By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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After 34 years, the jury is still out, but it doesn't seem to matter as much.
“It started out as Texas versus Oklahoma, but it has evolved into a huge community picnic,” said Ron McElroy, one of four organizers of the event celebrating chili, corn bread and horseshoes at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 4907 Landes St. in Port Townsend, on Sunday.
The Port Townsend Chili Cook-Off is a community picnic only. County health department regulations prevent organizers from offering chili to the general public.
Those who attend are urged to bring their own food, beverages and table settings. People can share with others.
Liquor is allowed, but not in glass bottles, McElroy said.
Music and picnic tables will be provided.
It's a relaxed gathering. The schedule isn't buttoned down, and the suggested arrival times are loose.
The gates open at 12:30 p.m.
The horseshoe competition will begin at about 1 p.m. with teams of two horseshoe pitchers.
Those who want to compete would be wise to show up a little early to pick partners and get on the elimination roster.
Judging for the chili/corn bread competition will begin at about 3 p.m..
Those entering are encouraged to show up by 2 p.m. to register and find a spot on the fire-pit grill for keeping their creations warm and competitive.
Photos of past chili cook-offs are welcome. A plan is afoot to put together a photo-history of the event, organizers said.
Aside from McElroy, those in charge are former Jefferson County commissioner and former Dos Okies Barbecue owner Larry Dennison; his brother, Rick Dennison, a retired postal worker; and “musicaholic emeritus” Pete Raab, who has been putting together the outstanding cook-off playlist for three decades.
The idea for the cook-off began in 1980 with a contest at the Kitchen Shelter at Fort Worden State Park.
Soon, the event outgrew those digs. In 1982, it was moved to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, where it has been held for the past 33 years.
Over the years, the group added — and then subtracted — a number of goofy side-events like the Get Out Of Bed-Get Dressed Contest, the Get Out the Window Contest, the Best Costume Award and the Punk Chili Award for the worst chili entry.
Larry Dennison said these events fell by the wayside because of injuries or offensiveness, but the venerable horseshoe pitching contest has survived the test of time and continues to be the first event of each cook-off.
The cook-off is not sanctioned by any of the chili societies and so has none of the restrictions that a sanctioned chili cook-off has.
Those who plan to enter the chili competition may enter one chili in one category only.
Prizes are bragging rights.
A new category of vegetarian chili (no meat, non-heart-stopper chili) has been added to the four standard categories: family-style (with anything such as beans added to the chili meat), mild (not spicy, all-meat chili), hot (spicy all-meat chili) and verde (green chili-based pork/chicken chili).
There is a corn bread competition as well “for those who are pretty darned certain their momma's recipe is the best in the land,” Larry Dennison said.
Judges for each year's cook-off are the winners of the previous year's competition.
This year, the judges are Don White (best family-style, best hot chili and best overall), Peter Bonyun (best mild chili), Dwight Nicholson (best chili verde) and Diane Weerts (best corn bread).
Each entry will be put into a cup or container with the entrant's number.
“The judging is blind,” Larry Dennison said.
“But it's also sometimes deaf and often dumb.”
For questions or directions, phone McElroy at 360-774-1838, Larry Dennison at 360-301-0120, Rick Dennison at 360-821-9081 or Raab at 360-774-1219.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.