How to Judge a Chili Cook-Off

bowl of chili
Photo: iStock
Remember: Great chili should look good, smell good and taste good!

When it comes to comfort food, it doesn't get much better than a big pot of chili. But which of your friends makes the meanest of them all? Invite them over and find out!

Essential Party Prep

Before Cook-Off Day
Ask your friends to give you the name of their chili so you can make name cards to display next to each pot. Also give them the heads-up to bring their printed recipe (tell them how many guests are coming so they'll bring enough) and a trivet to put under their pot if you need extras. And stock up on sides to serve with the chili!

On Cook-Off Day
Set up a long table to display all of the entries. In front of each pot, place a tray of shot glasses for guests to sample the chillies. Put out your sides, plus a few platters of cheese and crackers, grapes, and tortilla chips for the judges to cleanse their palates in between tastings. And don't forget spoons and a stack of deep bowls (we used Latte Bowls, $30 for set of 6, so guests can chow down after the contest -- they're probably going to want a lot more chili than can fit in a shot glass!

Cook-Off Contest Rules

Give each judge a judging sheet (download ours here) and a pencil. At traditional cook-offs, chillies are judged in five categories: aroma, color, consistency, taste and aftertaste, for a possible total of 50 points. Ask judges to smell the chili first and then look at it. Does it look fresh or mushy and greasy? Is the ratio of ingredients constant? Is it flavorful? Not colorful enough? Have each judge rate each category from 1 to 10, 10 being the best.

Choosing a Winner
Once the judging is complete, tally up the scores. Give the winner or winners a trophy ( has inexpensive options), but have a few additional prizes, like bottles of hot sauce, on hand for specialty categories like Most Interesting Ingredient or Spiciest Bite. Oh, and send guests home with copies of everyone else's preprinted recipes too!

Check out four mouth-watering recipes >

Nestperts: JANE BUTEL, author of Chili Madness; JANICE MILLER, executive director of the Chili Appreciation Society International, Inc. (CASI); COLLEEN REILLY and STEPHANIA STANLEY, cocreators of; REBECCA RATHER, author of Pastry Queen Parties; KELLEY MOORE, Seattle-based lifestyle expert and event planner