Chili Competition Notes

This information contributed by Jim Bardsley.

Most competetive chili cooks will probably tell you everything that they use, but they may leave out some of the specifics - for example, how much ElRey pure chili vs. Ft. Worth light blend in their personal mix. But most of us feel that there are so many uncontollable variables - the quality and the fat content of the meat, for example, that a lot of this is a matter of luck and last minute adjustements. Many prize winning cooks will tell you they cook the same thing every week, week after week, and it comes out different every time. Even the chemicals in the local water can have a big effect. We're talking laboratory science, here.

Anyway, point number one to remember is that there is a BIG difference between competition chili and "eating" chili. In competition, you only have one small spoonful to get the judge's attention, and it is frequently cold by the time it gets to the judges, particularly if there are several rounds of judging.

Consequently, competition chili is MUCH more rich, and more salty, than something most normal folks would want to eat a bowl of. (This does not faze competitive cooks, however. We will regularly wolf down gallons of the stuff, in appreciation of each other's art.) Anyway, when you see a recipe that calls for "2 lbs meat, 1/2 cup chili powder," you kind of get the idea.

Second, there are two different camps as to competitive chili making: the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) camp and the "Tolbert" camp, the latter named after Frank Tolbert, chili-maker extraordinaire. CASI cooks are traditionalists: the philosophy of their cooking harkens back to chili as trail food. The Tolbert types are radical experimentalists, regularly putting ingrediants like chocolate and argula extract in their concoctions. The recipes I share come from the purist, CASI side of the fence.

Whichever approach one takes, the point is to get flavorful, well balanced chili: real chili cooks NEVER make ultra-hot chili (at least , not on purpose.) Another hint: chili is somewhat acidic, so serious cooks never use cast-iron pots, which would impart a mettalic flavor to the stew. Instead, most use pots with stainless steel or ceramic interiors. Glass lids are favored, so you can watch the chili, judge the cooking speed, evaporation and so on, without lifting the lid and changing the temperature.

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Copyright © 1995, Jim Bardsley.