Throw a Chili Cook-Off Party
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Photo: Iain Bagwell/Getty Images
Gather with friends and family for a stress-free potluck party starring the ultimate comfort food.
It's Chili Time
Nothing says cold-weather comfort like sipping on a steamy bowl of chili in the company of loved ones. Luckily for you, we’ve found the perfect method for hosting a fuss-free gathering this season: a potluck. The concept is simple: Each guest brings a dish, and you have yourself a party! In the mood for a friendly competition? Add a challenge by having guests compete for the title of winning chili. With our tips and tricks, you’re sure to create memorable moments at an unforgettable chili dinner. This hearty comfort food can (and should) be celebrated year-round—especially on game days!
Make a guest list.
Your guests will determine the success of any get-together. Start by creating a list of potential friends and family, then narrow the number based on the size of the space, the budget, and the desired-mood of the party. For an intimate evening, it’s essential to invite the right mix of people.
Set the scene.
Every great soirée has food (lots of food) and music. Impress your guests by planning a delicious feast with our chili dinner menu. Oh, and no need to play DJ—our Ultimate Chili Party Playlist on Spotify will have partygoers movin’ and groovin’ all night long. You’re welcome!
Dress to impress.
There’s no way to eat chili at a dinner table without making a mess. Clean with ease by ditching linens. Roll wrapping paper, like Shiny Gold Wrapping Paper ($8) from Paper Source, along your dining table to serve as a runner. When dinner is over, simply toss it in the trash.
For kids, cover the tabletop with brown paper, like Kraft Paper Roll ($10) from Recollections, and leave boxes of crayons for drawing and tic-tac-toe competitions.
Three pots of traditional chili will make the spread a bit boring. There are two simple solutions to avoiding repetition on the dinner table. Use invitations to assign a type of chili (white, vegetarian, etc.) to each guest, or have partygoers sign up for a specific variety on a shared Google spreadsheet.
Be sure to print labels for each chili and list any potential allergens to help those with dietary restrictions.
Keep chili hot.
Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner
Space on the stovetop will be limited, and no one (I repeat, no one) enjoys a lukewarm bowl of chili. To heat the food before and during the party, ask that each guest bring a slow cooker with a “WARM” setting to keep the chili at serving temperature. “As host, you should make sure you have a power strip (or two) to ensure everyone has a place to plug in,” says Ann Pittman, Executive Food Editor at Cooking Light. “But if guests don't have a slow cooker, they can just ask the host ahead of time to secure a spot on the stove.”
She also suggests asking guests to bring ladles. If you won’t have enough, purchase inexpensive cookware at restaurant- and party-supply stores. Discount and thrift stores will do the trick too.
Top it off.
What goes into your chili is crucial to its taste, but what you garnish it with is just as important. Tangy cheese, creamy sour cream, zesty lime wedges, and satisfying avocado slices—all should be on the table. The easiest part of creating a station for toppings? All prep can be done the day before. Just cut, cover, and refrigerate until the party starts.
See More: 100-Calorie Chili Toppers
Make a toast.
Photo: Isabel Lawrence Photographers
Crown a victor.
Add a competitive edge to the night by having friends and family vote for the best chili. You can also include categories for the “Most Creative” and “Spiciest.” After tallying ballots, the chili with the highest overall score will take home the prize. Awards can include a badge, a bottle of wine, a cookbook, or even a tin of homemade Christmas cookies.
Download the Printable Chili Smackdown Scorecards.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Photo Courtesy of Susty Party/Megan DeKok
Use glass when you must, but turn to compostable, eco-friendly tableware, like Susty Party bowls (starting at $5 for 8) and wood spoons ($25 for 100), for quicker clean up.
Share your leftovers.
Photo: Iain Bagwell/Getty Images
Forget party favors—send guests home with leftovers instead. After dinner, there will be plenty to share, and giving away the remaining food means you won’t have to crowd your fridge. Stock up on disposable containers, such as World Art Soup Containers from Eco-Products ($9 for 25). This will ensure your expensive food storage containers never leave the kitchen.