Trout Unlimited

Trout Unlimited is already planning the 24th Annual Chili Cook Off and we are excited to announce that the prize money has been increased for the event Oct. 19 at Ridge Ferry Park.

First place gets $1,500, second place gets $750, and third place receives $500. Not bad for cooking a little chili and enjoying a good time in the process!

With this much money at stake, the judging staff feels there is a need and obligation to explain our judging process so all returning teams, as well as new teams, can be confident that everyone has an equal chance of winning.

Judging is a double-blind process. Each recipe is issued an identical one-quart cup at the cooks’ meeting with a sealed envelope containing one half of a ticket taped to the outside of the cup. The matching half of the coupon is inside the cup. The team captain retains the half inside the cup to turn in when the winners are announced.

Judging cups are turned in at the cooks’ meeting site at the given time and are transported to the judges in the Rome-Floyd ECO River Education Center. Samples that come late will not be judged.

Normally 30-40 judges work the Cook Off, and we thank for volunteering their time and taste buds. They taste a lot of chili. They judge based on four characteristics — texture, aroma, initial taste and aftertaste.

In the preliminary round, cups are randomly placed on numbered mats on numbered tables, usually eight to 10 tables with around eight samples per table. Each sample is identified only as the table number and place mat number where it is located.

Judges draw a random table number, and we try to have the same number of judges per each table. Each judge at each table samples each recipe at that table only.

Each criteria is scored a 1-6, with 1 being the worst and 6 the best. The scores are added, double checked and entered into a spreadsheet for each table. The two samples with the highest score per table advance to the final round. In the event of a tie, the samples tied advance.

The advanced chilies are randomly collected to be warmed up while the tables are set up for the final round.

In the final round, each sample is set on a numbered place mat and all judges taste each one using the same criteria and scoring system as in the preliminary round.

Again these scores, for each judge and each chili, are added, double checked and entered into a spreadsheet that calculates the final score for each of the samples. At this time no advanced chili has been moved from its numbered place mat.

The chili with the highest score is first place. The place mat number that it is on is called out and a judging staff member will write “1st” with a sharpie on the sealed envelope attached to the one-quart cup on that place mat and then move down in score, marking each sealed envelope with their ranking in the final round.

The sealed envelopes are then removed from the judging cups and given to the director of judging who then takes them to the stage for the announcement of the winners. The announcer starts with 10th place. The announcer unseals the envelope and calls out the number on the half of the ticket inside.

Only when the team with the matching number comes forward and verifies their half of the ticket do we know the winner. This continues all the way until first place is announced.

We apologize for this dry and sterile explanation of our judging process but we felt the need to be as precise and complete as possible. I hope I have explained it well enough that all will understand that this judging is truly a double blind process with the winners only being known at the last moment and EVERY submitted recipe has as much of a chance to win as any other.

Judges are given water as sometimes after all the chili that they taste they need it. Also judges cannot pick up any judging cup at any time and must use a new spoon for each taste. We use a lot of spoons.

Aside from the increase in prize money, there are other changes this year. Trophies will be given to the first place through fifth place recipes, and certificates for sixth through 10th place. Scores for the winners will be announced, and the top 20 will be available on our website at

In years past, all the judges participated in both the preliminary and final round of judging. This year there will be a group of judges for the preliminary round that will judge two tables instead of one. A completely different group of judges will judge the final round.

We feel this will spread the scoring over a wider range of taste buds, giving each chili submitted more input on their recipe.

Most of the judging staff have been judges for a number of years and can attest to its accuracy and fairness. Through the years we have had the chance to taste a bunch of different chilies from wild to mild, and I can truthfully say that y’all make some good chili!

Also, we know that there are a lot of folks who make a good pot of chili and have not entered the Cook Off. Team registration begins Sept. 9, so start making plans. If you would like to be a judge, email me at

Joseph Fincher is a member of the Coosa Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited and part of the Trout Unlimited Chili Cook Off judging staff.

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