Who doesn’t love chili? This stew is a thing of fierce devotion, and throughout out the country thousands upon thousands of home cooks and professionals alike have developed recipes that they’re incredibly proud of. Almost every state hosts annual chili cook-offs, and these are the 10 best.
Chili (shortened from chili con carne) might sound like a simple dish, but in reality it’s anything but. While the traditional chili that we’re all familiar with contains not only meat (usually ground beef), chiles, and spices, but also beans, tomatoes, and onions (and you can be forgiven if that’s the only chili that you’ve ever been exposed to), there’s controversy surrounding nearly every component of this the dish. Many consider any chili with beans to be “inauthentic,” as the very earliest chilis didn’t contain them; many Texas-style chilis contain only stew meat and a tomato-free, chile-based sauce. There’s also Cincinnati-style chili (which is more of a spiced meat sauce), vegetarian chili, New Mexican chile verde, and white chili made with white beans and chicken or turkey. Clearly, there’s more to chili than what you can find in a can.
Across America, cooks are fiercely passionate about their chili, and there are more cook-offs devoted to chili across America than there are for any other food we can think of (In fact, there are even several competing chili cook-offs in Terlingua, Texas). Sometimes a part of larger fairs and sometimes stand-alone festivals, these celebrations can involve dozens of competitors, thousands of guests, and 100 or more judges. There’s even an organization, the International Chili Society, that’s been around since 1967, which serves as a home base for chili cook-offs and organizes some of the country’s largest. There’s also the Chili Appreciation Society International, which hosts plenty of cook-offs of their own.
Chili is one of those dishes that just about anyone can make, which is why it such an ideal cook-off dish. A great chili recipe is something that can take years to perfect, and it if wins big in the festival circuit it can also earn its creator a pretty penny. If you’re a chili fanatic, we strongly suggest you browse through the hundreds of chili cook-offs that happen every year on the ICS’s website, and read on to learn which our 10 favorites are.