How to Host a Chili Cook-Off

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With the help of this guide, your chili cook off will go off without a hitch. Invite each member of your crew to bring their twist on chili, then pile on the toppings and tally up the scorecards. Hello, bragging rights!

Everybody loves chili, but everybody does it a little differently. Some make it spicy; some make it meaty; some make it, well, white!

Because of this, chili is the ideal food for bringing people together for the time-honored tradition of the chili cook-off. These competitions are held at office parties, fundraisers, community festivals and Super Bowl parties alike. The last in that list is our favorite way to play—there’s nothing like watching the big game with a super bowl of chili in hand.

But no matter when, where or why you decide to hold a chili cook-off, here’s all you’ll need to host (and maybe even win) it.

Choose Your Chili (and More!)

How to host a chili cookoffTMB Studio

You, as well as your guests, will need to select which wow-worthy chili you want to make, but as the host, you might be tasked with whipping up a few extra dishes, such as sides, garnishes and dessert. Here are our favorites:

  • Flavorful White Chicken ChiliThis light-colored chili stands out in the bunch—for more reasons than one. Its lime juice lends a delightful brightness, and the chicken is a welcome change from heavier red meats.
  • Sweet Potato & Black Bean ChiliBelieve us when we say this veggie-packed chili is good enough to take home first prize. It’s ultra hearty, and secret ingredients, such as coffee and honey, are a tasty surprise.
  • Chipotle Beef ChiliThis classic rendition of the stew is sure to score you some major points, with its tender flank steak, adobo zip and fresh toppings.
  • Buttery CornbreadThis quintessential cornbread recipe has 175+ rave reviews. ‘Nuff said. But if you’re looking for the convenience of a box, try our Test Kitchen’s favorite cornbread brands for a delish shortcut.
  • Iced BrowniesAs the votes are tallied, further tantalize your taste buds with a batch of brownies. Thanks to a rich, chocolaty frosting, these bars go above and beyond.

Build the Buffet

You’ll need a fair amount space for your buffet of chilis and toppers—a cleared-off kitchen table or a large card table should do the trick. Once you have your space cleared, these are the tools and supplies you’ll want on your table:

  • Ladles
  • Spoon rests for ladles
  • Condiment bowls
  • Serving utensils for garnishes and condiments
  • Bread basket for cornbread
  • Spoons for eating chili
  • Napkins
  • Water, light beer or soda as palate cleansers
  • Hot sauces

Editor’s Tip: If participants plan to bring their batches in slow cookers, you might want to have extension cords and power strips on hand.

Showstopping Toppings

Sure, everyone loves shredded cheddar, sour cream and scallions, but try surprising ’em with garnishes like pico de gallo, pickled red onion, fresh radishes, Fritos, limes, avocado and more.

Muffin Tin for the Win

How to host a chili cookoffTMB Studio

Invite guests to bring their own jumbo muffin pans from home (or provide recyclable aluminum ones) so they can fill the cups with perfect-size portions of the competing chilis, plus their favorite toppings.

Make a Table Runner

Measurement Table Runner Tmb StudioTMB Studio

If your chili cook-off is doubling as a game-day gathering, keep your decor on theme with this fun gridiron table runner.

To make, cut white canvas to the correct length and width for your table. With painter’s tape, tape single lines crosswise along the canvas at roughly 6-in. intervals. Place number-shaped stickers on either side of each taped line to resemble yard lines. Once tape and stickers are placed, spray-paint the canvas tan or any color of your choosing. Peel away tape and stickers.

Vote!

How to host a chili cookoffTMB Studio

Thankfully, the rules, if you will, of a chili cook-off are fairly straightforward. The main one? Keep each chef confidential until the winner is announced. Anonymity will encourage people to vote fairly.

Have partygoers rate the chili recipes on a simple scale of 1 to 10, or pick categories, such as spiciest, most creative, MVP, etc., with a more in-depth scoring system. And if you really want to prove you’re a Hall of Fame-worthy host, prepare preprinted scorecards. (Here, we made it easy for you.)

Download Our Printable Scorecards

Pick the Prizes

Bragging rights are a perfectly adequate award for the winner, but if you want to gift the grand champ a little extra something for their star recipe, there are a few options in the way of prizes.

Think aprons, wood spoons, cutting boards and even trophies. A token to keep will ensure they remember this lighthearted honor for years to come.

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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.