At least two dozen members of the International Chili Society will descend on Scarborough Downs to compete in the Southern Maine Regional Chili Cook-Off on Sunday.

The ICS cooks, joined by at least 20 amateur chili cooks, are coming from all over the country to try to qualify for the ICS World Chili Championship Oct. 1-3 in Manchester, N.H.

They’ll have two chances to qualify this weekend, because the Scarborough cook-off follows Saturday’s Maine State Chili Cook-Off at Wells Junior High School, part of the town’s Annual Chili Fest. That contest is also ICS-sanctioned.

If you prefer something a little more laid back, there is – believe it or not – a third choice. The Westbrook Ladies Auxiliary is holding its annual Chili and Chowder Cook-Off Saturday in Westbrook.

The Southern Maine Regional Chili Cook-Off benefits Meals on Wheels.

Both the Wells and Scarborough competitions include a People’s Choice contest with a first prize of $250. There’s no entry fee for the People’s Choice contest in Scarborough, but cooks are asked to bring at least two gallons of chili from home to help feed the crowd.

Don’t be surprised to find the “professional” chili is a little different from what the amateurs bring to the table.

“Most of the newer cooks tend to make chili the way they’ve been making it for years, or the way their mother made it, and that’s basically big chunks of meat, big chunks of vegetables,” said Bill Noonan, an organizer of the event who has made it to the World Chili Championship six times and won a James Beard Award for his chili in 1997.

ICS-sanctioned chili is basically meat and sauce with spices. The meat is usually cubed tri-tip beef, a cut from the bottom sirloin that has become popular on the chili circuit because it is low in fat.

“You don’t see any real vegetables, and very rarely would an ICS cook use hamburger meat,” Noonan said. “It’s cubed meat in a very flavorful, spicy sauce.”

Both ICS-sanctioned cook-offs feature three categories of competition: red chili, green chili and salsa.

Next year, the ICS will be adding a category called “Homestyle Chili,” Noonan said.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]