Dining With Denise Neil

3,110 gallons of chili, give or take, will flow in downtown Wichita

So if the Wichita Wagonmasters Downtown Chili Cookoff has 92 teams participating this year, and if each team is advised to cook at least 30 gallons of chili, and if the Wagonmasters themselves will be preparing about 350 gallons to feed the masses, that’s... that’s...

THAT’S 3,110 GALLONS OF CHILI! (Give or take.)

On Saturday, the annual chili cookoff – one of fall’s most affordable and spicy downtown events – will return, and this year, more teams than ever have signed up to participate.

The total number has increased from around 70 the last several years to 92, and the list of participants includes individuals, superior chili competitors, businesses and restaurants. (Shameless plug: For the first time ever, Dining With Denise will have a booth at the cookoff, where I’ll be serving a chile verde made in an Instant Pot pressure cooker. Come visit – and wish me luck. I’ve never cooked 30 gallons of anything at once.)

The festival, which will be set up along three closed-down blocks of Douglas in downtown Wichita, will open at noon on Saturday, and attendees who buy $5 tasting kits will be able to sample all the 92 chili recipes. Some will be prepared by serious competitors vying for a spot in the World Championship Chili Cookoff next month in Reno, Nev. The rest will be made by less-serious groups of co-workers or friends cooking for fun. Competitors will produce chili in a variety of categories, from no beans to green to red, and there’s also a salsa competition and an award for the team with the booth that exhibits the most chili spirit. Each category winner will earn a cash prize.

The increase in participation this year, said cookoff spokesman and Wagonmaster Bill Ramsey, is owed to the person put in charge of team recruitment. Adam Clements, who works for Builders Inc., took his job seriously and hit up everyone in town, Ramsey said.

He even managed to recruit a much larger number of restaurant competitors, who will compete for their own trophy. This year, there are at least 15 – a significant increase over previous years – and they include Old Mill Tasty Shop, District Taqueria, Little Saigon, Twin Peaks, The Anchor, Snug Harbor and Diamond Plate Food Truck, which won the restaurant division last year. Public at the Brickyard will be preparing the chili for the Sedgwick County booth, and The Monarch will cook for the City of Wichita.

Attendees who purchase a tasting kit can vote for the chili they think is best. They’ll also get one full bowl of chili plus all the fixings prepared by the Wichita Wagonmasters, a group of local businessmen who help promote Wichita and organize charity events throughout the year.

People also can watch or participate in several contests, including a pepper-eating contest at 2:45 p.m., “Mr. Hot Stuff” at 2:15 p.m. and “Ms. Chili Pepper” at 2:30 p.m. Beer also can be purchased and sipped within the boundaries of the festival.

A couple of additions this year, Ramsey said: The cookoff has arranged for a flyover of World War II-era planes at the beginning of the event, and an airplane that kids can touch and explore also will be set up at the festival’s kids zone.

The Wagonmasters usually sell around 5,000 tasting kits and donate proceeds from the cookoff to local charities. To date, the Wagonmasters have raised and donated about $180,000, Ramsey said.

The event is always popular, Ramsey said, and with ideal fall weather forecast for Saturday, he expects crowds to be large.

“We like to say it’s not just a block party – it’s a three block party,” he said.


What: An annual chili competition that includes a public tasting, beer garden and contests

Where: East Douglas between St. Francis and the railroad overpass

When: Public tasting starts at noon on Saturday

How much: Admission is free, but tasting kits are $5 a person.

Information: wagonmasterschili.com

Related stories from Wichita Eagle