Chili Cookoff! 

Folks who love chili -- and that would probably be you -- will want to be at Grayson Stadium for the first-ever Chili Bowl Cook-Off, set for Saturday, Nov. 18 from noon to 5 p.m. Not only will there be chili, hot dogs, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages will be served.

“We’re really trying to keep Grayson Stadium and the Sand Gnats fresh in everyone’s minds during the winter months,” says Katie Stocz of the Sand Gnats. “We want to utilize the stadium for events in the off-season.”

Chili-cooking teams will gather early in the morning to prepare their best chili recipes. A lucky panel of judges will then judge the entries.

When the gates open, the public will be invited in. Everyone will be given a bowl and a spoon, and given the chance to sample all the contestant’s entries.

“We chose a chili cook-off because we wanted to hold an event later in the year,” Stocz says. “It does get colder here, and we wanted to spice it up a bit.”

Entrants are certainly excited. “It’s been very well received,” Stocz says. “But there is still room for competitors. I’ve extended the deadline into next week.”

If you want to enter, there is a $50 entry fee and you must cook 10 gallons (yes, gallons) of chili. For information, call 351-9150 or e-mail Stocz at katies@sandgnats.com.

Want to attend just to enjoy the chili? Advance tickets are $5, or get in at the gate the day of the cook-off for $7.

“We’ve been doing advance ticket sales,” Stocz says. “The Train Wrecks will be performing and there will be fun activities for people to do. There will be a chili pepper-eating contest and a chili-eating contest.”

The cook-off contestants will be placed around the ball field.  “People will walk onto the field, wander around and sample chili,” Stocz says. “People can sit and listen to the music and eat chili. It’s something different for Savannah.”

Participants can even feel good about having fun. A portion of the day’s proceeds will go to America’s Second Harvest of the Coastal Empire.

“This will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving, so it seemed like an appropriate time to have a cook-off,” Stocz says. “Second Harvest is a great organization. We’ve enjoyed working with them.”

Contestants will start at the crack of dawn. “The cookers can come as early as 5 a.m. ,” Stocz says.

“They can cook here or, if they’re from a restaurant, they can cook at the restaurant the morning of the cook-off. If they do that, they will have to bring the chili here by 10 a.m.”

The judging will begin at 10:30 a.m. “It will be a five-judge panel,” Stocz says. “First prize is $500 cash, and $250 is second prize. There will be a People’s Choice trophy and an award for best-decorated booth.”

Believe it or not, there is a national chili cook-off. While the event in Savannah won’t be a qualifying event for the national competition, the same rules will apply.

“The chili will be judged in five categories,” Stocz says. “This isn’t a qualifying chili bowl, it’s just a local fun event.”

The entrants will be scored on 1. aroma, 2. consistency, 3. color, 4. taste, and 5. aftertaste of their chili.

Love chili but don’t want to miss your football games? That’s been taken care of, too. “We will have big-screen TVs here,” says Stocz, who is herself a big football fan. “We don’t want anyone to miss their football games.”

Many restaurants and businesses are bringing teams to the cook-off. Not surprisingly, Chili’s restaurant was one of the first to sign up. “We’ve had a relationship with the Sand Gnats for a few years now,” says Mike Fuller of Chili’s.

“We’ve sold food at the games, and last year we were a marketing partner with them,” Fuller says. “And it is kind of right up our alley, considering we are Chili’s.”

Fuller has already been planning strategy for the event. “We’ll probably have a small team of three or four,” he says.

The timing of the cook-off is a bit awkward. “It being on a Saturday makes it difficult for us because the restaurant is busy on Saturday,” Fuller says.

“We already have a recipe we’re going to use,” he says. “It’s not one we use at the restaurant.

“Our chili at the restaurant must satisfy everyone,” Fuller says. “For the cook-off, we want to try to pigeonhole certain chili fans.”

One thing has not been decided, however. “We’re not sure yet whether we’ll cook it at the restaurant or if we’ll cook it at the stadium,” Fuller says. “We’re still kicking that around.”

Fuller hopes the event becomes an annual competition. “I think it will be great,” he says. “We’re very excited about the cook-off.”

Who will win? Only the crystal ball knows. But Fuller thinks his team has an edge on the competition.

“Since we are Chili’s, we’d like to think we know chili,” he says. “That in itself ought to be enough.” ƒç


The Chili Bowl Cook-Off is Saturday, Nov. 18 from noon to 5 p.m. at Grayson Stadium.


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Linda Sickler

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