Party Plan: Chili Cookoff

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On cold days, nothing goes better with football and beer than a hearty bowl of chili. Throwing a chili cookoff for your friends one Sunday afternoon is a perfect way to get your guests involved and to have . Plus, it’s the only way to ensure your friends will bring over something more substantial than chips.

Invite both cooks and non-cooks. You want your favorite people there, but only tell those with actual culinary abilities to bring chili. While making chili may seem easy to the casual observer, there is nothing worse than a wasted pot of burnt, tasteless meat, tomato sauce and beans. Explain to the non-cooks that they are necessary as impartial judges and more than three people bringing over chili will become more complication than fun. Ideally, you should have between two to four recipes (including yours). Most importantly, keep things relatively small — you don’t want more mouths than chili.

You can decorate your party table with a football theme if that’s appropriate or with a simple red or blue-and-white checked table-covering and plates, napkins, cups and flatware to match. With all the chilis and accompaniments, your table may not have room or need a centerpiece.

When you invite chili-cookers, tell them to bring a finished product. You won’t want your friend bringing over five pounds of raw ground beef and beans, then expecting you to clean up the mess. If you have the counter space and outlets, suggest your guest chili-cookers bring a crockpot to keep their chili warm. Ask the cookers to bring a label for their chili which lists the ingredients in case some of the guests have allergies. Pick a time of day for your party when there are good football games on or whatever your choice of sports might be. While chili tastes best with a side of football, movies like Major League, Slap Stick, Raging Bull, Beerfest, and Ghostbusters are excellent alternatives if watching sports isn’t your thing.

So you don’t spend too much, ask friends who aren’t bringing chili to bring beer, wine, shredded cheese, chopped onions, rice, corn chips, sour cream, hot sauce, tortillas, crackers, guacamole, or cornbread. If you can’t get someone to commit to each of those, you should make sure to have them on hand. Be sure you have lots of ice on hand to keep the beverages cold. If friends are bringing crockpots, then make sure you get cheap aluminum, buffet-style serving dishes with cans of sterno to keep things warm. Get eco-friendly disposable bowls and spoons for easy clean-up later.

Let everyone eat as much chili as they want, and have little slips of paper for everyone to write down their votes.  If chili batches are anonymous, no one will feel obligated to vote for their significant other or best friend. Have a non-partial judge tally the votes and award the prize. Have an inexpensive trophy to award the winner. You can find reasonable chili pot or cow trophies online.Allow the winner to talk about his/her chili, and invite people who voted for it to explain why they like it, if they wish to reveal themselves. Also, make the winner disclose one secret ingredient or tip for everyone to take away for next time. If your guests are willing, ask them to bring multiple copies of their recipes, which they could type up on their computer and print on their home printer.

The clean-up should be easy if you buy disposable bowls and silverware. Instruct chili cooks to bring their own plasticware so they can trade dishes with each other. If you follow that setup, the after-effects should be painless, and there should be plenty of chili in your fridge for a week.

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