NJ Chili & Salsa Cook Off in Toms River – Our Take

First of all, let me clear up any potential confusion: the gentleman you see here in this picture is not the Frito Bandito. He is just one of the many many MANY people who were participating in the NJ Chili & Salsa Cook Off that took place last weekend in Toms River. And, for a change, we actually got to this event soon enough that we weren’t watching the participants pack up and leave.

This event is now in its 20th year, and attracts competitors from around the country. This year’s competition had over 60 entrants trying to coax chili magic from their pots. The Cook Off has become quite the event, with literally thousands of people walking up and down Washington Street sampling what the competitors have to offer.

There were actually two competitions going on: you had the more seriously-judged ICS Chili and Salsa competitions, where the winner would qualify for the ICS World Championship, and you also had the Peoples’ Choice title, where us normal folk could vote. As with the BBQ Championship we attended last year, you would have booths with people making chili – but they were only competing in the ICS event, so no chili for you from those folks.

But there were many other competitors who were open for business for everyone else, and there were plenty of colorful monikers:

Before you go ‘Ewwww…squirrel!’, there was no actual squirrel in the chili. Unfortunately, there was no chili, either, as you can see by the empty pot. We ran into a number of competitors that just flat ran out due to the sheer number of tasters. In some ways, the Chili & Salsa Cook Off has become a victim of its own success. The event has become so popular that unless you get there early enough, you’re going to miss out on tasting some of the entries. I found some of the chili entries to be kind of bland and watery, and I wonder if people were trying to stretch out their supplies to meet the demand.

Let’s talk about the chili entrants that we did like very much. First up, the chili we liked best, and won the Peoples’ Choice…

…the Rat Rock Red, brought to you by WRAT (95.9FM on your dial). Yes – the chili made by a rock radio station was the best that we tasted. Lisa found their chili to be rich, meaty and tomato-ey with a nice amount of spice.

The next best after that, according to me anyway (Lisa had to take a break due to baby needing to be fed herself, and she was NOT getting chili), was…

…Gunny Mike’s Devil Dog Chili. This was also a thick and meaty chili with a nice tomato flavor. Not as hot as the Rat Rock Red, but there was enough spice to keep it interesting.

And then there was one more chili that we liked – despite how it was being served. I must warn you about the next picture you’re about to see. If you have a queasy tummy, you may not want to look. If you look anyway, I don’t want to hear your bellyaching. Right – here goes:

Yes – that is in fact a toilet. And yes, they really did serve your portion right out of the, erm, bowl. To say that it was a little disconcerting to want to eat chili served this way would be understating it; it was very disconcerting. And then you start to wonder what goes on in the mind of a person who wants to serve their chili this way. Well, it certainly did draw attention. And, once your mind got over the fact that what you’re about to eat came from a…y’know…the chili was actually good. It was a good, meaty and chunky chili – and that’s where I’ll leave it.

Did I mention there was salsa? Yes, there was a salsa competition as well – and to be honest, Lisa and I were not terribly excited about any of the salsas that we tried; in fact, one tasted like it came right out of a jar. So as far as the salsa competition went…meh.

Overall, the Chili & Salsa Cook Off is still a fun event to attend. The competitors are into it – they’re happy to chat with you, hope that you enjoy their wares, and give a hoot ‘n holler (or a cowbell, or even a bullhorn) when someone votes for them. If you’re willing to deal with lines, because you will be standing in a number of them as you move from booth to booth, then you’ll enjoy yourself. Just make sure you know from what vessel they’re serving the chili.

– John


4 thoughts on “NJ Chili & Salsa Cook Off in Toms River – Our Take

  1. Sounds like a great time, although I don't know if I would have tried the chili from the toilet! Wish we had been down that way so we could have check it out! Maybe next year!

  2. wow- looks like fun! I'll definitely have to put that on my calendar for next year. I'll be checking in regularly with your blog, though- as now I'm a jersey girl myself and summer will be bringing me south!

  3. Patsyk – Yeah, that toilet serving bowl was, erm, different. It's a fun event.Robin – Keep checking in, beacuse I'm always adding more stuff. Should have my summer FoF list up in the next couple of weeks.- John

  4. I normally try to stay as far away as possible from Tom's River…but I'm sad that I missed the chili cook off. As hardcore as I am…that toilet bowl chili made me feel a little icky! 😛

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