If you enjoy cooking, chili and intense competition, then you’ll love the chili cook-off fundraiser! A chili cook-off can be a blast, not just for guests, but for local food enthusiasts who are always looking to sample new flavors. When it comes to chili cooks, they tend to take special pride in their recipes and want to prove they have the best. Although fall is the perfect time to schedule a chili cook-off, this fundraiser will do great most anytime of the year and will draw in friends, family and community for a great event that everyone will enjoy.

We’ve put together some ideas and tips to help you plan a successful chili cook-off fundraiser. Whether this ends up being a large-scale, serious cook-off or a friendly gathering in your backyard, there are some important things to consider before moving forward.

Determine the Type of Event

A chili cook-off by itself will surely be fun and will draw a crowd, but consider merging two or more food cook-offs or other events to diversify your crowd and bring in more money for your fundraiser. For example, you could add a salsa, guacamole or dessert cook-off to complement your chili cook-off and give more people the opportunity to compete. You could even spice things up a bit by adding some other fun events such as chili eating contests or beauty pageants. We saw another blog where one family held a men’s beauty pageant at their chili cook-off and it was a hoot! Additionally, you could even consider having a food competition like this at a craft show, county fair, or car show. Better yet, designate an area at your event where people can rent tables to sell their goods, whether it be food items, homemade craft items, or craft beer. Just “food” for thought. The goal is to create a totally memorable event that draws in as many people as possible and provides a fun-filled day! (Be sure to look at other Fundraising Ideas and see if you can add other fundraisers to your event.)

Determine your prices and be sure to keep it reasonable. Consider setting ticket prices at $5-10 for advance tickets, $10-15 at the door, and $25-50 for each team competing in the chili cook-off.

Set the Rules

Once you have determined the type of event, focus on the rules and regulations and get those down on paper. These will need to be communicated to registrants, so it’s important to determine these early on. Things to consider include:

  • The definition of “chili” and what items are allowed to be used during the competition and which ones are prohibited.
  • Cooking on-site. Instruct cooks as to what items may be prepared in advance and which ones must be prepared on-site in the presence of judges.
  • The amount of chili that is expected to be prepared by the registrant on the day of the event, i.e. 5 gallons or a large crock-pot.
  • Safe handling instructions, i.e. gloves must be worn by cook and assistants at each chili booth.
  • Booth setup. Include a description of the space that each cook and team will be given to work with and what you will provide and be sure to include the items that they will be responsible to bring themselves, i.e. tablecloth, electrical cord, power strips, etc.
  • Registration fee and how many team members can attend with each head cook. For example, a local restaurant or company may wish to participate. Consider giving 5-10 passes per competitor for them to bring assistants to help at their booth.
  • Any restrictions per your local police and fire department. Be sure to check with them before your event to determine if there is anything you should know about in advance. Certain laws may apply concerning open flames and the usage of propane or butane.
  • Time limit. Instruct cooks on the competition start time and include how much time they will have to prepare their food before the tasting and judging begins.
  • Anonymity of the judging. Will attendees serve as the judges or will you bring in a local panel of experts and special guests?
  • Alcohol versus no alcohol. Be sure to communicate to your competitors on what to expect at the competition so that there are no surprises for them when they arrive.

Decide on the Voting System and Prizes

Judging the chili at the competition is the best part of the fundraiser! Be sure and setup a judging system that has no bias and limits subjectivity as much as possible. You will need to create a “Judging Sheet” for judges to provide their vote for each chili entry. At most cook-offs, judges are asked to vote on 5 categories: Taste, Aftertaste, Color, Aroma, Consistency (Thickness). Provide a scale from 1-10 for each category that you provide on the Judging Sheet. Using the 5 categories above, this would provide a possible top score of 50. (Check out this free printable scorecard that we found online. It prints out to a 4x6 card, so you can print off however many you need for your event.) Ask your judges to inspect and smell the chili prior to tasting and to use a clean spoon at each booth. Then, have them cleanse their palates after each chili tasting. They should not share their thoughts or scores with others during the competition.

You could allow the ticket holders (the crowd) to be the judge of the chili or you could invite celebrity judges such as local radio station DJs, TV anchors, pastors, school principals and teachers, police chiefs, mayor and so on. You can even allow celebrity judges AND the attendees to vote and have a “People’s Choice” award in addition to your main chili cook-off winner voted on by the panel.

The prizes for the winners can be anything, including trophies, money, gift certificates, cookware, or other donated prizes from your community. Decide if you want to award just a top prize or if you wish to have prizes for 1st-3rd place. You could even provide prizes for other categories such as Spiciest, Most Interesting Ingredient, or Best Booth. There’s no right or wrong method here, but make sure to communicate to contestants so that they know what they are competing for…and make it fun!  Also, be sure to send everyone home with every cook’s printed recipe (ask each competitor to provide this on the day of the competition)!

Gather Supplies and Equipment

If you are having a large-scale fundraiser, you will need to provide a long folding table for each competing team to allow them to setup their cooking equipment and decorate according to their taste. If you are doing a small chili cook-off, you probably only need a few long tables since you will be able to set out 3-5 crock pots of chili on each one.

In addition to tables, here is a list of items of supplies to gather, regardless of the size of your event. Whether or not you provide these things or ask competitors to provide them is up to you, but be sure to communicate this to competing teams prior to the event on the registration sheet:

  • Chairs for guests/competing teams
  • Power strips and/or extension cords
  • Ladles
  • Small plastic cups and spoons for sampling
  • Regular bowls (for after the tasting so that people can have a full bowl of their favorite chili)
  • Voting ballets and containers to drop ballets into after tasting
  • Pens
  • Clipboards for judges
  • Platters of cheese, crackers, grapes, and tortilla chips for judges to clean palates after each tasting
  • Decorations
  • Snacks and drinks to complement the event

Send Out Invitations and Registration Forms

If you decide to have a small, low-key event, aim to invite friends, family, co-workers, church members, and school and organizational contacts. Having about 6-8 chili entries should give you enough variety to have a successful event. However, if you decide to go big with a larger event, be sure to invite local companies and organizations, big and small, to participate. Doing this will immediately increase your attendance and fundraising potential. Even businesses that are not food-related can participate because these types of community events can be great opportunities for team building and public relations. Local companies are always looking for opportunities to network and get involved in the community.

Last but not least, be sure to get the word out! Create a Facebook event page, post flyers on community bulletin boards, and send out invitations to local business. Also consider posting an advertisement in your local newspaper or asking radio stations to share the event to their audience.

Online Resources

Have you organized and hosted a chili cook-off fundraiser to raise money for your adoption? If so, tell us about it so we can share about what worked for you! 

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Lori Resmer

Child Advocate. Entrepreneur. Fitness Junkie. Mommy and Wife. Lori is an adoption fundraising coach that provides creative strategies and resources that empower families to adopt without debt.

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