Chili cook-off beats the heat

Temperatures of over 100 degrees did not stop teams from competing in the Chilisaurus chili cookoff at Mavericks Icehouse in Terlingua on June 12. Photo by Shawna Graves

Fifteen chili teams competed in a CASI chili championship qualifier in Terlingua on June 12, as temperatures climbed to 108 degrees. There was a decent turnout for the dinosaur-themed event, dubbed Chilisaurus by the hosts at Mavericks Icehouse.

CASI, short for Chili Appreciation Society International, was the first organizer of chili championships in Terlingua in 1967.  Its mission is to promote chili cook-offs that support charities and bring people together with a motto of “Chili, charity, and fun.”

Sanctioned chili cook-offs such as Chilisaurus give winners a chance to qualify for the granddaddy of all cookoffs, the CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship, that takes place each November. To compete at the November cook-off, a team must earn between nine and 12 points, depending on where they’re from.

At each qualifier event, contestants have the chance to win between one and four points.

Anyone can compete, but the rules are strict. For starters, competitors are only allowed to cook one pot of chili, and it can’t contain any fillers such as macaroni, beans, or hominy. No marinating and no commercial seasoning mixes are allowed. It must be prepared from scratch, on site.

CASI Director Steve Herries drove from San Antonio to participate. 

“Everyone’s willing to help anyone out. I’ve seen it a dozen times,” Herries said. “If you show up to a cook-off empty handed and want to cook, you’re cooking,” he said. “With so many seasoned regulars bringing extra pots, pans, and ingredients, if there’s a will, there’s a way.” 

As temperatures blazed for the fifth consecutive day of 105-plus degree heat in Terlingua, cooks prepared chili, and a favorite Terlingua local braved an inflatable dinosaur costume to serve as mascot and cheerleader. Mavericks Icehouse served cold libations, and there was live music throughout the day. Contestants and revelers made friends and swapped recipes.

“We’re just looking for a good time,” said first-time competitor and recent Terlingua transplant Celina Velez. 

Velez helped Mavericks Icehouse general manager Mandy Borgenson create the hand painted ceramic dinosaur piggy bank trophies for the top 10 winners.

Velez improvised her recipe on the spot. 

“Hopefully I don’t win, because I can’t make it again,” she joked. 

Anyone can be a chili judge, although the job requires strict adherence to a litany of rules.  Judges evaluate aroma, red color, consistency, taste, and aftertaste. They aren’t allowed to discuss their evaluations, and must rate each dish on its own merits. There’s inherently a bias, as some cooks prefer spicier or saltier chili.

“There’s a lot of crap shoot in this thing,” admitted Herries, “And it either skews or levels the playing field, depending on your perspective.” 

It was Mavericks Icehouse first charity event, raising $560 for the Crisis Center of the Big Bend.

The next CASI chili championship qualifier will be held at Marathon Motel and RV Park in Marathon during July Fourth weekend.

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