Davis Mountains State Park’s 3rd annual Mile High Chili Cook-Off

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

This weekend, I had the privilege of serving as a judge for the Mile High Chili Cook-Off at the Davis Mountains State Park. This year was the third annual chili cook-off, and was held in cooperation with the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) pod from El Paso, called the Pod of the Pass.

There were contests for Best Chili, Best Beans, Best Salsa and Best in Show. Fort Davis’ own Last Call Band provided music for the event on Saturday. Saturday’s weather was gray and cold, a stark contrast to the upper 80s we’d experienced all week. In my opinion, it was perfect chili weather.

Hanging out with my friend Francisco before the judging began. He is known around town for winning salsa competitions (the food, not the dance). He didn’t compete this time… I figure it’s because he’s running out of places for trophies. One of these days, I’ll share his recipe for chile con carne.

This was my first time to judge a chili competition, although I have participated in two, and won first place and second place, consecutively. In our former neighborhood, we began a chili cookoff as part of the National Night Out events in October. It was a great success and we often had half a dozen entries, with the Mayor and Police Chief serving as our celebrity judges one year, and the next year, allowing everyone to place a ballot next to their favorite chili.

Throwback to my First Place Chili back in 2014… had some tough competition but I took home neighborhood bragging rights for at least a year. 

While the neighborhood contests weren’t serious competitions like CASI competitions, I took my chili making and winning titles seriously. And, I only got second place because one contestant had their grandchildren and all the neighborhood kids vote for their chili. I’m still a little bitter from that loss. Just kidding. Sort of. When the Mayor and Police Chief voted, I got first place. Just sayin’.

With CASI involved in this weekend’s chili cook-off, there were rules and regulations in place. All chili had to be cooked on site the day of the cook-off, prepared from scratch (no commercial mixes), contain no fillers like beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, etc., be prepared as sanitarily as possible, and be prepared in the great outdoors – not inside an RV or closed tent. Also, only red meat was allowed in the chili. No chicken chili at this cook-off.

Selfie with the other judges…

As judges, we had to judge each sample of chili on five criteria: aroma (does it smell appetizing?), consistency (is it a smooth combo of meat and gravy?), red color (they don’t call it a “bowl of red” for nothing), taste (it should taste good), and aftertaste (did it leave a pleasant aftertaste?).

Did I lick the drop of chili off my voting sheet? Only the few judges around me know…

We weren’t allowed to discuss any of the chili or make bad faces or delighted sounds when we took bites. Between bites, we cleansed our palates with carrots, celery, pickles and crackers. I stuck with pickles and celery.

There were 24 entries, and 13 judges. I ate more than 24 spoonsful of chili on Saturday.

It was hard to not give them all high scores, as each bite had a certain flavor or scent that was entirely different from the previous spoonful. 
The First Place Chili came from a Terlingua lady named Jennifer Hansen, who also won 3rd Place Best in Show.

Many thanks to all of the participants and to fearless cook-off coordinator Tara Poloskey of the Davis Mountains State Park. I’m thinking I might just be a participant in the 4th annual Mile High Chili Cook-off next year…

One Version of Terlingua Chili 

(rumor has it this was The Original Recipe)

2 lb. very lean ground beef (I use round steak and cut it into small cubes)

7 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons paprika

1 white onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons masa

1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
Brown beef and drain. Stir in tomato sauce and 2 cans of water. Mix in all ingredients except cayenne pepper and masa. Simmer 30 minutes to one hour, until the meat is tender and flavors have blended. Add as much pepper as desired, and add a little water here and there if it gets too thick. The longer and slower you cook your chili, the more tender the meat will be. Mix masa and ¼ cup warm water and add to chili and stir well. Simmer another 30 minutes… just be sure and add your masa during the last 30 minutes of simmering.



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