Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 14, 2013

BBQ My Way: Just what truly qualifies as chili?


I was flipping through my local newspaper a couple of weekends ago when I came across an advertisement promoting “The Chili and Brew Bonanza” to benefit our local downtown. The main event is a chili cook off with awards in both the professional and novice categories. As a “foodie” who (in my humble opinion) makes a mean batch of chili, I decided to enter.

The chili Liz and I have tweaked over time is a combination of a classic chili and a smoky, outdoor flavor. If you are curious, our recipe is posted as a video at In the “search videos” box enter “chili.” Some of the unique ingredients we use are beer, smoked pulled pork and a little chocolate, along with normal things like beef, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and spices.

Simply put, we love our chili.

I called the organizer and learned that there were really no parameters on the competition, meaning almost anything could qualify as “chili.” A little deterred having learned that information, I decided I would still enter.

And here is what I find interesting. Of the 22 entries present at the competition, none of them (including mine) would have been eligible for a sanctioned chili competition. Just as there is the Kansas City Barbecue Society which sanctions and manages BBQ competitions, there is a society which sanctions and manages competitions for chili. It's called The International Chili Society, aka the ICS. It is located in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. And here is how they define “chili" for their international competition.

Traditional chili is defined by the International Chili Society as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients, with the exception of BEANS and PASTA, which are strictly forbidden.

Also, no ingredient may be pre-cooked in any way prior to the commencement of the official cook off.

The only exceptions are canned or bottled tomatoes, tomato sauce, peppers, pepper sauce, beverages, broth and grinding and/or mixing of spices. Meat may be treated, pre-cut or ground. The ICS does not prefer one over the other. Meat may not be pre-cooked, in any manner. All other ingredients must be chopped or prepared during the preparation period.

I think one of the reasons I am a foodie is that very few topics bring out as many strongly held opinions as food. As an example, I believe any kind of pasta in chili is a travesty, while others wouldn't think of serving chili without noodles. And if you ever intend to perturb a true BBQ purest, use the term “BBQ” as a verb, as in “I am going to BBQ some meat tonight.” That's like fingernails on a chalkboard.

How did I do? I didn't place, which explains the title of this column. But, there is always the opportunity for joyful redemption right around the corner in the world of food. I noticed there is a “Derby Burger Challenge” presented by the organization that promotes beef. It is in search of the “perfect burger” for The Kentucky Derby. Do I prepare the perfect burger? I think so, but I suppose we will find out soon enough. More than likely another humbling experience.



Dave Lobeck is a barbecue chef from Sellersburg, Ind., who writes a column for CNHI News Service. Visit his website at