DIY Chili Cook-Off!

Chili Cook-Off

Our first ever chili cook-off was a huge success! It was so fun and easy (and inexpensive) to put together that we want to share tips for how to host your own chili cook-off with your family and friends!

We decided to have our chili cook-off on National Chili Day, which is February 23rd, but you don’t have to wait another year to have yours! We’re firm believers that any day is a good day for chili. So pick a date and get moving!


Start by sending an invite to your family and friends. Ask them to RSVP by a certain date (maybe 2-3 weeks before the event, giving you have enough time to plan), so you know how many people will enter to compete and how many people you need to feed. You don’t need many people to sign up — it’s surprising how many people chili will feed — but the more the merrier! We had 5 team members compete, and there was more than enough chili to feed 20 people (with a lot of chili left-over).

Make sure you have enough condiments/toppings/side dishes to go with the chili. If people have RSVP’d to attend but aren’t competing, ask them to contribute by bringing one of the condiments/toppings/side dishes. This will help to keep the cost down for you. I’ve been to chili cook-offs where there is macaroni and cheese for kids, tons of cookies and deserts, and other snacks like cheese puffs, jalapeno poppers, and mini corn dogs! Here is the list of items we asked the team to bring.


Most people bring their chili in a slow cooker, like a Crock-Pot, because it makes re-heating (or keeping the chili hot) easy. This is perfect because all you have to do is line up the slow cookers on a table and you’re pretty much good to go! If you have several slow cookers, you might want to use more than 1 outlet so you don’t blow a fuse! You might also want to have several extension cords and surge protectors on hand.

Tips for easy judging:

  • Provide small plastic/paper cups for tasting, instead of large bowls, so everyone can get a small tasting of each chili as they go through the line. You can find budget-friendly options at Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree.
  • Provide a large, sturdy, oblong/oval plate or tray that the people can place all of their tasting cups on for easy transportation (and less tragic loss of chili in accidental spills).
  • Place the small cups in front of each slow cooker and use a different color/shape sticker to mark the cups for each chili. We used inexpensive star stickers (in 5 colors) from Wal-Mart. If you have more chilis than you have stickers, double up — use 1 sticker for the first 5 (i.e. 1 star of each color), then 2 stickers for the next 5 (i.e. 2 stars of each color), and so on.
    • This way, people don’t have to remember which chili is which. When it comes time to vote, people just vote for the sticker they liked the most, i.e. 2 blue stars or 1 red circle.
  • Make name tags for each chili and include the ingredients that people might need to know, like dairy, pork, or ghost peppers. You could also include a heat level, on a scale of 1 to 5.
  • Have enough pens and ballots (we just used blank slips of paper) for everyone to use to vote. And put the ballot box where it can be easily reached.


Have a prize for the winner (other than the obvious bragging rights). Most chili cook-offs I’ve been to have prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. It can be something as simple as a gift card to a local restaurant, a cool household item like a rustic bottle opener (a prize I’ve actually received for winning 3rd in a chili cook off) or a store bought or homemade trophy. We opted for a homemade trophy (pictured below) that one of our team members made from a few inexpensive pieces of wood, superglue, and paint from a local craft store.

2018 Winning Recipe: Jessica’s Jalapeño Popper White Chicken Chili!


  • 2 small cans of green chilies
  • 6 oz salsa verde
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 2 cans cannelloni beans
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 1 can of sweet corn
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
Optional Toppings:

  • 6 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
  • Shredded Mexican cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Cilantro, chopped
2018 chili cook-off winner
Step 1: Cut off the tip and end of the jalapeño, slice in half, and remove all of the seeds. Cut the jalapeño into small pieces. In a food processor, combine the green chilies (do not drain!) and jalapeños. Pulse until smooth.

Step 2: Finely dice the onion and garlic. Add the onions and garlic to a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans and corn (do not drain!), salsa verde, and jalapeño-green chili mixture. Cover and let the chili cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile..

Step 3: Trim the chicken of excess fat. In a large Ziploc bag, combine the chili powder, ground cumin, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Add the chicken to the Ziploc bag, seal the bag, and lightly toss until the chicken is coated in seasoning.

Cook the chicken over medium-high heat until browned on both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a cutting board. Shred the chicken or cut it into 1/4 inch wide chunks. Add the chicken to the chili.

Step 4: While the chicken skillet is still warm, add the cream cheese and stir until the cream cheese is soft and has absorbed the left-over seasoning from the skillet. If the cream cheese is not melting, you may need to cook over low heat until soft. Add the cream cheese mixture to the chili.

Step 5: To tell if the chili is done, taste one of the beans. You want the beans to be soft, but not mushy. When the beans are your desired consistency, remove from heat. Ladle into bowl and top with a dollop of sour cream, Mexican cheese, bacon bits, cilantro, and green onions.

It’s a (3-time) winner! Enjoy!


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