Locate your pants with the elastic waistband and bust out the Beano: It’s time to eat chili in Wichita.
The 30th-anniversary edition of the Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff is scheduled for noon Saturday, and organizers are compiling a list of competitive teams longer than has been seen in recent years, said David Lawrence, this year’s head chili dipper. (That’s the Wagonmasters’ souped-up term for “chairman.”)
That means more chili available for sampling by the masses, who will fill closed-off blocks of Douglas on Saturday to eat, be entertained and help find the best chili cook among the competitors.
“It’s the 30th anniversary of the event, and we really concentrated on getting more teams down there this year’s than in past,” Lawrence said. “We’ve had around 45, but we’re hoping to have 60 or 70 teams down there this year.”
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The competitors are both serious chili cookers, vying for a spot in the World Championship Chili Cookoff next month in Palm Springs, Calif., and less-serious groups of co-workers or friends cooking for fun. They can make chili in a variety of categories, from no bean to white to red, and there’s also a salsa competition and an award for the team with the booth that exhibits the most chili spirit.
Attendees buy a $5 tasting kit, which allows them samples of all the entered chilis and salsas. The kit also entitles them to one full bowl of chili, plus all the fixins, prepared by the Wichita Wagonmasters.
While there, people also can watch a pepper-eating contest, see who wins the “Mr. Hot Stuff” and “Ms. Chili Pepper” contests, listen to live music from popular local cover band Lucky People and eat free ice cream. They’ll also be asked to vote for a People’s Choice winner.
Festival organizers are beefing up a new cookoff category started last year called “Chili for Charity.” It will include teams from local charities competing with each other for prize money and spreading the word about their organization to the 8,000 to 10,000 people expected to attend. Last year, one of the charity competitors won the whole thing. The Ronald McDonald House was named grand champion of the festival and earned $1,500 in prize money for its various category wins, Lawrence said.
This year, even more charities are participating.
“Since it was the first year last year, some of the others saw the opportunities there,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s also a team building outing.”
Several restaurants also will be among the competitors on Saturday, including Jimmie’s Diner, Heroes Sports Bar & Grill, Old Mill Tasty Shop and Bite Me BBQ.