Restaurant News & Reviews

September 21, 2011

Annual Chili Cookoff heats up downtown

Although they’re not technically related, somehow chili eating and fire eating seem to pair up pretty well.

Good thing, because this weekend’s annual Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff will feature 200 fire eaters simultaneously swallowing as they attempt to break a world record.

“One thing the chili cookoff always has been known for is doing outrageous things,” said Ann Keefer, vice president of marketing for Downtown Development Corporation, which is helping organize the event.

Organized by a local sideshow group called Dr. Dillinger’s Freaks and Floozies, the group will attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the most people simultaneously eating fire in a public place. They’ll gather between 1:30 and 2 p.m. for the spectacle, which will no doubt distract competitors waiting for results and overeaters waiting for digestion.

The chili cookoff, now in its 28th year, fills closed-off blocks of Douglas with teams of chili cooks attempting to make the best chili (beany or beanless, green or red) and those hoping to impress judges with their spirit or booth theme. The more serious competitors are vying for a spot at next month’s World Championship Chili Cookoff.

Attendees who buy $5 tasting kits can try two-ounce samples from each of the booths and vote for a favorite for the “People’s Choice” award. Their kits also earn them a full-sized bowl of chili and fixings provided by the Wichita Wagonmasters. The list of competitors includes several noteworthy contestants.

Last year’s grand champion, Cindy Harmon, will be back. And Mayor Carl Brewer will head a booth staffed by city officials. The mayor has issued his annual challenge to mayors from other cities who want to put their recipes head-to-head, but so far, no one’s taken him up on it.

Also among the competitors will be a couple of families who have several generations of chili cooks competing against each other in different booths.

The day’s lineup includes more than just chili cooking, chili eating and chili judging (performed by sanctioned chili judges.)

There also will be a hot pepper eating contest, Mr. Hot Stuff and Ms. Chili Pepper competitions and live music provided by Craig Steward and Rachelle Coba.

The event also offers a beer garden, free ice cream and a kid’s play area. The public tasting starts at noon. The winners will be named around 3 p.m.

If you go
What: An annual chili competition that includes a public tasting, beer garden, kids activities and wacky contests
Where: 600 block of East Douglas between Emporia and the railroad tracks
When: Public tasting starts at noon Saturday
How much: Tasting kits are $5 a person
For more information and a full schedule of events, visit Read the results
Visit the Dining with Denise blog at to find out the results of the Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff.

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