International Chili Society President Carol Hancock discusses the different types of chili at the world cookoff.
From Friday through Sunday, the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino will host the World's Championship Chili Cookoff. For three days, 400 participants, 300 judges, and hundreds of chili lovers from the general public will sample the best offerings of more than 200 International Chili Society sanctioned regional cookoffs that took place throughout the year. Winners of the four traditional cookoff categories will earn a combined total of $55,000 in prize money, and be crowned 2015 world champions for their efforts.
Carol Hancock, CEO of the ICS and former 1985 World's Championship Chili Cookoff champion, inherited the organization in 2000 from its founder, automotive icon Carroll Shelby. Today, the ICS operates as a nonprofit organization.
"All of the ICS prequalifying events benefit a charity. We have raised over $92 million for charity since our inception in 1967," Hancock said.
With more than 400 chili recipes in the running this year, a panel of judges -- including former champions, Reno city officials, chefs, and ICS-certified chili judges -- will be onsite to grade the texture, aroma, color, and above all, taste, of the chilis in four different categories. Judges must also ensure that the participants adhere to the ICS rules of competition, which exclude precooked meat and limit cooking time to four hours, for example.
For amateur chili enthusiasts, here is a breakdown of the categories and definitions that make a chili competition-ready.
World's Championship Traditional Red
Originally the only category in the competition, traditional red chili is any combination of meat (usually beef), red chili peppers and various spices and other ingredients. Beans and pasta are strictly prohibited in a traditional recipe. Winners of the traditional red category will be announced at 3 p.m. Sunday, with first place taking home $25,000.
World's Championship Chili Verde
Chili verde also is a traditional recipe and excludes pasta and beans in its recipe, but is usually made with chicken or pork (sometimes both) and green chili peppers as its base. Winners are announced at 3 p.m. Saturday.
World's Championship Salsa Contest
"This category was begun originally to give the cooks something to do while the judges were judging the competition chili. We adapted it as a World Champion category," Hancock said.
The salsa category allows for entries to be prepared ahead of time or prepared during the cookoff, but must be prepared by the contestant whose name appears on the application. Winners will be announced at the same time as Chili Verde.
World's Championship Homestyle Chili
Homestyle was added as a category in 2012 and adheres to less stringent rules than other categories. According to the ICS, homestyle chili is any number of ingredients that results in a dish seasoned with chili peppers and spices. Winners will be announced at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
"This category has no restriction as to ingredients," Hancock said. "We allow beans in these recipes to accommodate novice/first-time cooks."
First-timers at the competition might be a little overwhelmed as far as where to start, but Hancock said competition tasting is all about trusting your instincts and looking for balance.
“Taste for chili seasonings,” Hancock said. “Chili powder, cumin ... the heat -- that’s what they’re going to want to look for.”
As far as pacing oneself during the competition, Hancock said having a good palate cleanser between samples is important.
“Our judges use beer,” Hancock said. “So, that’s why we have a beer garden -- water is fine but something I don’t recommend ever is something like Coke. And iced tea is just completely out of the question, the tannins in it just play havoc with (the chili).”
Also included at the WCCC are the People's Choice and Best Booth Decoration and Showmanship categories, as well as the Shoot 'N' Holler chili-eating contest and the Firehouse Chili Cookoff, judged by Reno Mayor Hilary Schieve.
Details, including a full event schedule and booth registry, can be found here.