Friends familiar with my limited culinary skills will be tickled to hear I judged Saturday’s 2nd annual Chili Cook Off hosted by the Lake Highlands Junior High PTA. It was a gig I dearly loved repeating.
Fifteen teams created chili concoctions, but they also imagined elaborate themes, decorated booths and designed costumes. (Shout out to the guy who dressed as Eleven in the Stranger Things booth.) All entrants were fabulous, and I enjoyed spending the day with fellow judges Lonnie Jordan, head coach of the Lake Highlands High School football team, Carrie Breedlove, principal at LHJH, Patrick Breedlove, Carrie’s husband working in the food industry, Kathleen Carrigan, a neighborhood resident, and Ted Hume, a Lake Highlands dentist.
Hume won the world-famous Terlingua Chili Cook Off in 2003 and 2012, and he’s picked up trophies and ribbons too numerous to count at contests all across the Southwest. Between tastings, he shared a few tips with me and the other judges.
“Use good meat and fresh [powdered] spices,” says Hume. “I use Pendery’s from Fort Worth and Mild Bill’s from Corsicana. The stuff you buy in the grocery store, you don’t know how long it’s been sitting in a warehouse, and then sitting on a shelf. It dries out and gets old.”
A common mistake, he says, is to season the meat before cooking.
“I brown the meat, drain the grease and add the liquid,” says Hume. “I add beef broth, chicken broth and tomato sauce, but I only add a third of the chili powder, cumin and garlic. Thirty minutes before I turn it in, I add the rest of the spices.
Boiling the chili, too, is another mistake.
“I keep it at a simmering bubble, but not splashing out of the pot. And I keep the lid on it. You lose flavor with the steam.”
The million dollar question, of course, is: beans or no beans?
“I like beans in chili. Some of my favorite chili is the stuff you get on ski slopes that’s got beans and stuff in it, but competition chili has no beans. The rules state that you can have no fillers – beans, rice, corn. Beans will get you disqualified.”
Some at the LHJH Chili Cook Off got creative, including a team that cooked with brisket and another that entered a delicious green chili. Terlingua-level competitions, though, are no-nonsense.
“Competition chili is ‘Texas Red,’ and that’s it.”
The biggest mistake beginner’s make?
“Pouring beer in their chili,” says Hume. “Ever been to a party, and the next day there’s a stale beer smell? It’s great in bread, bad in chili. You can also taste when they’ve burned the meat.”
And Hume says chili-making day is no time to scrimp on the salt.
“If you cook something, and you feel like it’s almost there – spaghetti sauce, taco meat, chicken noodle soup – add a little sea salt and fresh garlic.”
You can find Hume’s award-winning recipe on his dentist practice website here.
Congratulations to the LHJH PTA for a successful fundraiser and to these cook off winners: 1st place Chilifest 86, 2nd place Afterburn and 3rd place Chicken Ranch Chili.