Winners of the York County Sheriff’s Office Chili Cook-Off paused for a photo on Friday, Feb. 9. From left are, York County Sheriff William L. King, third place winner Tammy, Wells, second place winner Michael Perry, first place winner Heath Bryant and Celebrity Judge and Newscenter Maine anchor and reporter Samantha York. Courtesy photo

ALFRED — What makes an award winning chili?

Corrections Officer Heath Bryant can tell you. He took first place in the York County Sheriff’s Office 2024 Chili Cook-off, held Friday, Feb. 9.

“It was just a recipe I came up with a few years ago,” Bryant said, rather modestly. “It’s hamburger, sausage and seasonings.”

The contest, held somewhat regularly since 2015, was open to all York County government employees. Thirteen people entered; their slow cookers all lined up in a row in an ante room off the main lobby at York County Jail. Each slow cooker was identified by only a number, adding to the mystery.

Which entrants would take bragging rights for the next year? What were the award -winning combinations? The answers would be soon revealed.

Celebrity judge was Newscenter Maine anchor and reporter Samantha York, who based her decisions on five elements — color, aroma, texture, taste, and the level of spice.


York first perused the slow cookers, removing lids to inhale the heady aromas. She stirred, to view the texture and colors.

York then tasted from small bowls of each of the entries — she tasted, pondered, and then entered scores, swigging water between entries to cleanse her palate.

“This one has a kick,” she said of Number 2. Number 4, she said, was not so spicy, and Number 1, was “real good.”

“Ohh,” she said of Number 5, and so on, through 13 entries.

It was her first chili contest, she said with a smile.

Cooks had made their best recipes, using an array of ingredients — some choosing hamburger, bacon, or sausage or — a medley of all three — plus pork shoulder, kidney beans and other beans, tomatoes, poblanos, cilantro and an array of herbs and spices.


Before and after the winners were announced, corrections officers and others from the sheriff’s office and York County government departments were invited to have a bowl as they took their breaks.

“I think Number 11 has great flavor,” said Corrections Officer Keith Merrifield. “It’s not too hot, but it has a bit of a bite to it.”

“Number 2 was pretty good, very flavorful,” said Corrections Officer Esmeralda Laporte. “And Number 9 was pretty good too.”

Then came the highly anticipated moment of truth.

Bryant, who had made chili Number 11, took home the first place apron, and said he has won first place for the recipe a couple of times at other events outside county government. He won a first for his chili at a competition in Skowhegan one year, where he also separately took fourth place awards for smoked meat like prime rib and ribs.

York County Jail Lt. Michael Perry won the second place apron, with his combination of pork shoulder, tomatillos, poblano and jalapeno peppers, garlic, onions, cilantro, and other selected ingredients, resulting in a flavorful green chili. One consumer said the dish would be tasty served over rice. Perry said he and his family enjoy it with eggs and tortillas.

Taking the third place apron was York County’s media specialist, Tammy Wells, who was new to the contest — and the writer of this article. Her chili was a traditional combination of ground beef, tomatoes, beans, other vegetables, and herbs.

York County Sheriff William L. King described the contest as “a little friendly competition and good chili,” that gives employees a break from the regular day-to-day routine.

“This brings everybody together,” King said.

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