After a long, gloomy week that brought rain and cold temperatures to Arkansas, Saturday came with bright, clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s: perfect weather to head down to the Clear Channel Metroplex on Colonel Glenn Road to the Sixth Annual Guns n’ Hoses Chili Cookoff. This was a fun event for us last year, and I think this year’s cookoff was even better. Hosted by 100.3 The Edge’s Corey and Jay Show, the Guns n’ Hoses cookoff is a good time involving crazies in Halloween costumes serving up all sorts of chili, with all proceeds going to benefit the September Fund, a scholarship program for the children of firefighters, police officers, and EMTs.
As we made our way around to each booth, the Halloween theme was apparent everywhere – including this creepy display of chili cups surrounded by plastic mice and cockroaches. The contestants really outdid themselves for strange ingredients this year, too, from the Zombie Hunter booth’s bear and venison chili to a chili that the servers swore was made with kangaroo sausage. Spice levels were in the red zone, too, with the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science, and the Arts coming in tops on my list as spiciest chili around – they called it “Man Chili,” and it certainly put my mouth to the test with its sneaky pepper afterburn.
Guns n’ Hoses has always been about the firefighters, police folks, and EMTs, and they certainly brought their “A” games to the cookoff today. Looking back through my notes, it was these groups time and again that had the best chili. Our favorite of the afternoon was from our hometown Bryant Fire Department, a chunky, tangy chili with a rich good flavor that I could eat any time. Close behind them were the guys from the Cabot Fire Department with an oyster, pork, and beef chili that had a good consistency and taste, and the Little Rock K-9 Academy, whose sour cream and cheese-topped chili was perfect for a Frito pie. The East End Volunteer Fire Department had a good, solid contribution, too, a thick meaty chili that would be perfect for a cold winter night. The fire fighters and policemen looked like they were having the most fun, too – although it looked like everybody was having a good time.
There were a few other chili’s that stood out to us, including the very messianic Chilly Willy chili to the right. We tried a couple of different chocolate chili versions, and the best one was called Heinous Anus, which despite the horrific name actually managed to incorporate chocolate into their chili so that the flavor of the chili wasn’t compromised but the chocolate was identifiable in the taste. That’s pretty hard to do, so I was impressed. The most unique chili I tried all day was the Dead Man’s Caribbean chili, a smooth, almost watery chili made with a jerk sauce base and garnished with a slice of lime. I’m a huge fan of jerk chicken and shrimp, and the tart, spicy jerk sauce was an inspired choice for a chili base. The best chili topping had to be from the Centennial Country Club, who eschewed the usual onions, cheese, and sour cream and went with a smoky pulled pork topping that really added an entirely different dimension to their chili.
So how do you deal with sampling nearly sixty different flavors of chili? Do you turn to the antacids or a glass of warm milk? Well, if you’re the Arkansas Foodies gang, you get your fill and then head down to the River Market for some beers and Razorback football. We had a blast at this year’s cookoff, and we’re eagerly anticipating next year’s event. Thanks to Corey Dietz, Jay Hamilton, and the rest of the 100.3 The Edge crew for throwing a great party right before Halloween, and thanks to everybody who got up early this morning to cook up a big pot of chili for all of us to taste. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to the September fund yourself, you can do so at any Metropolitan Bank location. Little Rock has a lot of good food festivals, but this is one of our favorites. See you next year!