For a fun yet low-key party idea, why not host a chili “throwdown” to see who among your friends has the best recipe? Seems like every cook has a favorite (and thinks theirs is the best), so competition will be hot! And if the contest coincides with a game day event or block party, all the better! It’s an easy and inexpensive way to have fun and spice up a weekend afternoon or evening.
Because a cook-off party requires some research and planning on the part of your guests, it’s a good idea to send invitations about a month before the competition. They don’t need to be fancy—use an online invitation site (great for helping keep track of RSVPs) or simple email. You can also design and mail invitations cut in the shape of chili peppers or aprons. In it,
For all kinds of reasons it’s best to conduct the cook-off in or near the kitchen. Arrange the slow cookers so they have easy and safe access to electrical outlets, using a power strip for additional plug-in options if need be. With all the appliances, it’s possible you’ll trip a fuse so be prepared to relocate some pots if necessary. (Note: For a fun twist, try to keep the entries anonymous. Label each chili with a number when it’s received, noting the person who entered it. Names of contestants shouldn’t be revealed until the end after scores are tallied and a winner is announced.) Finally, supply each chili with a large spoon or ladle and have stacks of bowls, spoons and napkins available around the chilies for judging.
For optimum traffic flow, set up an area for the remaining buffet items, such as a tossed salad, trays of Pepperidge Farm® breads, rolls and crackers, and assorted toppings like grated cheese, Pace® Chunky Salsa, sour cream, diced avocado, corn or tortilla chips, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro and lime wedges, in an adjoining room or area off the kitchen. And it’s always smart to place buckets or containers of iced-down drinks around the house for easy access; plus, it frees up space in your fridge and is one less thing guests have to retrieve from the kitchen.
For guests who are sensitive to spicy foods, have a supply of dairy products (milk, yogurt) on hand to help “tame the flame.” Interestingly, water actually intensifies the burning sensation and isn’t the best choice to put out the fire. The fat in dairy products coats the mouth and helps soothe quickly and effectively.
Part of the fun of a cook-off party is having all guests participate in the judging process. Provide water and crackers for cleansing the palate between entries and supply each guest with a simple scorecard and pencil to record their opinions.
Judging: Once the chilies are set up, let the judging begin! Here are some suggestions for making the process fair and easy:
Scoring: Depending on how serious you want to make your competition, scoring can be as simple as having judges write the number of their favorite chili on a slip of paper then toss into a basket. Votes are tallied and the chili with the most votes wins, with 2nd and 3rd places following based on results.
You can also opt for a more complex scoring system where each chili is judged on a scale of one to five according to certain criteria: ie., Appearance, Aroma, Taste, Texture, Best Use of Chile/Spices, etc.
Prizes: In the spirit of friendly competition, prizes should be inexpensive, fun and light-hearted. Here are some suggestions:
Since chili is essentially the “main dish” of the party, the rest of the menu can be filled out with a few appetizers or snacks, accompaniments and desserts. Below are some ideas to consider as you plan your cook-off (as well as some chili ideas in case you want to get in on the competition too!):
Appetizers & Snacks