Off the Gulf Coast of Florida in the Panhandle, you navigate a four-mile long bridge that spans Apalachicola Bay and you come upon tranquil St. George Island. It’s a small mass of land, 28 miles long and only two miles wide. It is a paradise of secluded sandy white beaches, a virtual bird sanctuary and home to an impressive community of loggerhead turtles. Quiet, serene, ethereal. Population; about 3,000.
Except for the first Saturday in March.
By then the Panhandle is starting to warm up. Snowbirds packing it up to head back north, Spring Break is around the corner and pretty girls in bikinis. For the last thirty years or so, it is the time that more than 5,000 people are going to cram on to this little island and enjoy the annual St. George Island Charity Cook-Off.
More than seventy teams enter this chili extravaganza each year. This year will be our fourth venture into the world of competition chili. It is an elite showcase of chili and technique, chili heads from all over compete mano-to-mano, heat against heat. All to find out who brews the best bowl of red in the Panhandle of Florida.
Cooking chili competitively is not as easy as sounds. You have to put up with the elements, though instead of a booth with a canopy we converted a 1975 Apache trailer into a chili wagon to shield us. There is the timing. Three hours to cook chili is not a long time. Most chili chefs will tell you that chili tastes better the next day after cooking, so you have to be spot on with ingredients and cooking style. No beans in competition chili, so you must make two separate chili’s. One pot for the judges, another larger pot to sell to the chili junkies who want to sample a taste.
Finally, there is the judging. Judging is totally subjective so you are at the mercy of who is doing the tasting and what they think chili should or should not be. Hot or mild with a slight kick. Beef or beef and pork. Tomatoes or not, lately the chili that is winning in the big-shot chili cook-offs have not had tomatoes in them. Go figure. Remember, NO BEANS! No sides, like sour cream, shredded cheese or tortilla chips. Just pure virgin chili. It’s hard. Judge’s comments like “Holy crap, what the hell is this stuff?” or “Get me a paramedic” are not uncommon. “I think I just ate Drano” is one of my favorites.
We just go with what we know best and have fun doing it. It’s a full day not counting the two or three days of preparation we put into it. Putting our display decorations together, ingredients, strategy, etc…
This Saturday, our team, “Holly Tamales” is ready. We have tweaked last year’s recipe just a scrunch and we are…In it to Win it!
See what you think
In it to Win it! Chili
2 Lbs. Coarse Grind Groundhog Meat
2 Cups Cuban Cigar Ashes
2 Cups Fire ants
1 Tbs. Gunpowder
1 Onion, Chopped
1 Cup Coffee Grounds
1 Cup Kerosene
2 Shots Tequila, (For the Cook, not the Chili)
Cook the meat in the lard and add rest of ingredients. We use a boat paddle to stir because the pot is so damn big. Simmer for 3 hours and get ready for the judging.