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JOHNSON CITY — Get your tastes buds ready. It’s chili-cooking time in the Highland Lakes.

Organizers with the Texas Men’s State Chili and Barbecue Championships anticipate more than 150 chili cooks for the April 5-6 event at the Blanco County Fairgrounds, located on the east side of U.S. 281 along the Pedernales River.

“It’s a great event on its own, but it’s also the men’s championship for chili and barbecue,” said Alan Dean, a Blanco County chili aficionado and a member of the Chili Appreciation Society International. “It’s open to any male, 18 years and older. You can register online or just show up at the event.”

Cooks can earn an invitation to the Terlingua International Chili Championship in October. Depending on the number of cooks who compete at the Texas Men’s State Chili Championship, the top five could get automatic spots at Terlingua, while the top 10 could earn points toward qualifying, Dean said.

While the cooks are definitely competing for the title and points, these events are more than about winning, he explained.

“We all want to win, but we all recognize how subjective the judging is, so it has to be fun and for a good cause,” Dean said.

CASI cook-offs have raised thousands, if not millions, of dollars for charities and nonprofit organizations across the United States.

“It’s really all about chili, charity and fun,” Dean said. “For us, it’s as much a social event as anything. The camaraderie and having fun with each other, those are the key ingredients.”

But why chili? What makes it so special?

Dean jumped into the fun in 1991 when his running club sponsored a chili cook-off “as an excuse to get together.” But the chili pod quickly took hold of Dean, and he began trying out recipes, attending cook-offs and tweaking
things as he went. His wife, Susan, became quite a chili cook in her
own right, winning the 2008 Terlingua International Chili Championship.

“Chili is the national dish of Texas,” Dean said. “But I think what makes chili different than any other food is everybody who cooks chili thinks their way is the best way. And it’s simply just a lot of fun to make.”

The Johnson City cook-off features competitions in not just chili but also barbecue, beans, ribs and chicken wings.

The festivities start April 5 with a domino tournament, music and a cooks’ party. The cooks fire up their grills, pits and ovens April 6 for the actual competitions.

The event isn’t just for contestants. Dean said organizers are always looking for folks to come out and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the cook-off as well as the tastes.

“We need judges,” he said. “Anybody interested in judging can come out, ask to judge and we’ll set them up.”

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