How to Throw the Ultimate Chili Cook-Off

How to host a chili cook-offWhether you’re an “Entertaining God”, or a beginner contemplating having your first official get-together, the party idea I have for you today is definitely a winning option. With very little stress placed on the host, it’s a great way to organize a gathering that is easy, fun, and most importantly, inexpensive. Sound intriguing yet? Let me teach you how to throw the Ultimate Chili Cook-Off!

Here’s the backstory behind this year’s Chili Cook-Off. Our son, Zach, was invited to play in an Honors Band at the University of Miami last Friday and Saturday. It was an amazing opportunity for him and I can’t begin to tell you how excited he was to play at the college. It’s his dream school so it was a big deal for him!

There was only one problem. Every year we throw a big Super Bowl party for our family and friends and the dates for the Honors Band had us out of town until late Saturday evening. We would be home for Sunday but throwing a big party takes planning and a ton of prep. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go as crazy as I normally do with my get-togethers so what was I going to do to make this work?

And then the idea came to me! Back in the fall of 2016, I threw my first Chili Cook-Off. It was a blast! Everyone brought over a pot of their famous chili and we voted on the winner. It was such a success! I wanted to host another cook-off this fall but our calendar got booked quickly and I just couldn’t fit it in. My bestie, Kristen, suggested that I try incorporating it into Super Bowl instead.  At the time it sounded like an awesome idea but that was about four months ago so the thought went in and out of my brain quickly.

Flash forward four months and I was trying to figure out how in the world I was going to be in Miami and pull off a Super Bowl party the next day. And then Kristen’s idea came back to me. Why not throw a Chili Cook-Off in conjunction with Super Bowl? Would this work? After careful thought, and a ton of mental deliberating, I decided that this would be the perfect solution to the pickle I was currently in.

Why would it work? Here are the 3 main benefits of having a Chili Cook-Off:

  1. There’s very little cooking involved. Throw together a pot of chili for the competition, gather the fixings, and you’re pretty much set!
  2. It’s easy on your wallet. With your guests contributing food to the party, the cost to you as the host is minimal.
  3. It’s a BLAST! Your guest will have such a great time trying all the chilis and deciding on their favorites. 

Obviously, these benefits are why throwing a Chili Cook-Off was a no-brainer for me!

Before you go any further, you’ll want to download my free Chili Cook-Off printables using the form. They will make your life so much easier! 

Start with the invitation.

You’ll want to clearly state in your invitation that you will be hosting a Chili Cook-Off and what that means for your guests. You should state the rules, prizes (if having) and exactly what you want your guests to bring with them.

For my Chili Cook-Off, I asked guests to bring a pot of their award-winning chili. I explained that we would be voting on our favorite chili and the winner would receive a $25 gift card. I chose to have one overall winner but you can pick multiple winners for different categories if you prefer. My free printables include a ribbon for Best Overall, Spiciest and Most Unique.

*Food for thought: Ask guests to bring serving spoons if you don’t have many to spare. 

Follow-up with a reminder the week of the event.

It’s important to send a reminder email to your guests a few days before the party. Life is busy and a quick reminder is helpful for everyone involved. RSVPs might change and it will give you a better idea of who is coming for sure at this point. When reaching out to your guests don’t forget to reiterate what they need to bring with them.

Shop for your Chili Cook-Off supplies.

As the host, it is your responsibility to have the supplies needed for making your Chili Cook-Off a success. Before you get your panties in a ruffle, this isn’t as big of a deal as you may think.

Here’s a list of all you need:

  • Bowls
  • Sample cups (I used styrofoam Espresso cups)
  • Spoons
  • Napkins
  • The Fixings (shredded cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, onions)


Time to set-up your party.

You’ll want to have your free Chili Cook-Off printables ready to go before your guests arrive. If you haven’t downloaded them yet, sign up using the link below. Seriously, this will save you so much time!

You’ll want to designate the area where you will be placing all the chili. I chose my kitchen countertops but you choose what works best for you. Keep in mind you might need a couple of extension cords if your guests decide to bring their chili in crockpots.

I placed my pot of chili as an example so guests knew where to place theirs. In front of each of the pots of chili, I placed a number card. I also put a stack of the sample cups in front of the pots so people could taste each one. It’s also smart to put a napkin or paper plate in front of the pots to rest the serving spoons when they aren’t being used.

How to throw the ultimate chili cook-offDon’t forget to set up an area with your full-sized bowls, spoons, and napkins so guests can grab a full portion once they decide what chili is their favorite!

How to throw the ultimate chili cook-offAlso, place “The Fixings” in small serving bowls so that guests can top their chili to their liking. If you decided to provide cornbread, corn casserole or hot dogs, you’ll want to add them to the assembly line as well.

How to throw the ultimate chili cook-offHow to vote and determine the winner.

Explain to your guests that they are responsible for tasting ALL of the different chilis. For our party, we only voted for the best overall chili but if you decided to vote for other categories such as spiciest or most unique, you’ll want to tell that to your guests before they start tasting.

Have a bowl or container with post-it notes or scrap paper and ask your guests to jot down the number of the winning chili on it. Have them fold it up and place it in the bowl. Remember, if you are voting for multiple categories, you will need to have multiple bowls that are labeled for those categories. Guests will have to vote once for each category in that case.

How to throw the ultimate chili cook-offOnce everyone has voted you can simply count the votes from the bowls and you’re done! Announce the winner and give them their ribbon along and any additional gift if you are planning on giving one.

How to throw the ultimate chili cook-offAnd that’s all she wrote. You officially know how to throw the Ultimate Chili Cook-Off. You can pretty much throw this together with your eyes closed! So what are you waiting for? Get to planning while the weather is still chilly and everyone is craving a big bowl of comfort food.

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