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My Secrets to Hosting a Chili Cook Off
Last weekend, Brett and I hosted our 9th Annual Chili Cook Off. This is one of my favorite events that we accidentally started and it stuck! I look forward to it every year. It’s such a great way to celebrate the fall season with friends, family, and great food. Over the years, I’ve learned from experience how to make this event run as seamlessly as possible, to the point where having a group of fifty plus people over to our house doesn’t even feel like a big stress anymore. Today, I’d like to share with you my Chili Cook Off To Do List, which has been compiled over nearly a decade, and is based on strenuous field research. (Ha! No but really!) I want to share what works for me, in the hopes you might adopt this fun, competitive gathering into your fall hosting repertoire.
Chili-Cook Off To-Do List
1. Send the Invite Early!: I like to give people at least two months heads up to mark this event on their calendar and start testing their recipes.
2. Order a BIG Trophy (or, get the trophy from last year engraved): We have a perpetual trophy, which the winner gets to take home for a year, then it passes on to the new winner each year. It’s important to make sure you have this trophy engraved and ready to go, because, after all, that’s what everyone is here for! We also give trophies out to the winners our of Corn Hole Tournament, so these need to be ready to go, as well.
3. Enlist Friends to Help with Sign-In and Registration: I’ve had the same lovely ladies helping with sign-in and registration for nine years, and they are at the top of their game! Having help with the part of the party is a huge stress relief, since having all the paperwork in order is imperative if the competition is to run smoothly. At the “registration table” (which is hilarious to have at your house…but also really fun!) there are several documents that need to be printed out and ready to go:
- Judge Entry Form and Chili Entry Form: When people arrive, they’re given a Chili Entry Form (if they’re entering chili), or a Judge Entry Form (if they’re a judge.) Each guest is given three tickets (like little ones you get at the fair) for later voting. TIP: To keep the chili-chefs anonymous, our registrar rewrites each chili entry form in her own hand, so that no one will be able to recognize the chef’s handwriting.
- Corn Hole Tournament Sign Up: This should be on display with a pen handy. Specify a final call time for sign-ups, as in all teams must be signed up by 3:00PM.
4. Set the Rules: In order for people to take this seriously, the competition needs to be clear and fair. There are anywhere from 3-5 secret judges that are announced immediately before the competition begins. (Cause you know…bribes!) The scoring works like this: each judge can give each chili a possible score of 25, giving each of 5 categories a 1-5 score with 5 being the highest. Each chili is judged on; Aroma, Color, Consistency, Taste, Aftertaste. It’s a good idea to tell everyone in the invite how the judging will work. Once the secret judges taste all the chili, we add up the points each judge gave, plus the number of tickets (the popular vote) that each chili received from everyone attending. Whichever chili has the highest score – wins! I’ve included the document our judges use to rate each chili. Sound serious? It is! Click here for a printable copy of the Judging Rubric we use.
5. Secure the Judges: Make sure judges are secured well in advance. We like to keep our judges secret until the voting has commenced, to prevent any bribery or coercion tactics from taking place.
6. Plan Supporting Menu (Food and Drinks): I like to have a full garnish bar on display, with cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro, and cornbread. I also serve a fall salad, which is surprisingly always gone by the end of the day. For drinks, we have beer, water, and our signature fall cocktail, a MYO Mulled Cider Bar. I’ve included a printable for the signature cocktail bar HERE. I like to print this out and put it in a cute frame at the bar, alongside some glasses, straws, cinnamon sticks, and fresh apple slices for garnish.7. Plan Supporting Activities
- Corn Hole Tournament: This tournament is a big draw, and things get heated, as things tend to do when trophies are at stake.
- Kids Play Area(s): Over the years, the adult to child ratio has decreased with each subsequent event. If the kids are busy and happy, then the adults are going to be having a good time too. I set up several different play areas and simple activities for the littles (sidewalk chalk, bubbles, wooden blocks), which both grownups and children seem to appreciate in equal measure.
8. Purchase Supplies: Here is a list of some essentials that you won’t want to throw this event without.
9. Decide What to Wear: For me, this year, that involved my first ever pair of maternity jeans and the largest t-shirt I could find in my closet (aka, the only one that would fit.)
10. Make Yourself a Drink and Enjoy Time with Friends and Family: I never enter a chili because I want to remain impartial and also, well I can’t do it ALL! Once the party is underway, it’s time to kick back with a good mocktail (the more garnishes, the better) and let the chili-consumption commence!
Here is a list of all the printable documents from the post: