Chili: Top it the way you like it

No chili is complete without something extra on top

No chili is complete without something extra on top

September 30, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

The history of chili is short on facts and long on conjecture. But nearly all sources agree that chili as we know it today gained its reputation over cowboys' campfires in the late 1800s.

Back then, it was mostly filled with beef - no beans - because of the vast supply of cattle the cowboys were herding.

As the American landscape changed, so did chili. The sauce changed, the cut-up steak evolved to ground beef, and beans were added either for taste or as a way to stretch the dollar.

It seems residents in the Tri-State area enjoy their chili, and this Saturday there are three chili cook-offs that span the region. The Hagerstown Suns Chili Cook-off and Music Festival takes place at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown. The Waynesboro Chili Cook-off is held in conjunction with Market Day in Waynesboro, Pa. And Martinsburg Chili Cook-Off is in downtown Martinsburg, W.Va.


What's the secret of a good chili? Depends on the cook. Kevin Mullins, 46, of Gerrards-town, W.Va., who is a staff sergeant with the West Virginia National Guard's 157th Military Police Co., said it's about the spice.

"I get my spices from Pendery's Spices out of Texas," he says.

That seems to have worked. Mullins has captured two prizes for his chili at the Martinsburg event including People's Choice.

Tom Remavege, 58, of Hagerstown, has taken home top prizes at the Hagerstown Suns Chili Cook-off with his Uh-huh Chili. He says good chili simply comes down to flavors.

"It can have a good kick to it or have a great background flavor," he said. "You don't have to be a chili connoisseur to know what you like," he said.

And as varied as chili is, so are the ways the dish is topped.

Joe Szekeres, owner of Hard Times Cafe near Valley Mall in Halfway, has made it his business to know about chili. He and his wife, Patti Labbe, oversee the franchised chili house in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md. Hard Times boasts four types of chili - Texas Chili, Cincinnati Chili, Terlingua Red and vegetarian.

Three of their signature styles of serving chili are over spaghetti and the addition of beans as a topping.

Although Szekeres readily prefers to top his own chili with some of the company's signature toppings, he says the staff is ready for nearly any request from the customers, from cheeses to peppers.

"Every once in a while we'll get a request for shredded bacon," he says.

Some ways to top your chili

Crushed crackers and sour cream

Randy Lewis of Main Street Martinsburg, which hosts Martinsburg Chili Cook-off, likes to add a little saltiness to his chili. "I like Ritz (crackers) broken up and some Worcestershire sauce," he said.

Diced tomatoes and sour cream

For those who don't want to add any more spice to their chili, tomato and sour cream are a nice combination to cool the palate.

Frito chips and cheese

"I love chili," said Melissa Russ, marketing coordinator with Main Street Waynesboro, which puts on the Market Days where the annual chili cook-off is held. She likes to add corn chips. "I really like the chipotle-flavored ones," she said. She also likes to add sour cream, and sometimes onion and cheddar cheese.

Jalapenos, cheese and tomato

Tom Remavege, 58, of Hagerstown has won the Hagerstown Suns Chili Cook-off two years in a row. For him, it's about heat. He also likes to throw a little diced onion on his chili. "I don't like sour cream," he said.

Three-Way Chili Mac

Joe Szekeres said he never even knew what chili mac was until he ate some at a Hard Times Cafe. Now he and his wife own the franchises in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md. Three-way has spaghetti, chili and cheese for those who like a basic chili mac.

Four-Way Chili Mac

This is another Hard Times specialty, with spaghetti, chili, cheese and onions.

Five-way Chili Mac

This five-way has spaghetti, chili, cheese, onions and beans.

Cornbread (it can be placed on chili itself)

Staff Sgt. Kevin Mullins, 46, of Gerrardstown, W.Va., said he likes to add jalapenos, sour cream and shredded cheese to his chili. He also makes a special Mexican cornbread that he puts on the chili. The cornbread pictured here is from Hard Times Cafe.

If you go ...

What: Hagerstown Suns Chili Cook-off & Music Festival

When: Saturday, Oct. 3. Gates open at noon. Chili served until 4 p.m. Music is from noon to 5 p.m.

Where: Municipal Stadium, 274 E. Memorial Blvd., Hagerstown

Cost: Advance adult admission, $10, children 12 and younger, $5; adult admission at the gate, $12, children 12 and younger, $6. Free for children 3 and younger. Chili sample tickets at the event, $1.

CONTACT: Go to or call Reed Hunley at 301-791-6266

More: Benefits the American Red Cross Washington County Chapter

What: Second annual Chili Cook-off at Market Day

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3

Where: Set up adjacent to M&T Bank on Waynesboro, Pa.'s Centre Square

Cost: $1 for four tastings, $5 for 24 tastings and a voting ballet

More: Held in conjunction with Market Day, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3

CONTACT: Call Tony Vigil at 717-655-5347

What: Martinsburg Chili Cook-off

When: 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3

Where: Downtown Martinsburg, W.Va.

CosT: $5 for ballot and tasting; children younger than 7 are admitted free

More: Live music by the Smooth Cat Burglers and Solid Ground

CONTACT: MainStreetMartinsburg.comx

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