Where to Sample the Best Texas Chili

By: Janis Turk

February 11, 2015

The largest state in the continental United States, Texas has an official everything. Its state flower is the bluebonnet, its tree is the pecan, its bird is the mockingbird, its small mammal is the armadillo, and its large animal is the longhorn – and that’s just for starters.

So what’s the official state dish? A big bowl of hot Texas chili, of course!

Some call it “Texas Red,” others call it Chile con Carne, but most folks in San Antonio just call it chili. It’s a quintessentially Texan dish: the kind of one-pot meal cowboys on a trail ride would cook over a campfire in a Dutch oven (the official state cooking utensil, of course).

It’s this simple cowboy fare – usually made with cubed or ground beef, dried chiles or red chile powder, onion, lots of cumin, and other spices – that drives one of the favourite pastimes in Texas: weekend chili cook-offs. Chili-making competitions are held each weekend all year long all over the state, where folks can go from booth to booth, tent to tent, and tailgate to tailgate, tasting Texas chili and drinking beer. Texans are quite serious about their chili – there’s an entire eccentric culture of chili cooks and chili lovers who spend each weekend and all their disposable income wandering from town to town to the next chili cook-off.


Where to Sample the Best Texas Chili
There are many proud winners, like this man, who take home top prizes at the CASI Championship chili cook-off events each year in Texas. © Jennifer Sherfield, courtesy of CASI


There are co-ed cook-offs; men’s; ladies and even a “queens” cook off in San Antonio and other parts of the state. One of the biggest San Antonio chili events is the Texas Open Chili Cookoff, (Sat/Sun, February 28-March 1, 2015). Held by the charitable non-profit Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI), this event draws chili cooks from all across Texas, along with hundreds of “chiliheads” (cook-off fans) tasting the entries in this fundraiser for San Antonio’s Wounded Warrior Support Center.


Where to Sample the Best Texas Chili | CASI Championship Chili Cook-off
Chili cooks of all ages, from all over Texas and beyond, compete in the annual CASI Championship Cook-off events set outside the old Texas ghost town of Terlingua. © Jennifer Sherfield, courtesy of CASI


Ingredients such as alligator, snake and armadillo meat are not uncommon in chili cook-off recipes, and secret spice mixes, beer and whiskey are fairly standard. Almost anything goes, but the one ingredient you won’t find in Texas chili is beans.


Texans say, disdainfully, that only “Yankees” put beans in their chili. Most “northerners” add tomato sauce and red kidney beans as a filler to feed more folks, but Texans say that’s tantamount to treason.


Where to Sample the Best Texas Chili | Terlingua
People come from all over Texas to attend the annual Texas International Chili Championship events each year near Terlingua. © Jennifer Sherfield, courtesy of CASI


They don’t tolerate beans in Terlingua, either, a quirky little West Texas ghost town where the annual “world champion” chili cook-off is held nearby on the first Saturday of November during the annual Terlingua International Chili Championship. According to CASI, what began in 1967 as an invitational cook-off between two chili cooks has now become a three-part, four-day contest between 300-350 cooks competing all year long in order to take a coveted spot in this invitational international chili cook-off. It all begins on the Wednesday before that big November weekend, and culminates on Saturday when the Governor of Texas makes an annual proclamation declaring the Terlingua cook-off Saturday “Chili Appreciation Society International Day.”


Yes, in a state with an official bird, tree, flower and more, it seems altogether fitting that Texas would designate an official day for their official dish.


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Have you tried Texas chili? Let us know in the comments section below.


Written by Janis Turk


Janis Turk

Janis Turk is an award-winning travel writer and photographer and the author of the popular travel guide book, Frommer’s San Antonio & Austin Day by Day. Turk’s travel writing and photography have appeared in magazines such as Hemispheres (United Airlines), Spirit (Southwest Airlines), Pontiac Performance, Chile Pepper, New York City Resident, AAA Texas Journey, and more, as well as popular newspapers such as The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and others. She also scribes online pieces for popular travel sites such as Frommer’s and GoNOMAD. Turk divides her time between New Orleans, Louisiana, and her home in Seguin, Texas.

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