"Chili When It's Chilly" Chili Cook-off

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January in Houston is when Rodeo season really starts to kick in. One of the most popular events is the "Chili When It's Chilly" Chili Cook-off sponsored by the Baytown/Highlands Subcommittee of the Houston Metro Go Texan Committee. This year's event took place January 9 and 10 at San Jacinto Mall in Baytown.

The event was open to the public for a small admission fee. More than 50 teams participated to cook one or more dishes during the competition.

All proceeds raised during the event on behalf of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are returned to Baytown in the form of student scholarships.

If you're not familiar with chili cook-off procedure, there are basically two competitions: a blind taste test and a "showmanship" competition.

The blind taste test involves judges tasting and scoring various dishes including beans, ribs, brisket, and of course chili. In the world of chili cook-offs, only one type of chili matters: Texas Red Chili. The chili is judged on the following criteria: Aroma, Consistency, Red Color, Taste and Aftertaste.

The second competition is "showmanship."

It probably won't surprise you that people who cook chili competitively are not shrinking violets. They've all got healthy personalities and egos to boot.

To express those personalities they build elaborate booths with full kitchens and seating areas, dress up in fancy costumes and will bend your ear with the most outlandish chili stories you will ever hear. And of course cook great chili. Judges roam the cook-off grounds evaluating the teams based on Theme, Costume, Booth Set-Up, Action, and Audience Appeal.

Needless to say, chili cook-offs offer great food and a colorful atmosphere. I heartily recommend a visit to one near you.

Below are some of my photos and observations of a great day at the "Chili When It's Chilly" chili cook-off.

If there's smoke and barbecue, there must be hot links. Couldn't tell if these were made by Vince Young or Earl Campbell.

These are the Skid Row Cookers. As you might expect they're the life of the party. Bottoms up fellas!

The Baytown Professional Fire Fighters Association fielded this chili cook-off team. You've got to think fire fighters know a little something about 4-alarm chili.

No, that's not barbecued caterpillar. It's actually a boudin-stuffed pork loin wrapped in bacon and smoked to perfection. Better known as a "posse roll."

Team booths came in about as many flavors as the chili itself. This booth is representative of how elaborate they can get.

Costumes and characters permeate the chili cook-off festivities. This gentleman not only looked the part, but made some world-class chili and barbecue.

This is a brisket just out of the smoker, courtesy of the gentleman in the previous photo. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I really don't know how to express the profoundness of this experience. It's like...standing in front of the Mona Lisa? Listening to a Beethoven Symphony? Welcoming your first-born child into the world? It's that good.

This is a cup of standard-issue Texas Red Chili. Pretty darn tasty.

---J.C. Reid

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