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What’s Hot?! A Chili Cook-off!

Sandi Arata By

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Spice up a little competition at your next party by hosting a chili cook-off!


Chili is a great fall food that everyone’s in the mood for anyway, and this is an exceptionally fun and easy party to host.

Party Prep


Invite friends who love to eat and love to cook, and ask for volunteers to contribute a pot of their best, award-worthy chili. I recommend having between three and six entries, depending on how large your crowd is. Cap the competition ahead of time to keep your guests from getting overwhelmed.

chili cook off chili and cornbread

As host, you can provide a few side dishes, such as cornbread and a green salad. Also be sure to have favorite chili toppings on hand, including: cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions, diced white onions and corn chips.

Place lots of bowls or cups on your party table for guests to sample each chili entry. If you don’t have enough dishes, don’t fret! Consider using bright red plastic cups instead. They give tasters a smaller portion, plus they’re affordable and recyclable.

chafing dish for chili cook off party

You’ll also need to keep the chili warm throughout the party. There are a few heating options, depending on your budget. You can rent chafing dishes from party rental companies. Or check restaurant supply or party stores for disposable chafing dishes made of heavy-grade aluminum foil. The last, and cheapest, option is to use slow cookers. Ask around to borrow some if needed—lots of people have them sitting unused on a top shelf! Heat up the chilies on the stove until they’re piping hot before transferring to the slow cookers or chafing dishes. (If you use slow cookers, make sure to check your outlets first so you don’t overload a circuit at the party.)

pepper and chili decorations

Spicy Decor


For a color scheme, look to the chili pepper itself. Spicy chili calls for bright decorations. Colorful napkins, paper banners and tablecloths are perfect. Place vases or other vessels on your table filled with chilies of different shapes, sizes and colors. Hollowed-out bell peppers make excellent votive candle-holders as well.

Hot Competition


Have scorecards made up before guests arrive. You can have each chili scored on a scale from 1 to 5. Or for the more sophisticated foodies, get more specific. Have guests rate each chili in several categories: flavor, spice, aroma and texture. Chili entries should be labeled with numbers or letters to make scoring easy and eliminate any bias. Anonymous entries make for an even fiercer competition.


And the Winner Is…


Now that a winner has been determined, have an awesome prize on hand. A gourmet hot sauce with a blue ribbon is a great example. The winner has definitely earned some bragging rights and should wear their ribbon around the rest of the night! Who knows, maybe a rematch for next year will be sparked?
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