CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fifteen years ago, the idea for a chili cook-off in Charleston was born at the Red Carpet Lounge, an East End bar.
A group of local cooks wanted to find a way to do something for the community. The group rounded up friends and family to volunteer for the event, pulling together $2,500 of their own money to get the first cook-off started in 1999.
Over the years, the Smoke on the Water Chili Cook-Off grew to become an official International Chili Society event, drawing "chiliheads" from across the region.
But while the event is typically held at Haddad Riverfront Park, this year's cook-off will be held from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the state Capitol in conjunction with the state's sesquicentennial celebration.
And because of the sesquicentennial, either Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin or First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin will hand out awards for the cook-off, said Darlene Carnochan, a 13-year volunteer.
At least 70 cooks had pre-registered as of earlier this week, and Carnochan expected more to do so, making this year's cook-off the largest in the event's history.
"It's a fun event," she said. "It's just really a time to enjoy yourself."
The cook-off has two contests that involve chili — the judged competition and the People's Choice competition.
The judged competition is governed by the rules of the International Chili Society, and contestants must cook either red or green chili from scratch within the time period given. That chili, which must amount to at least two quarts, is then sent to the judges. There is also a salsa category, and cooks may either prepare salsa before the event or cook it on location.
New this year is a "homestyle" chili category, which is specific to the local cook-off and can include beans. The ICS does not administer this category, however.
Cooks in the judged event must be ICS members, and a complete list of rules can be found at the ICS website, www.chilicookoff.com.
The People's Choice competition lets visitors play a role. For this weekend's event, cooks can bring in a few gallons of prepared chili, or they can make some chili along with their competition batch.
Visitors can purchase "sampling tickets," which allow them to taste the different kinds of chili. Each ticket holder is given a number of beads, which they then give to the cook of their favorite chili sample. The cook with the most beads wins the People's Choice competition.