5 Secrets for Making an Award Winning Chili

By: Kevin Kannmacher

Have you ever wondered what judges are looking for in a winning chili at a cook-off? According to the International Chili Society, judges grade each chili based on the following five categories.

(1) Aroma - The chili should smell appealing, like something that you would want to taste. When you smell the chili, you should think of words such as scent, fragrance or aroma. These words describe good or pleasant odors. If you think of words like stench, reek or stink, then you might have a tough time getting people to try a bowl full.

For most people, smelling gives them little information about the ingredients or the amounts of those ingredients in the chili. But the odor can provide information that relates to the emotional impact of the food.

(2) Consistency - The chili, whether in a bowl or in the cooking pot, should be a smooth combination of the meat, or meats, and gravy. A winning chili should not be lumpy with big chunks of vegetables or meat. Sometimes, if it is too lumpy, it could be a sign that the chili may be too dry.

The chili should not be greasy or watery from all of the meat or either canned or bottled tomatoes. A winning chili should just be good and smooth.

(3) Red Color - A great chili should have a good appearance. The color should be reddish or reddish-brown. If it is gray, yellow or any other non-reddish color, then something went terribly wrong. The chili should look good enough that you want to try a taste of it.

Up until now, you've used two of your five senses - sight and smell. The goal is to involve as many of the senses as possible in a balanced and good way. If you can hear your chili boiling even when there is no heat around, you may have created a solution to the world's energy problem.

(4) Taste - At the top of the judges' list of criteria is taste. The chili should taste really good. Taste refers to the ability to detect the flavor of foods. In the brain's perception of flavor, the sense of taste combines their less direct sense of smell. Again, there should be a balance between the senses.

The four typical taste sensations include sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Some scientists believe that there is a fifth basic taste called "umami", which can be described as savory, meaty, or brothy. This fifth taste could easily be applied to chili.

(5) Aftertaste - The chili should leave a pleasant taste in your mouth after swallowing. An aftertaste is the persistence of a sensation of a flavor after the chili has passed out of contact with the sensory end organs for taste. A strong aftertaste is usually used to describe unpleasant flavors.

Spicy food can have notable aftertastes due to the spices used, such as chili peppers or curry. But, the aftertaste should not be bitter or metallic.

These are the five criteria for making a winning chili. The next time that you make your favorite recipe, judge your creation against these categories.

As a cooking tip, always print a copy of the recipe that you are going to make. Then, as you are cooking and make any changes, write those changes on the recipe. So when you make it next time, you'll know exactly how you did it.

And remember, the decisions of the Judges shall be final.

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