5 Tips from XLNT Foods To Help You Win a Chili Cook-Off — XLNT Foods :: XLNT Foods is the oldest continuously operating Mexican food brand in the United States, and one of the oldest companies in Southern California. For over 125 years, XLNT has produced (2024)

Few events are as widespread and popular as a chili cook-off. Chili is a popular dish in almost every region of the country, with many variations in the recipes. With so many different approaches to the same dish, chili competitions have become a tradition in many areas, such as the city of Sausalito, CA, where there’s been a cook-off annually for more than four decades.

In many places, these competitions are taken very seriously, winning is a badge of honor and the entire community turns out to sample the entries and enjoy the day. Be prepared for the competition ahead of you before you sign that entry form. As you refine your recipe, here are five key things to consider.

1. Know the Rules of the Chili Cook-Off

Every cook-off event has its own rules and regulations that dictate what ingredients can or must be used, any cooking time requirements and even details about how the dishes can be served. Chili competitions are no exception and often come with clear details about beans, vegetables, consistency and even presentation requirements. Take time to review the rules of the cook-off before you actually enter to be certain you can meet the guidelines. Keep a copy on hand throughout the process, including on competition day.

2. Select the Type of Chili You Will Make

Chili competitions are often divided into a few different categories, so you need to determine which category or categories you wish to enter.

  • Homestyle

In most chili cook-off competitions, homestyle chili categories include the traditional meat, bean and vegetable chili recipes. You’ll usually have the freedom to choose your meats and the types of beans, but the recipe will typically have to include both.

  • No-Bean

No-bean chili categories are just as they sound. These categories are typically for the recipes that include meat and the usual vegetables but none of the beans.

  • Vegetarian

Vegetarian chili categories are restricted to those recipes that meet vegetarian standards. Sweet potato chili and black bean chili are good choices in this category.

  • White

Typically consisting of white beans (such as cannellini beans), chicken and vegetables, this chili is usually made with a creamy white sauce instead of the traditional tomato-based chilis.

3. Choose the Right Meat

Ground beef is one of the most common choices for meat in a chilli cook-off, but it’s not the only one. In fact, you can use a variety of meats in chili with good results. Set your chili apart in the competition by choosing a combination of meats or a less-common meat source.

For example, short ribs, brisket, sausage, bacon and even venison have all proven to be great choices for chili. Any combination of these would work well, and mixing up different meats often creates added layers of flavor and texture that can help you win.

Just remember that any meat you choose should be browned and well-seared before you put it into the chili. That browning process is important for sealing in flavor and adding more depth to your chili.

4. Recognize That Bean Choice Is Important in a Chili Cook-Off

If you’re entering a homestyle chili or any chili recipe that contains beans, it’s important to choose the right beans for the cook-off. Canned chili beans are convenient and easy to use, but they are likely to break down and turn to mush in a cook-off competition.

You want beans that you can cook in the pot low and slow so that they take on that chili flavor, too. That means choosing dried beans instead of canned. Pre-soak your beans; then you can cook them in the chili and they will hold up and retain their shape.

You may also want to incorporate a variety of beans for added texture. For example, a mixture of kidney beans, pinto beans and black beans will provide a more unique chili than a recipe with only one type of bean.

5. Stand Out Among Your Chili Cook-Off Competition

Sometimes it can feel like your dish is just part of the crowd when you're in a competition like this. That’s why you need to make sure your chili stands out among the rest. There are many different ways to do this.

Sweetness to Beat the Heat

Especially if you make your chili on the spicy side, consider adding a touch of sweetness to combat that heat. Whether you add a small amount of brown sugar, maple syrup or honey, you can contribute rich flavor and soothe the burn.

Additional Depth of Flavor

Ingredients like tomato paste, cinnamon, coffee and liquid smoke can all add flavor hints that will make your chili cook-off entry unique. Roast your vegetables and use broth or beer instead of water for even more flavor in your pot.

Secret Touches You Can’t Quite Identify

Cocoa powder or Mexican chocolate can add a rich, subtle hint to your chili that will really set it apart. Cinnamon is another popular choice in small amounts. In addition, because chili cooks for so long, a splash of acid at the end of cooking can brighten up all of the flavors in the dish. You can use cider or balsamic vinegar, lime juice or lemon juice to make the flavors pop. You don’t need a lot. Start with a tablespoon or so and taste it before you add any more.

In a chili cook-off, the final judging is about so much more than just consistently cut vegetables and meat or the right amount of sauce to the ingredients. You need a chili that is going to stand out when the judges are tasting so many. Not only that, but you need to understand the rules and requirements well enough to ensure that you don’t get disqualified along the way. With the tips here and the right chili base products, such as chili con carne from XLNT Foods, you can create a chili recipe that everyone will still be talking about at next year’s competition.

If you’ve ever participated in an Official Chili Cook Off we’d love to hear from you…please comment below and let us know how you placed and what was your biggest takeaway in entering the contest!

Additional Links and tips below:

Lessons I’ve learned from a decade of neighborhood chili cook-offs (thetakeout.com)

Tips for Making Chili, Plus a Chili Cook-Off Winning Recipe! – Rumi Spice

How To Win A Chili Cookoff? | Perfect BBQ (barbecue)

8 Chili Recipes to Win a Chili Cookoff – A Couple Cooks

HOW TO WIN A CHILI COOK-OFF (afterorangecounty.com)

5 Secrets for Making an Award Winning Chili (streetdirectory.com)

5 Chili Tips from a Chili World Champion | BUSH’S® Beans (bushbeans.com)

Chili tips from a pro in time for Perry County Fair chili cookoff - pennlive.com

The Best Meat for Chili (grasslandbeef.com)

Here's Why You Should Add Vinegar To Your Chili (mashed.com)

5 Tips from XLNT Foods To Help You Win a Chili Cook-Off — XLNT Foods :: XLNT Foods is the oldest continuously operating Mexican food brand in the United States, and one of the oldest companies in Southern California. For over 125 years, XLNT has produced  (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dan Stracke

Last Updated:

Views: 6029

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dan Stracke

Birthday: 1992-08-25

Address: 2253 Brown Springs, East Alla, OH 38634-0309

Phone: +398735162064

Job: Investor Government Associate

Hobby: Shopping, LARPing, Scrapbooking, Surfing, Slacklining, Dance, Glassblowing

Introduction: My name is Dan Stracke, I am a homely, gleaming, glamorous, inquisitive, homely, gorgeous, light person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.