Saturday's icy conditions may have dampened the size of the crowd at the Navy Club Ship's Annual Chili Cook-Off, but not their enthusiasm.
About 20 teams competed in the event, held at American Legion Post #5 on Tanner Bridge Road. The contest is a fundraiser for Camp Quality USA, a summer program for children with cancer.
Morgan Walker has competed in the contest for 25 to 30 years and has won the top "People's Choice" award on several occasions.
"I've been competing since Moby Dick was a minnow," he said.
He was vague about exactly what he does to craft such savory chili, but he does include a few secret ingredients and said it matters how the ingredients are prepared.
Last year he made "Rat Chili," and parked a small rat figurine next to the pot, but didn't have many takers.
"I didn't win," he lamented.
He's made "Raccoon Chili" and "Possum Chili" at previous events. This year his chili has a Texas flavor - he was born in the Lone Star State - and so he's calling it "El Rancho Chili."
From super spicy to melty and meaty, chili lovers on Saturday could find the flavor profile that suits them best. Most of the cooks create a conventional meat-and-beans combination in hopes of wooing the judges. The contest has few rules, other than a requirement that beans be included.
"It's a traditional chili crowd," said Skipper Mike Ryno. "I doubt too many teams will bring a vegetarian chili, although we have had people bring chicken and white-bean chili before."
Mark Bevins is also a regular competitor. He brought two cookers full of chili: a super-spicy recipe and a milder crowd-friendly dish that featured both roast and ground beef.
"My spicy recipe has jalapeÃ±o, Serrano, ghost, red chili, habanero, and horseradish - which opens up the sinuses," he added. "I also put in a little Vindaloo sauce."
Bevins cooks by taste. If he feels the dish is a bit "hollow," he'll add some garlic. Too bland? Throw in some chili.
The chefs set up their stations at 8 a.m. and the judging occurred between 10:30 and 11 a.m. After that the crowd was invited for a taste.
Funds raised from donations and ticket sales help children with cancer- most of whom are treated at the University Hospital in Columbia - afford to attend Camp Quality USA.
The program "lets kids with cancer be kids again," explained Casey Bucher, co-executive director of the camp. "This is one of our biggest, consistent fundraisers."
Saturday's Chili Cook-Off Winners:
• People's Choice: Prison Brews
• Best Decorated Station: Camp Quality USA
• Best Organization or Business: Prison Brews
• Best Individual: Chris Debrock, first place, Larry Bloomer, second place