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Chili Cook-Off Marks the Beginning of State Fair Festivities

Chili cooking on the stove (photo by Raymond Jeffcoat)

Never having been to a chili cook-off before, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked up to the parking lot at Fair Park on Sunday, September 23. One thing was predictable, though: the scorching Texas heat at an unforgiving 91 degrees. This was one of the few chili cooking competitions before the long awaited Terlingua International Chili Championship on November 3. The scores from the State Fair of Texas Chili Cook-Off could add to the points needed to qualify at Terlingua. As I walked through all the different cooking tents, I was constantly reminded of just how dedicated these competitors were as they spiced, stirred, and simmered their recipes to perfection.

The judges' table (photo by Raymond Jeffcoat)
Jason Clark (Blind Witch Chili), first prize winner (photo by Raymond Jeffcoat

There was one group of chili cookers that grabbed my attention, due to the various Texas revolution flags hanging outside of their tents. The cookers were a group of about 10 and called themselves The Renegades. These guys were the real deal of chili competitions, and they weren’t afraid to tell me so. They insisted  that I do a taste test and determine a winner. My prediction? It all just tasted like chili. Albeit, delicious chili, but chili nonetheless. In my book, there was no winner.

When my reaction to two different chilis was more or less the same, World Champion chili cook and veteran Renegade member, Tom Dozier, asked, “Do you want to try again?” I respectfully declined for fear of renouncing my Texan roots and failing at this chili tasting for the second time.

My fears turned out to be valid as watched the judging. While most judging is done with the CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) rules, I found out just how technical the process can be.

“We could explain, but it would take weeks to get it down to full detail,” Tom Liberty, 20-year veteran cook-off judge and all around chili enthusiast, joked. I decided to leave the mechanics to the professionals and do what any bystander does best: reserve judgment and enjoy the best Texas chili in the state.

D Magazine intern Iris Zubair graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2011 with a BA in Magazine Journalism. She has written for Austin Monthly Magazine and UT’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan.