So, I moseyed on down to Trader’s Village in Grand Prairie today, so I could attend the 33rd Annual Prairie Dog Chili Cookoff and World Championship of Pickled Quail Egg Eating (and ain’t that a mouthful). More than that, I participated. Now, pickled quail egg eating is not my thing, although the event recently came in at #5 on the Travel Channel’s prestigious list of all-time great eating contests (bet you didn’t know that). No, my role was as a judge in the first round of the Chili Cookoff itself.
My fellow judges and I were all volunteers, except of course we did get free food, some of which was pretty darn good. Here’s a view of some of my fellow judges.
I have to say I was a little disappointed — as far as I could see, there was no prairie dog in the chili at all, just beef. Hah! Just kiddin’. Actually, I had a good time. There were 96 entries in the contest this year, but each of our tables in the first round only tried twelve; there were eight in all. I was on Table A, which was the Dale Stewart, Jr. table. See, NASCAR is one of the sponsors of the event, and that apparently spilled over into the table names. In any case, they were there in force, with several sharp looking vehicles, like this Ford Fusion.
Interestingly enough, the cars were rigged up with copious racing video games — trunk, interior, roof — which you could have played, if you’d been able to beat away all the little kids who were monopolizing the joysticks. But I’m not bitter. Other sponsors were Ben E. Keith Foods (a big distributor in DFW) and Pepsi.
But back to the cookoff. Once we all sat down with our newfound friends, five or six to a table, we were each given a pencil and a scoring sheet, and then told the rules. Basically, we had to render judgment on aroma, red color, consistency, taste, and aftertaste of each entry. The only other important rules, really, were that you had to use a clean (plastic) spoon for each cup, and limit yourself to one spoonful per cup before passing it along. Double-dipping was strictly prohibited (thank goodness). They provided us with drinks and snacks — grapes, cheese, celery, crackers, and carrot sticks — to cleanse our palates between tastings. We could score the chilis anywhere from 0-10 points each based on the five criteria.
It didn’t take long, and almost all the chilis were good; some of them were better than that. I gave most of them pretty high scores. There was only one disappointment, a chili that was actually grayish rather than red, and which had obvious bits of gristle in it. I don’t know what was up with that one, and I had to give it my lowest score, a 6 (I guess I’m kind of forgiving). There was another one that smelled and tasted like beer. A bit unique, I suppose, but I’m not sure it worked. The fact that you could taste the alcohol probably meant it was poured in literally at the last minute. I gave it a 7.
At the beginning, we were all assigned a cup (mine was A3) and then passed them to the right as we tasted them. I ended with A2, therefore. Surprisingly, all the chilis were piping hot, and stayed that way throughout the tasting, despite the cool weather and constant wind. The miracle of insulated Styrofoam, I suppose. The oven-heat was enough to detract from the flavor in some cases — I even burned my mouth a bit — but the spiciness was gratifyingly moderate on all of them. I’ve never been a fan of food that’s so spicy-hot that it hurts. I want to taste the ingredients, not cry and get a runny nose; although I have to admit, my sinuses were unblocked by the time I walked out of there.
I was slower and more deliberate than the lady to my left (and more forgiving, too — she gave a lot of 3s and 4s), so I got kind of backed up a couple of times. Still, it wasn’t long before we were done; I doubt it took more than fifteen or twenty minutes. It wasn’t the biggest feed I’ve ever had, but it was cool and fun, and like I said, I got to have free food and drink too, which is always a bonus in my book. Some of the chilis were very, very good — I liked A2 best (I gave it a 10 out of 10), and the sad thing is that I’ll probably never know who made it or if they won or not. I suspect that one made it into the final rounds, though. I wasn’t able to stay all afternoon to see who won; but if I ever find out, I’ll post it here.
I’m wondering what they did with all the leftover chili. They were big cups, and I know that the five of us ate less than a quarter of each cup. Maybe they reused it for the later rounds, though I doubt it. I hope they didn’t just throw it away.
One thing I want to point out: in Texas, most people consider adding beans a bastardization of chili. Real chili is strictly a carnivore’s meal, with the exception of spices, of course (cumin, chili pepper, and cayenne predominate). At the risk of getting thrown out of the Texas club, I’ll admit that I don’t mind an occasional bean here and there — I happen to think it adds to the flavor. But there was nary a bean in this lot, so expect that if you happen to attend next year.
The annual Prairie Dog Chili Cookoff and World Championship of Pickled Quail Egg Eating takes place every year in early April at Trader’s Village in Grand Prairie. For more info on Trader’s Village and their festivals, check their website at http://www.tradersvillage.com/en/grandprairie/festivals.