Chili chefs will be starting to cook early Saturday and Sunday for the Chili Cook Off Festival.
Special to AFN

Some of the best chili chefs in Ahwatukee and around the  West have a two-day eating binge in store for you as the Ahwatukee Community Swim & Tennis Center hosts its 14th annual Chili Cook Off Festival.

The fun begins on Friday, March 9, from 4-8 p.m. with rides and inflatables as well as beer, food and live entertainment for the whole family at 4700 E. Warner Road, Ahwatukee. The cookoff is 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, March 10, and continues on Sunday, March 11, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission all three days is free, though rides will cost tickets that are $1 each or you can buy a wristband for unlimited rides for $20.

During the two-day cook-off, people can get tasting kits for $6 each. Each kit has seven sample cups for tastings between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m-2 p.m. Sunday.

But visitors may want to stick around until 4 p.m. to see who gets awards because the cook-off has big stakes for the chili chefs, who begin cooking at 8 a.m.

They will be competing for a spot in the world championship sponsored by the International Chili Association, which sets a rigorous qualification.

Cooks who want to make it to the championships must win two regional contests – and Arizona is home to only two of them, the one in Ahwatukee and one in Flagstaff.

But cooks can technically punch their ticket to the world tournament by winning both days at the Swim & Tennis Center event, since the Saturday and the Sunday competitions are separate events.

“The Chili Cook Off on Saturday and Sunday is one of our hottest events of the year with diverse recipes from across the region,” said Susan Hyden, the center’s community director.

“Cooks from all over the country travel here to compete for the cash prizes and their chance to qualify to compete at the International Chili Society World Championships.

But here’s the deal: Anyone can enter.

“You, too, can compete and join these foodies that love to cook, share their cooking tips and above all, have a great time,” Hyden said.

“If you have a great chili recipe and want to be involved in this friendly competition, the fee is only $10 for the ICS membership and entry fees range from $15-$35,” Hyden said.

The competition categories are traditional red chili, chili verde, homestyle and salsa. There is also a youth division for cooks under 18 that will be held for traditional red chili on Saturday only. The first-place youth winner also can qualify for the world championship if they win first place at another cook-off.

“This is a great event for younger folks who love to cook and be a part of friendly competition,” Hyden said. “This is truly an event that the entire family can participate in.”

Prizes ranges from $75-$500 depending on the category. The first-place winners in each category on each day gets them on the road to the ICS World Championships in October, where chefs can compete for as much as $25,000.    

“We would love to have more locals participating,” Hyden said.

Back in 1967, a group of friends started a “friendly” chili competition in Terlinqua, Texas, because each one thought they made the best chili and he knew more about chili than anyone else.   

“The ICS continues to uphold the same core values of their founders by bringing people together to enjoy healthy competition and America’s great culinary creation – chili,” Hyden said.

 The world chili group's mission is to continuously improve chili while raising money for charities.  The cookoffs at the Swim & Tennis Center will benefit the 100 Club of Arizona and the Ahwatukee Little League.

A new addition this year is the homestyle chili category.

“Homestyle chili is any kind of meat or combination of meats and/or vegetables cooked with beans, chili peppers, various spices and other ingredients,” Hyden explained.

Hyden said that while “attendance has been steady throughout the years,” “we have a lot to compete with” because of other springtime events and Cactus League games.

“We would love to see more of the community enjoy the festivities with us,” she said.

Information: 480-893-3431 or

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