How to Host a Chili Cook-off

How to Host a Chili Cook-off

Chili is always a family favorite and most families have many chili recipes depending on the branch. A fun event for bringing the family together is to host a chili cook off where everyone brings a crockpot full of chili and a blind tasting is used to determine which chili will win the prize that year.

Here are some rules and guidelines we at Family Cookbook Project use when our family has a chili cook off.

Pre-Chili Cook-Off Planning

  • Invite guests to bring their best chili in a slow cooker, hot and ready to serve. Encourage a variety – meatless, spicy, white, or surprise ingredient. Have them bring their recipes as well.
  • Not everyone has to bring chili but make sure you have no more than 10 options for people to try otherwise they will get overloaded and not be able to tell the difference between each participant.
  • Make sure you have enough bowls and spoons or buy disposables so everyone can have a separate spoon for each chili.
  • Make Chili Name Tags with the name of each chili, a rating for heat level and the entry number.
  • Make enough ballots so each guest has a ballot for each chili. The ballot should have entry numbers from 1 to 10, a space where the taster can rank them from 1 to 10 and a third column for notes.

Chili-Tasting Set-Up

  • Just before the guests arrive, set up a Chili Toppings Bar—offer a variety of chili toppings and “go-withs “. Include shredded cheese, chopped onions, tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, sliced jalapenos and sour cream for toppings. You can get these ready the day before. Just cover and refrigerate until needed. Great go-withs include crackers, corn bread, tortillas and corn chips.
  • You may want to invest in several power strips to plug-in the crockpots spread out among among several outlets, so you don’t pop a circuit breaker.
  • Offer a variety of drinks; soft drinks, beer and maybe even a signature cocktail. You can also add a tossed green salad and dessert to round out the meal.

Suggested Rules of the Cook-Off 

  • Keep the name of the cook of each chili secret—as to not throw the vote!
  • Invite your guests to taste a spoonful of each chili and fill out a ballot for their favorite before eating it as a meal. Disposable spoons makes this more sanitary. Have them clean their palate between tastings with a little water or soda cracker.
  • Have guests rate each chili on the ballot. The chili with the most points wins!
  • Announce the maker of each chili and then announce the winner.
  • Award prizes – grand prize, hottest, most creative, or easiest for just a few ideas. has some great chili contest recipes that you’ll find here.
  • Add each of the recipes to your family cookbook. You can even create a stand-a-lone chili cookbook to share with family and friends.

If in doubt you can always check with the experts at the International Chili Society. They have a whole laundry list of rules and regulations for how a chili cook-off should be run.

Post-Chili Cook-Off 

Gather all of the recipes from the event, along with photos of everyone having fun and put together a small Chili cookbook for everyone who attended so that the event can be relived for years to come.

At the end of the day, you want everyone to have fun and enjoy the food.


Bill Rice loves Chili and is Publisher of the Family Cookbook Project which helps families and individuals create personalized cookbooks to preserve recipes for future generations. Learn more at</a></em>