We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Spoon.
That reference will resonate with fans of The Simpsons. Specifically, the enthusiasm that chili-lovers feel when a chili cook-off comes to town and stirs something deep in the soul. Homer Simpson was so enamored by the prospect of tasting competitive chilis that he had carved his own chili-tasting spoon [“They say he carved it himself from a bigger spoon” -Lennie]. Had Homer attended Queen Mary’s Waterfront Cook-Off on Saturday, he would have needed that bigger spoon.
The Waterfront Cook-Off essentially consisted of a few dozen chili and BBQ vendors, a small beer garden, a few family-friendly games and competitions, and official chili and BBQ competitions. The California State Championship Chili Cook-Off (sanctioned by the International Chili Society, ICS) judged the chilis, and Kansas City BBQ Society handled the barbeque entries.
While this reporter wandered the grounds, trying to determine which of the multitudinous chilis and BBQs to sample with my finite sampling tickets, I bumped into Scott Toland, the ICS president and CEO, who provided some guidance regarding what was available and what to look for in the way of chilis.
“We have four types of chili that we're competing with today,” Toland told L.A. Weekly. “One is called traditional red. It can be any kind of meat, but primarily beef or pork combined in a red sauce with no beans; beans are not allowed in that. Chili Verde is primarily a pork-based with green chili sauce. Very popular in southern California.”
“Then we have homestyle chili, which is kind of just like it says; it's the kind of chili you'd make at home: chunks of vegetables; it could have beans in it, [and] ground beef or pork,” he went on. “It could be a white chicken chili; it could be a secret chili. It's really anything, as long as it has beans in it. And then we have veggie chili, which cannot have any meat or meat byproducts. It can have soy, [or] you know, some meat substitute, but it's strictly a combination of vegetables.”
As for how people grade chilis, Toland offered the commonsense advice: whatever looks good, smells good, and tastes good. Beyond that, different considerations that chili connoisseurs and judges take into account include several factors.
“Chili is not supposed to be too thick or too thin,” he said. “It's not stew, and it's not soup; it lives in the middle. It's not supposed to be too hot because that burns, and nobody wants food that burns them on the lips or the tongue. What you're looking for is a nice heat in the back after you swallow, and that's consistent across all chilis.” He added, “If it has meat, you want the meat to be tender and flavorful. If it doesn't have meat, you want the vegetables to have been cooked consistently.”
With this advice, I continued walking up to various stands, getting to know the mostly-family oriented chili and BBQ competitors — many of who brandished their awards from past competitions and a decent number of who had only become players in the chili or BBQ fields within the past couple of years. It was difficult to decide whose food to sample.
Some places had long lines throughout the day, some had very colorfully designed stands, some had modelesque representatives, and some had very humble presentations. Standouts among the ones I tried included: K&D Knock U Down Chili (homestyle), Over the Road Chili (verde), Howlin for Chili (homestyle), Green Mountain Grills (Texas-style pulled pork BBQ), Winston Churchill (homestyle [from a British family]), Johnny B’s (verde), and The Woodshed (tri-tip BBQ).
The overall winners of the Kansas City BBQ Society Masters Series were: Burnin and Lootin (1st), Rooftop BBQ (2nd), and Rad Fondo BBQ (3rd) [People’s Choice Award: Rooftop BBQ]. For the entire ranking list and for winners in each of the four barbeque categories (chicken, brisket, pork, and pork ribs), visit the Kansas City Barbecue Society website.
The four winners of the chili competition were: Shawn Hook (Traditional Red Chili), Johnnie Booker (Homestyle Chili), Shawn Hook (Chili Verde), and Ken Hook, All Things Chili (Veggie Chili) [People’s Choice Chili Awards: Cory Catalano, BellaQue (1st); Nathan Anderson, Bitch’n Heat Chili (2nd); Austin Heplabacher (3rd)]. Each of the four winners of the official competition will be going to the ICS world championship in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sept. 7-8.
That event, as Toland pointed out, takes place on a 15-acre area, over two days, and draws about 10,000 people. As in the case of the Queen Mary event, Toland said that not everyone is an aficionado. “90% of the people here just come to have some fun. They're not coming as foodies to taste the chili specifically.” He said, “There's music here, there's drinks here, there's food here. It’s great competition. And honestly, the people cooking are some of the friendliest people you'll ever run into.”