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Howdy-Roo chili cook-off celebrates 50 years and new location

Howdy-Roo founders Mary and Clyde Griffin with Mary and Dick Rodgers

Howdy-Roo founders Mary and Clyde Griffin (right) stirred up quite an event in the annual chili cook-off. They are pictured at one of the earliest cook-offs with Mary and Dick Rodgers. Howdy-Roo marks its 50th anniversary in 2022. Courtesy photo

Marble Falls’ spiciest event celebrates 50 years in 2022, and a new location. The Howdy-Roo chili cook-off, which started in 1972, takes place May 6-8 at Lakeside Pavilion, 305 Buena Vista Drive.

The Highland Lakes Pod of the Chili Appreciation Society International moved the event to the pavilion at Lakeside Park after the cook-off outgrew its previous spot in Johnson Park. 

“We’re really excited about this being the 50th year,” said the local pod’s Carrie Kinnison. “We’re planning on 200 cooks this year, which would make it the biggest Howdy-Roo we’ve ever held.”

And if you’re not cooking, you can always judge the entries. A judge doesn’t need a refined palate or formal training, just a love of chili. 

Howdy-Roo is a CASI regional contest, so the top five finishers (based on 200 entries) earn a coveted spot in the CASI Terlingua International Chili Championship on Nov. 1-5 in Terlingua. 

“It’s a big deal to qualify for Terlingua,” Kinnison said.

Mary and Clyde Griffin are credited with getting the cook-off simmering in 1972. Mary tied with Gary Hahne out of 20 cooks at the first Howdy-Roo. The Griffins and Darrell Staedtler formed the Highland Lakes Pod in 1977.

The Howdy-Roo name comes from a contest, which Bill Kennon won. The local pod even trademarked it in 1990. 

The Griffins remained active in Howdy-Roo and the pod right up until their deaths: Mary’s in 2004 and Clyde’s in 2012. In fact, Clyde attended every Howdy-Roo from the first one through 2012.

This year’s Howdy-Roo is in honor of the Griffins, Kinnison said. And the first 200 cooks who enter and pledge to cook CASI chili will get a complimentary stove cover with the Griffins’ names on it.

From 20 cooks the first year, Howdy-Roo has grown into a bucket-list event for chili cooks across the country. Carrie and her husband, Larry “Doc” Kinnison, became die-hard chili cooks and Howdy-Roo fans in the 1990s, eventually traveling across Texas and the United States to compete in other cook-offs. At each stop, they’d “talk up” Howdy-Roo, drawing even more cooks to Marble Falls.

At one point, Howdy-Roo added a barbecue cook-off, which is now a Lone Star Barbecue Society-sanctioned contest, and became a regional CASI cook-off. 

In 2019, Howdy-Roo drew 183 cooks for the chili competition, the most ever. The pandemic curtailed the 2020 event, but in 2021, it returned with 160 cooks. 

“This year, with people traveling more and getting out, we’re planning for 200 cooks,” Kinnison said.

Howdy-Roo is a friendly and supportive competition. Cooks enjoy sharing their love of chili with others and encouraging first-timers. It doesn’t take much money to compete, just a pot, a stove, and some ingredients. Newbies can find recipes, including world championship ones, on the CASI website. 

“We’re always looking to help people get started,” Kinnison said. 

Howdy-Roo is also a fundraiser for local nonprofits. This year’s event benefits the Marble Falls Area Volunteer Fire Department, Marble Falls Boy Scout Troop 284, and the Marble Falls High School band boosters.

Cooks and attendees can participate in a silent auction hosted by the band boosters and a prize giveaway by the Scouts. A number of vendors will be on hand.

Entry fees are $35 for the CASI open competition and $20 for the local business cook-off (businesses must be in Burnet County). The Lonestar Barbecue Society entry is $150 for one or all categories — chicken, spare ribs, and brisket — and $10 for beans. 

Registration is 2-5 p.m. Friday, May 6, and 8:30 a.m. Saturday, May 7, at the pavilion. For more information on cooking or judging, contact Kinnison at 281-615-2408 or carriekinnison1@gmail.com. For information on the barbecue cook-off and vendor opportunities, contact Craig Schlicke at 512-507-9089 or schlicke5603@yahoo.com.

“This is really an event,” Kinnison said. “It’s not just a cook-off. So come and check it out.”

daniel@thepicayune.com