Okay, the big day is looming. You are not sure if you are excited or terrified. You have been asked to judge a Chili Contest!
And you have heard that chiliheads are one passionate group of people! And you’ve heard right! Chiliheads burn with a passion hotter than the chilis they cook with regarding their recipes and chili dishes!
And Chili Cook-Offs are BIG BUSINESS to chiliheads. And it is not just about honor! It is about money with prizes going as high as $25,000! Not to mention the huge amount of money raised for charities.
To give you an idea of the numbers involved, in just the 2006 chili year, the International Chili Society (ICS) raised over $1 million for charities, just on cook-offs alone with a little over 200 competitions. Wow!
The International Chili Society, or ICS sanctions three categories for competition 1) red, 2) green and 3) salsa. A World Champion is crowned yearly in each category.
A definition of each of these categories are as per the ICS:
1. “Traditional Red Chili is defined as any kind of meat or combination of meats cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients with the exception of BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden.”
2. “Chili Verde is defined as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with green chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA which are strictly forbidden.”
3. “Salsa: there are no rules as to the ingredients or how to prepare your Salsa. It may be prepared at home and brought to the site that day, or it may be prepared at the Cookoff.”
One thing, you need to note from the above NO BEANS AND NO PASTA ALLOWED IN THE CHILI.
Real, honest to goodness chili does not have beans or pasta in it. If it does then it is called soup or stew. It is not true chili. And, although they are allowed, tomatoes and tomato products are frowned upon. Red chili should get its deep, dark, red color from the red chili not tomatoes, and certainly not from ketchup. Again, tomato products are allowed, but no true chilihead would use them!
So now that your tastebuds are retreating, you are asking yourself “What should you look for in a good chili?”
Again, the ICS recommends the following five items necessary for a great chili.
1. Taste: First of all taste is the most important thing. The chili should have a good combination of meat, peppers, spices etc., with no ingredient being dominant or overpowering. They should blend together.
2. Consistency: Chili should have a good consistency with a good ratio of sauce and meat. It should not be dry, lumpy, grainy or oily.
3. Aroma: Hmmm chili should smell divine.
4. Color: A deep reddish brown is accepted as good for red chili. It should look very appetizing.
5. Bite: Bit is defined as the after taste or the heat generated by the various types of chili peppers and spices.
Okay, that is doable. But before you grab a water bottle and head on out, here are some practical hints on judging both for your own safety and fairness to the competitors.
1. Please make sure you judge each chili on its own merit. Do not compare one chili to another.
2. Always use a clean spoon for each taste.
3. Don’t put much stock in that bottle of water. Drinking water will make your mouth burn more! It just washes the oils from the chili around your mouth. Saltine crackers will work better, and they will clean your palate. They absorb the oils.
4. Take your time. You will be tasting a lot of chili. You don’t want to experience early burnout (pun intended).
5. Don’t talk to the other judges during judging.
6. And most importantly, HAVE FUN!
Judging a chili contest can introduce you to a whole new group of people and you will make some great lifelong friends. And don’t be surprised if you become a chili addict (or chilihead as they prefer to be called!).
– Julie O’Hara 2023
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