Gather your most competitive, food savvy crew, and host a chili cook-off this Family Day. A kind of choose-your-own-adventure style of dining, this cook-off runs on the dishes your family and friends provide, so the more the merrier.

As the host, here are some simple ways to streamline your chili cook-off, including a handful of chili and side dish recipes, along with flexible cook-off guidelines. So roll up your sleeves and put your best chili forward this Family Day. May the best pot win!

chipotle-chicken-chili

1. Choose a theme and a recipe

We’ve chosen to focus on chili — a one-pot wonder that’s easily transported from slow-cooker or pot, to table. And chili is highly adaptable, with variations like chicken, beef, turkey, veggies, triple-bean and more. Every guest will likely have his or her favourite, something they’re keen to share with the group.

Chili recipes to whet your guests’ appetites:
The Pioneer Woman’s Chipotle Chicken Chili
Slow Cooker Turkey Chili
Spicy Black Bean and Raisin Chili with Fresh Pineapple and Tortillas
Rachael Ray’s Zucchini Chili
Chili Con Carne
Hearty Vegetarian Chili with Butternut Squash

2. Invite your family, friends and neighbours
Create an event via Facebook. Even guests who don’t have a Facebook account can be invited by email this way, so no one is left out. Make sure to clearly state what you’re providing (see below) and what they’re providing; a pot of their best chili and a mug.

Since this is Family Day, invite your nearest and dearest to participate, including the kids.

zucchini chili

3. Serving vessels and cutlery
For judging, consider the humble coffee mug when sampling each chili. A mug is easily held (no spills and you can stand comfortably with it), retains heat, and guests can dip and dive into small bites of each chili. Depending on the size of the party, you may want to consider plastic cutlery — here, it’s all about the spoons — and small plastic or Styrofoam sampling mugs.

Encourage guests to bring their own mug to the party (BYOM), or provide a cheap and cheerful option from IKEA or second hand store or simply what you have in your kitchen. Like the menu, the dinner ware doesn’t need to match.

Once the chili judging has ended, provide bowls (ceramic or plastic) for larger servings of favourites. Toppings and sides can more easily be added this way (see below).

4. Keep score
In true sportsperson competitive nature, provide a handmade score sheet to guests.

1. Place sticky note numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) on each pot of chili for easy scoring.
2. One score sheet per pot judging taste (score: 1 to 5, 1 to 10, etc.) plus a written note on what made this chili better/different.
3. Keep each pot’s score sheets in front of the said pot-on-trial for easy tallying post-game.

5. Super sides
Bring these out after judging. Sides are the host’s job — cornbread, salad and, if you have the time, a layered dip, are our chili cook-off top picks. Get the recipe for Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread.

cast-iron-skillet-cornbread

6. Toppings bar essentials
The host should provide the sides, in this case, a topping bar for chili. Guacamole or diced avocado, grated cheese, chopped cilantro, green onion, sour cream or Greek yogurt, pickled jalapeños and corn tortilla chips can be easily assembled and put into small bowls for guests to adorn to their taste. Get the recipe for Guacamole with a Kick.

guacamole-with-a-kick

7. Beverages
This is up to you: BYOB or host-provided. If you’re providing, chili bar must-haves include margaritas, beer, wine (red and white), sparkling water and still water. For those who love cocktails, consider the spicy, truly Canadian classic, the Caesar, or chili and taco partner extraordinaire, the Moscow Mule. For kids and teens, create a specialty mocktail.

the-perfect-caesar

8. Declare the winner, provide a prize
With judgement sampling and post-judgement feasting now over, it’s time to declare a winner. And, while the winner will receive bragging rights among friends, a small prize completes the competition.

Prize ideas: a new wooden spoon, new mug, a second-hand trophy or, for non-material goods, the winner gets to take home the leftovers.

9. Extras to consider
If it’s a one-pot, slow cooker cook-off like this chili feast, you’ll require an extension cord to keep food hot and safe, as well as heat pads as to not scorch your table.

And, though you’ll all likely be too full, dessert is always nice to have on hand for guests with a serious sweet tooth. For the chili cook-off, a Tres Leche Cake keeps the tablescape on-theme and feeds a crowd. Get the recipe for Alton Brown’s Tres Leche Cake.

tres-leche-cake

10. More cook-off theme ideas
Chili isn’t the only dish that works cook-off-style. Adaptable, family-style and build-you-own dishes work best for cook-offs. Here’s a handful of both savoury and sweet ideas to get you started.

Savoury:
Pizza cook-off: You provide the dough, guests bring their best pizza toppings.
Meatball cook-off: You provide the cooked spaghetti, guests bring a pot of their perfect sauce and meatballs.
Soup cook-off: You provide the toppings (baby saltine crackers, toasted seeds, croutons, herbs, pesto, etc.), guests bring a pot of soup.
Taco cook-off: You provide the toppings and taco shells, guests bring a taco filling of their choosing (roasted vegetables, pulled pork, spiced ground beef, grilled onions, etc.)
Grain bowl cook-off: You provide the rice and sauce, guests bring their go-to grain bowl edition.

Sweet:
Cupcake cook-off: You provide the coffee, tea and a cupcake of your own creation (and maybe some sprinkles), guests bring a cupcake of their choosing.
Ice cream sandwich cook-off: You provide a few pints of vanilla ice cream, guests bring their best chocolate chip cookie.