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Heat Up Summer Nights with a Chili Cook-off 

Summer just isn't summer without a casual, down low chili cook-off with your friends.

Summer evenings call for casual gatherings, and a low-fuss chili cook-off is just the thing for a mid-July Saturday night of friendly competition and good eats.

You supply the drinks and chili toppings. Friends and family show off mad culinary skills with their top-secret recipes. Everyone participates in the sampling, judging and smack talking.

Chili dishes vary wildly, from fiery Tex-Mex to savory Cincinnati-style, with beans that can be white, black or red. Encourage your guests to get creative. For instance, most chilis are tomato-based, but green chili dishes often feature tomatillos as the star ingredient. Be sure a few chili offerings are meatless, ‘cause there’s a lot of herbivores around here.

Hosting essentials:

Set up one long table for toppings, and one to line up the crocks of chili. Have extension cords available to plug in crockpots, and extra ladles.

Chili toppings should include sour cream, jalapenos, sweet Vidalias and green onions, avocado, cilantro, hot sauce, shredded cheddar and tortilla chips.

Keep the beverages simple, plentiful and thirst quenching. Serve up cold Mexican beer or a pitcher of beergaritas, the lighter and bubblier cousin of the traditional margarita. For one pitcher, mix one can Limeade, an equal amount of tequila, and three bottles of beer. Serve over ice; salted rims optional!

Cook-off how-tos:

Have people bring their crock pot inside a brown paper bag. They drop them off in the kitchen and you place them on the table to keep the chefs anonymous. Have chefs label their crock with a creative description (i.e. Tomatilla Tornado).

Place a cup next to each crock. Guests vote by dropping a bean into their favorite chili’s cup.

Reward champion chefs with a memorable prize: a giant bottle of hot sauce, a trophy of wooden spoons, or a necklace of dried chili peppers.

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