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MARBLE FALLS — “Who doesn’t like a big bowl of red?” asks Carrie Kinnison with a laugh.

Those who don’t are probably far and few between because chili can just about be prepared to anybody’s taste. And, on May 3, folks can get a bite of more than 100 different recipes as the 43rd annual Howdy-Roo Regional CASI Chili Championship rolls into Marble Falls’ Johnson Park.

“We’re expecting between 125 and 150 cooks,” Kinninson said. “That’s about half as they had last year in Terlingua (the CASI international championship). So, it’s a great turnout. We’re one of the largest cook-offs there is.”

CASI, which stands for Chili Appreciation Society International, sanctions events around the world, hence “international.” Howdy-Roo is one of the members’ favorites.

“Whenever you go to another cook-off and mention Howdy-Roo, people know about it,” Kinnison said. “If they haven’t been here, they want to be here.”

Chili cook-offs have popped up across the country. Many fall under the CASI banner, which means they benefit charities and even scholarships. Kinnison estimated, since Howdy-Roo started more than 40 years ago, the Highland Lakes Chili Pod has raised more than $750,000 for local charities.

“And that’s just one local pod,” she said. “If you imagine how many pods there are around the country, then think how much of a difference these cook-offs make in those communities. CASI, itself, has given about $1.5 million to charities.”

The fundraising is just one of the side dishes of CASI-sanctioned events. The main course, of course, is the chili itself.

While food experts can’t seem to agree on where chili started or how its culinary legacy began, some give a nod to early Spanish missionaries who set up missions in what is now the Southwestern United States. Through the years, folks tweaked the concoction for their own tastes and, often, available ingredients. Some stories even say that old cattle train cooks used to plant chili ingredients such as pepper plants and onions along the trail to harvest as they came back through.

How ever chili got its start, it’s one of the most popular dishes today, especially among cooking competitors.

But for cooks, chili only serves as a way to draw people together.

“The main thing really is the camaraderie,” said Doc Kinnison, Carrie’s husband and a longtime cook himself. “If we miss a couple of cook-offs, we start getting withdrawal. There are people we only see a couple of times a year, but they’re good friends because of these cook-offs.”

Carrie Kinnison agreed.

“It’s just a great group of people who enjoying getting together and cooking,” she said. “Of course, there is the competition. We do enjoy that, too.”

While Howdy-Roo does cater to the cooks, there’s plenty of room for folks to check out the event.

In fact, the Kinnisons encourage it.

One of the best ways to enjoy Howdy-Roo is to volunteer as a judge. While it is a chili cook-off, there will be many other dishes prepared because, along with the CASI event, the 20th annual Lone Star BBQ State Championship is going on at the same time in Johnson Park.

The public is invited to judge starting with beans at 11 a.m. followed by chicken at noon and ribs at 1:30 p.m. Brisket is at 3 p.m.

“The first round of chili judging starts at 2 (p.m.),” Kinnison said. “We’ll need probably 80 judges for that first round. So please, come out and judge.”

Admission is free. Johnson Park is located at 230 Ave. J South.

And if you can’t get enough chili May 3, come back May 4 for the Highland Lakes Pod CASI Backbone Creek Chili Cook-off in Johnson Park. The public is invited and judging starts at 1 p.m.

Contact the Kinnisons at (830) 613-8666, (281) 615-2408, or for more information on the cook-offs or how to get involved in the Highland Lakes CASI Pod.