure to comply is subject to disqualification.)

b. COOKS MAY HAVE TO TASTE THEIR CHILI - At the discretion of the head judge or CASI Referee, chili cooks may be required to remove the lids from their chili cups and taste their chili before turning in for judging. (If a contestant refuses, his or her chili will be disqualified.)

B. ONE CHILI PER COOK - Each head cook is responsible for preparing one pot of chili that he or she intends to be judged and turning in one judging cup from that pot. No more than one judging sample can be taken from any one pot.

C. COOKS MUST SIGN NUMBER SLIPS - Chili cooks must sign their secret number slips in ink with their first and last names at the time cups are issued. Winners will not be eligible if their secret numbers are unsigned when presented. NOTE: Cooks must present their signed secret numbers to win.

D. PROTECT THE JUDGING CUP - Once judging cups have been issued, each head cook is responsible for his or her judging cup. Cooks must not remove or tamper with the numbers on the outside of the cups. Any marked or altered cup must be replaced prior to turn-in or it will be disqualified.

E. FILLING CUPS - Cups will be filled full or to the level designated at the cooks' meeting.

F. CHILI TURN-IN - Chili will be turned in at the place and time designated at the cooks' meeting or as otherwise designated by the head judge.

G. PYROTECHNICS - No chili contestant may discharge firearms or use any pyrotechnics or explosives at a chili cookoff. Contestants discharging firearms and/or using explosives or other pyrotechnics will be disqualified from the chili cookoff.

H. PENALTIES - Failure to comply with CASI rules will result in disqualification of an individual cook for the cookoff. Decisions of the official(s) are final. In case of disqualification, the CASI official monitoring the cookoff will immediately notify the head cook and give a reason for disqualification. In the event disqualification of a cup of chili occurs after judging has started, it is not necessary that the cook be located or given an explanation for the disqualification.


CASI chili turned into judging has to go by the CASI rules.  Chili given to public for samples may be made at home before the event.  I personally make my "give out chili" before the event at home and I cook a 2 1/2 pound recipe the day of event to give to the judges.


OPEN Category Rules:  Anything goes, any fillers (beans, corn, etc) and can be made before the cookoff, but you must have a booth to give out chili to the public.

What Equipment will you need?

Most chili cookoffs take place outdoors. Cooks must provide their own equipment for cooking. Seasoned competition chili cooks will come to the cookoff with canopies, tables, decorated booths and more. In addition to your meat and cooking ingredients, you will need to bring, as a minimum, the following extra gear:

  • Table
  • Dipping or serving spoon
  • Chili pot with lid*, 5-8 quart variety
  • Knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Portable outdoor-style camp stove
  • Heat diffuser (inexpensive metal device to spread flames)
  • Can opener
  • Matches / lighter
  • Propane fuel cylinder
  • Pot holders
  • Tablecloth
  • paper towels
  • Ladle, large and small
  • Ice chest and ice
  • Long-handled spoon
  • Cutting board
  • 1 to 3 gallons water - Dishpan, dish soap, scrubbers, etc.

Since samples of your chili are usually given out to the public, most cookoffs fall under the jurisdiction of local health departments. You may need some additional equipment such as rubber gloves or hand-washing provisions in order to serve samples to the public. Check with the Cookoff Chairperson for local health department requirements for each cookoff.