A Bowl of Homemade Chili

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Nov 23, 2013

“Whenever I meet someone who does not consider chili a favorite dish, then I’ve usually found someone who has never tasted good chili.”
Jan Butel

I think I can identify with Margaret Cousins who said, “Chili is not so much a food as a state of mind. Addictions to it are formed early in life and the victims never recover. On blue days in October, I get this passionate yearning for a bowl of chili, and I nearly lose my mind.”

When the sun begins to lower on the horizon and the days start getting shorter and frost forms on the pumpkins, I begin thinking about chili. There is just something about a good bowl of chili that warms a person from the inside out. 

Years ago, wonderful Minnesota friends served us their homemade chili “Minnesota style” with cinnamon rolls and fresh carrot sticks. I am not sure why they added those things. But ever since, Evie and I do not feel our chili is legitimate unless it is accompanied by cinnamon rolls and fresh carrot sticks. We loved the recipe and have used it ever since. 

Not long ago Evie and I knew it was time to make some chili and eat it “Minnesota style.” We got the recipe, picked up the ingredients and our fall ritual began. I love the smell of hamburger and onions frying in the kitchen. I love the smell of chili sauce, red beans and canned tomatoes simmering on the stove. I love the sight of chili in that huge old pot which my mother used for cooking on the farm.

But Evie and I are not connoisseurs of chili like the people who belong to the International Chili Society (ICS). The ICS began in 1967 when some pioneers gathered for a chili shoot-out between Wick Fowler and H. Allen Smith. There were three judges. One of them voted for Fowler and the other voted for Smith. The third judge spat out both samples and declared his taste buds were ruined. So he called it a draw and declared a moratorium for one year. 

From that humble beginning chili lovers have gathered each year for the famous contest. At the 20th Annual World’s Championship of the ICS, 20,000 people attended in Rosamond, California. Jim Beaty, the Oregon champion, took home $25,000 and title of World’s Champion by defeating 78 other State and Regional Champions, as well as many from countries overseas. 

The ICS even has rules and regulations for cooks at their championships. The three categories are Traditional Red Chili, Chili Verde, and Salsa. Careful instructions are given for each contestant. No ingredient may be pre-cooked and the cooking period must be a minimum of three hours and no longer than four hours. Contestants are responsible for supplying all of their own cooking utensils and should provide a fire extinguisher and washing station. 

Each contestant must cook a minimum of two quarts of their competition chili prepared in one pot. Judges vote based on the following major considerations: good chili flavor, texture of the meat, consistency, blend of spices, aroma and color. 

Bob Plager won $25,000 in the 2013 ICS World’s Championship competing against 131 other Red Chili competitors. This made him a three time International Champion having won in 1996, 2006 and 2012. 

As I read about the International Chili Society I thought for a moment how Evie and I would fare if we entered our chili in that contest. I could just imagine the thrill of holding up the brown chili pot trophy above my head with an oversized $25,000 check directly behind me. But then I looked at our recipe and compared it to Bob Plager's and realized we were just amateur weekend chili makers. 

I must say, however, even I understand the motto of the Chili Appreciation Society International, “The aroma of good chili should generate the rapture akin to a lover’s kiss.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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