Hot stuff at the Chili Cook-off

Fort Dodge’s biggest chili competition offers more varieties than ever before.

With 14 teams Sunday, the 30th annual Fort Dodge Chili Lover’s Society Cook-off featured some teams that have been in it for years and some trying it out for their first time.

“We’re here to show these men how to cook real chili,” said Morgan Coder, of the Blazing Saddles team.

The team is made of friends who have enjoyed coming to the cookoff for years.

“We decided why not cook this year,” said Jessica St. John. The all-female team is a welcome addition, she said, since some teams are mostly men.

Amanda Sandahl is Blazing Saddles’ head cook.

“Amanda just made it up on her own,” St. John said.

“It’s a lot of different meats. Five different meats,” Sandahl said. “We do a lot of chili at my house on Sundays.”

One of those nearly all-male teams was Charlie’s Chili, led by Chuck Reetz.

“Then we have Charlie’s Angels. That’s the wives of the guys,” said his wife, Leslie Reetz. “We serve the chili.”

In addition to trying for the first-place chili trophy, Chuck Reetz also hoped to win the Wayne Goodno Showmanship Award, which is awarded every year for a skit or talent. Reetz’s act included juggling flaming machetes over a volunteer who lay on the ground.

Just in case, his booth was right next door to that of the Gowrie Fire Department, which has been coming to the cook-off for quite a few years.

“(Our recipe) is pretty consistent,” said firefighter and head cook Al Mundt. “But we tweak it every year.”

The chili is very meaty, he said with just a little bit of heat.

The team likes the event because it gets exposure for the Fire Department and lets members enjoy a nice Sunday outside.

“It’s good camaraderie,” Mundt said. “Plus we keep winning. We can’t quit until we start going downhill.”

Event organizer Justin Goodno said a new Firehouse Chili award is being offered this year to encourage more departments to take part.

“We’re basically trying to draw in the area fire departments. Gowrie Fire Department is here every year,” Goodno said. “We want to use them as an example. We are hoping Moorland, Otho and Fort Dodge fire departments will come.”

A salsa-making competition was added to the event this year, Goodno said.

Also, the chili speed-eating contest was back by popular demand. Nate Jennings was the speediest eater, besting 11 other competitors to win a trophy and $100.

This year, guests could also buy hot dogs to go with their chili.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done it. It’s been in demand for years,” Goodno said.

As always, teams cooked over wood fires or charcoal -no gas or electricity allowed.

“Everything has to be done here on-site,” said Goodno. “All the vegetables have to be chopped. You want it to be more authentic.”

Goodno also praised the number of new teams this year. In fact, the judges’ top pick this year was the Fort Frenzy team, which made its inaugural appearance.

Paula Jameson, cook for the Roadkill Rednecks, the team from JoJo’s Cocktail Lounge, said she uses about 50 percent pork and 50 percent beef in her chili.

“I just throw stuff together. It’s pretty heavy on home-grown produce,” she said. “It’s got a little kick to it.”

Another new team this year was from Antler’s Pub and Grill in Clare.

“We’re winging it,” said team captain Lori Rial. “It’s kind of a group effort. Everybody’s got their favorite recipe, so why not throw them all together and see what happens?”

As far as any specifics go, “We always call our seasoning ‘Ancient Irish secrets,'” she said.

The team later was named Rookie of the Year for coming in fourth in both the judges’ choice and the people’s choice.

Karen and William Rysavy, of Lytton, were there to taste some chili. He said it was his first time there in probably 20 years, while she had never been to the event before.

William Rysavy explained what he looks for in his ideal chili.

“It’s a little spicy,” he said. “It’s got that, what would you call it? It’s got to have that right chili taste.”