Fundraising with the Ultimate Chili Cook-Off

Nothing gets amateur chefs simmering under their aprons like a good, old fashioned chili cook-off. Traditionally, chili contests were “full-blown” competitions, featured as the spotlight of county fairs or church bizarre.

But, for a fundraising event, chili contests can provide a bit of savory competition among aspiring chefs in your community – while at the same time providing the perfect excuse to raise funds for your special cause.

Before you take the bite out of a chili cook off, you’ll need to decide on a few particulars – such as where and when to host your chili tasting, prize categories, judging, and so on.


The perfect time for chili is anytime! While it might be a fact to some, most chili cook-offs take place in the early fall, late winter, or early spring when the weather is still cool enough to warm up with a hot, hearty bowl of chili. An outdoor venue is ideal because it will entice folks to come, bowl and spoon in hand, to sample the various pots.

Who wouldn’t want to judge a chili cook off? Oh, me, pick me! While it will probably be easy to get your volunteer judges, remember that you need to choose and brief them prior to the date of the cook-off. Remember that many people have eating issues – digestive issues, food allergies, dislikes – so make sure you pick judges who will be willing and eager to sample all pots.

The allure of many chili cook offs is the preparation itself. With that in mind, decide in advance whether you want chefs to bring a finished chili pot or to prepare the chili from scratch onsite, as part of the entertainment.

If you do decide on onsite preparation, a la Iron Chef, you will need a venue with enough cooking space and equipment to accommodate your group of cooks. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen. Also, accidents do happen, so if you’re cooking onsite, keep fire extinguishers and first aid kit handy.

Decide on the rules ahead of the game. That means you can ask cooks to prepare a pot dependent on a theme – such as Mexican, Southwestern, or cowboy chili. Or you can simply let the contestants decide whether to use Grandma’s secret recipe yet again.

Get in the chili spirit, and work up your appetite, by decorating to complement your theme – think chili pepper lights, cowboy hats, sombreros, spurs and cowboy boots, and pinatas.

Offer utensils and be sure to purchase bowls, spoons, cups and plenty of liquid to douse that chili fire. Or notify guests in advance that they will need to bring their own bowls, eating utensils and fire extinguisher – this time I’m kidding! This can be advertised on your event signage and promotional materials.

Don’t forget the hot sauce – or for that matter, all of the traditional chili sides:

  • Rice
  • Sour cream
  • Hot sauce
  • Corn bread
  • Tortillas
  • Shredded cheese
  • Napkins
  • Water, lots of water…

How will you award prizes? Before you blow steam up any of the chili chefs’ aprons, you will want to decide on the categories for different prizes. Some options are:

  • Best Beef Chili
  • Best Chicken Chili
  • Best Vegetarian Chili
  • Spiciest Chili
  • Most Savory Chili
  • Best Gas Producing
  • Best Overall Chili
  • Most Creative Concoction
  • Best Afterburn
  • Where’s the Fire Extinguisher
  • Full of Beans

And finally, please remember that a lot of love and hard work went into each and every pot at your chili cook off. So even though you could remove dried paint from your driveway with a few of the concoctions – be thankful and kind to all of your volunteers.

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