The Hottest Game in Texas – Terlingua International Chili Championship

The Terlingua International Chili Championship Blends Red-Hot Cooks, Savory Chow and Camping Camaraderie

The setting is remote – a far-flung corner of southwest Texas near Big Bend National Park, where your closest neighbors are sun-baked rocks and armadillos.

And the accommodations are rustic, to say the least: Dry camping for days with no water or electricity hook-ups, no showers, and no real luxuries at all.

But that won’t stop hundreds of RVers from making the annual pilgrimage to Terlingua, Texas, near the Rio Grande River, this fall to experience the Terlingua International Chili Championship.

There, some 500 to 600 RVers will create an impromptu RV park out of a 320-acre ranch – Rancho CASI de los Chisos.

Dubbed “Krazy Flats,” the desert village may be low on amenities, but it offers great camaraderie and a super-sized helping of fun, said Ken Rodd, an avid chili cook and full-time RVer.

The event amounts to the Super Bowl of chili cook-offs, where hundreds of competitors will match skills for bragging rights and a whimsical bronze chili trophy.

Revelers begin gathering a week beforehand to enjoy musical entertainment, vendors, beans, salsa and hot wings side-competitions, and good-natured frivolity, said Rodd, who began competing 15 years ago in Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) sanctioned chili competitions.

“It’s always a festive occasion,” Rodd said. “You start cooking in the morning; there’s judging in the afternoon, along with all sorts of side events – silent auctions, car shows, who knows what else.”

Chili competitors pay an entrance fee – money that supports charities, ranging from Little League teams to animal shelters and hospice organizations – and college scholarships. “Our motto sums it up, charity and fun,” Rodd said.

Winners earn points that qualify them to compete in the international championship, which will host 300 to 350 cooks this year.

Rules are firm and standards high. Chili must be cooked from scratch the day of the cook-off, and must be cooked outdoors. “If your idea of chili is something you get in a cardboard bowl at a fast food restaurant, well, you don’t know beans about chili,” chuckled Rodd, who tours in his 38-foot fifth-wheel, competing in about 35 chili competitions a year.

Best of all, spectators are encouraged to sign up to be chili-tasting judges. The only qualifications? “You must be over 18 years old… and sober,” Rodd quipped.

Because many cooks roam the country looking for qualifying competitions, RVs and chili cook-offs is a match made in heaven, Rodd observed. These days, he even sees RV parks sponsoring their own chili cook-offs.

“It only made sense to get RVs involved,” Rodd said. “You just pack up all your cooking gear and you’re there.”

Visitors can find a few private RV parks with amenities around Terlingua, Study Butte and Lajitas, but dry camping at Krazy Flats puts you as close as you can get to the throbbing pulse of chili-mania.

Water is available for purchase at some area RV parks. Free musical entertainment runs nightly from 8 p.m. to midnight. Concessions, port-a-potties and Dumpsters are on-site, and ice is available for purchase – and that’s about as fancy as it gets.

There are no reservations; sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

His advice for newcomers? “This is not the place to find out that your generator doesn’t work,” he advised. “Make sure it’s tuned up; spark plugs cleaned, and no surprises.”

RVers should also fill water tanks and stock up on essentials well in advance.

While there is a cell phone tower at the ranch, it doesn’t serve all carriers. “If you’re coming, bring a phone card,” Rodd suggested.

What compels people to venture all the way out here? “I think its camaraderie, generosity and fun… and heavy on the fun,” Rodd said.

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