Visiting The NYC Chili Cook Off

Winters are long in New York, and they can be brutal. Months of frigid temperatures and lack of sunshine can take its toll. Nowhere do they pay more attention in early February when Punxsutawney Phil or New York’s own Staten Island Chuck are dragged from their cozy dens to predict the possibility of an early spring than they do in New York. But, whether shadows are seen or not, whether spring comes with a roar or a whimper, there is one thing that happens around mid-April every year that never fails to add a little heat to the hearts and taste buds of New Yorkers; the NYC Chili Cook Off!

What? You don’t think of New York when you think of chili? You think that’s more for Texans and New Yorkers are more apt to fill their plates with pizza, pastrami and clam chowder? Think again! Better yet, make plans to attend the NYC Chili Cook Off, which is held every year on Staten Island. This isn’t just some neighborhood event: this is the official New York state competition for the International Chili Society (ICS). Contestants have to be members in good standing with the ICS, and the winner goes on to international competition.

There’s one more similarity between Texans and New Yorkers when it comes to chili. No beans! Folks may add beans and pasta or whatever when they cook at home, but official competitions that are sanctioned by the ICS (or by the entire state of Texas) strictly forbid the inclusion of beans and pasta. Period.

The NYC Chili Cook Off has three main categories, these are:

  • Traditional Chili – this is the red chili that we are all most familiar with and, per ICS rules, contains some kind of meat or combination of different meats, spices, tomato sauce and other ingredients that are not pre-packaged or prepared, and red chili peppers. The meat can be ground or treated ahead of time but not pre-cooked. All cooking must be done during the competition.
  • Chili Verde – “verde” means green in Spanish and the use of green chili peppers instead of red is the only difference in this category and the traditional chili.
  • Salsa – the category for everyone’s favorite chip dip is a little more lax. The chili peppers, spices and other veggies and fruits can be combined at home and brought to the competition or prepared onsite. The contestant, however, must affirm that it was made by the contestant and that no pre-packaged ingredients were used.

Anyone who believes that their chili has to simmer for days or is only at its best the second or third day, is pretty much out of luck at an event like this. There is an established time period for cooking; no less than 3 hours and no more than 4. While contestants always try to prepare enough for the crowds of cook-off attendees who also try and determine who the next chili champion will be, each participant is required to cook at least two quarts of their entry for the judges.

What Makes the Best Chili?

We all have our individual preferences for our favorite chili. Some look for how well the ingredients blend and complement each other. A bowl of red that is thick enough to stand a spoon straight up may be heaven on earth for some and not so much for others. Some folks think you’re just getting started when that first bite brings tears to your eyes from those red peppers. So, what do professional judges look for? At the NYC Chili Cook-off and other ICS-sanctioned events these are the criteria:

  • Consistency
  • Color
  • Texture (of the meat)
  • Blending of the spices
  • Aroma
  • Overall good flavor

There have always been a lot of reasons to come to New York. Now, you can add another to that list. Come for the chili!

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