An Illustrated Look at the Terlingua Chili Cook-off

The town of Terlingua, Texas, has been hosting a chili cook-off for over 50 years now. In a state where chili cook-offs are thick as thieves, this one is the biggie, and it comes with a ton of history. The founders split into rival cook-offs (now held at the same time), the rules were established, and there were controversies along the way.

Terlingua, Texas. It’s the Super Bowl of chili cook-offs. You can’t compete unless you’ve gotten yourself qualified by winning smaller competitions, and you have to show picture ID on account of what happened in 2003. A fella by the name of Don Eastep, a Yankee no less, snuck into the proceedings posing as his brother, who’d qualified but couldn’t attend.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, take a listen to this. Picture a desert scene with pickup trucks and campers and about a hundred folks in straw hats and aprons cooking chili on camp stoves. Now, our friend here, he’d set up his cooking area, but he wasn’t cooking. He was strolling around sipping a koozie-clad cold one and chitchatting. He’d eventually ask folks for a taste of their chili in a Styrofoam cup, and most of the cooks obliged. He took those samples and dumped them into his own pot. He got enough to enter the contest. And he won. Yep. He won the whole dang deal.

That certainly wasn't the first, or the last spectacular controversy at the Terlingua Chili Cook-off. Matthew Diffee attended the 50th Terlingua Chili Cook-off in 2016 and brings us a condensed but lavishly illustrated explanation and history of Texas' premiere chili event at Texas Monthly. -Thanks, Walter!

(Image credit Matthew Diffee)

PS: If you want a deep dive into the founding and first split of the Terlingua Chili Cook-off, here is the story as it happened, from 1967, part one and part two.


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My chili, aka Pray for Death, contains lots of onions, garlic, and tomatoes, as well as a host of other things not discussed in the article. Competition chili does NOT have beans except as served on the side, but when I make Wick Fowler's for plain satin' I put in beans.
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