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JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF

JOHNSON CITY — At least three spots are up for grabs for the 49th annual Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff.

Johnson City is playing host to the Texas Men’s State Chili Championship at the Blanco County Fairgrounds, 619 U.S. 281 North. The March 26-28 event is a qualifier for the international competition.

But if the local contest draws at least 150 entries, five automatic bids to Terlingua will be awarded, said Alan Dean, a Blanco County chili aficionado and a member of the Chili Appreciation Society International.

The actual competition takes place March 28 with registration beginning at 3 p.m. March 27. The cost to compete in the chili division of the cook-off is $40, while the beans and salsa competitions are $10 each. The fee to compete in the wings competition is $15. The wings will be provided by cook-off organizers.

Prizes will be awarded in each of the non-chili categories.

New to the Texas Men’s State Chili Cook-off this year is a car and motorcycle show and a junior chili cook-off for chefs 17 and younger, which is $10 to enter. A silent auction and food vendors will open at 9:30 a.m. March 28. Judges are needed for all competitions, and volunteers can sign up at 9:30 a.m.

“We’re going to give the kids a chance to participate and share in our obsession,” said Dean, who is coordinating the events. “We have nice awards for the kids who are cooking. There’s something for everybody who participates. I know somebody will win a silver belt buckle.”

Dean said he got the idea of adding the car and motorcycle show after visiting California cook-offs with his wife, Susan.

The weekend actually ends March 29 with the Pod on the Pedernales Cookoff at the fairgrounds. This event allows women to compete.

One of the myths of cook-offs is that chili must be hot and spicy, which is not necessarily true, Dean said.

“Some years, it seems the judges (like) pretty spicy,” he said. “Right now, it seems they’re picking milder.”

Though they’re competing, chili cooks act more like family, Dean said.

“You have people you know and know very well and who can help you with anything,” he said. “It’s like you’re going to visit cousins. It’s a friendly competition. We also know on any given day, the judges will pick something different.”

Dean noted many of the cooks share cook-off horror stories. Most have forgotten to bring meat, spices, pots or another valuable tool to make their chili, and have had competitors come to their aid. Many times, a triumphant cook won with a little help from their friends, Dean said.

“We all have stories like that,” he said with a grin. “I think it’s the camaraderie.”   

Competition turn-in times March 28 are 11 a.m. for juniors, beans and wings; 1 p.m. for chili; and 2 p.m. for salsa.

Go to texasmenschili.org for a full schedule of activities and more information about the Texas Men’s State Chili Championship.

jfierro@thepicayune.com