Linda Snyder, director of religious education and youth minister at St. Ann, organized the first-time event along with Mary Lawrence Melvin. Snyder said proceeds from the cook-off would help fund an upcoming three-day spiritual retreat for eighth-grade members of the group Youth Alive.
Roughly 300 people shuffled from table to table at the cook-off with clipboards in hand, taking notes as they tasted chili samples from disposable cups.
Pelz, who has won national awards for his work and has been featured in magazines and books, including "Great Cooking with Country Inn Chefs: A Culinary Journey Across America," said he was surprised by the interesting array of chilis at the cook-off.
"People think of chili as beans, tomatoes and beef. Here we have some amazing choices - turkey, sausages, beef, chicken, shrimp, buffalo. There are some very creative, good cooks here," he said.
Pelz chose George Pedersen, 62, of Hagerstown, as the recipient of the chef's choice award.
"His white bean with shrimp was really intriguing. He took a basic chili concept, but then the shrimp was a complete 'blow your mind,'" Pelz said.
Pedersen, a member at St. Ann, said he got the idea for his shrimp and white bean chili from Southern Living, then tweaked the recipe to his own taste just one night before the cook-off. He said he loves to cook and wanted to support the church event.
"There is such a loving environment within the church. People are so involved it inspires you to come and do your part to help," Pedersen said.
Mike Druckenbrod, 63, of Hagerstown, won the people's choice award for his Southwestern-style chili featuring corn and smoked, toasted chipotle peppers. Druckenbrod, who was born in Texas, said his chili had a benefit that was imperceptible to samplers. He had added a green powder - the exact name of which he couldn't recall - to his chili. He said the powder acts as "a natural Beano to get rid of the gas."
Butch Warren of Hagerstown was one of the many cook-off attendees who placed a vote for Druckenbrod's concoction. Warren, whose daughters Danielle, 13, and Emily, 16, are both involved in youth programs at St. Ann, said he tasted all 22 chilis and chose Duckenbrod's for its "unique sweet and spicy combination."
Coby Blum, 16, of Smithsburg, received the youth participant award for his version of his mom's chili - a classic ground beef, bean and onion recipe - with mushrooms thrown in as a twist.
Blum, who serves as a counselor at church youth retreats, said he was pleased to be involved knowing his participation would help raise awareness for youth programs as well as funds for the eighth-grade retreat.
"The cook-off was a good idea and a good way to help out," Blum said.