Tom Dozier stood over the small stockpot with a glass lid and paused in anticipation. He'd been simmering the rusty red stew for three hours, but waited for a precise moment on his watch to carefully lift the lid. Several other chili-heads, myself included, leaned over the Coleman stove in anticipation.
"It's wet! It's wet!" A fellow competitor taunted as Dozier pulled the lid.
The chili may have looked a little soupy, but later the judges would disagree.
This weekend's bluegrass festival and chili cook off in Farmers Branch drew around just 40 entrants -- a relatively small event -- but the competition was no less fierce. Dozier was up against firemen, the chili butt ladies, a handful of MBA students from SMU and even Santa Claus.
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The Chili Appreciation Society International, sanctions the annual competition, and hundreds of others all over the country, culminating in the Terlingua International Chili Competition this November. Dozier knows Terlingua. In 2010 he left the ghost town nestled on the border of Big Bend National Park the Chili Champion.
CASI requires a strict, Texas-style chili. Beans, macaroni, rice, hominy, or other similar ingredients are not permitted, according to the rule book. Salt, on the other hand, as evidenced by the 19 versions I made my way through this past Saturday, seemed to be encouraged.
When the judging was finished Dozier came out on top, taking home another big win, a gift basket with salsa, corn bread mix and a cutting board, a $100 gift card and a glow in his eyes.
And don't worry about Santa, kids. He won first place for beans.