Chili is a staple of Texas cuisine. Many of us know it as a warm bowl of joy on a crisp fall evening and a great way to gather family and friends around the dinner table. In fact, on May 11, 1977, chili was adopted as the state dish of Texas by the Legislature. Will Rogers may have said it best when he described Texas chili as “the bowl of blessedness.”
This timeless Texas classic is known for many things, including annual competitions sure to cook up delicious entries. From Flatonia to Galveston to Pflugerville, the Lone Star State is known for hosting some of the best annual chili cook-offs.
While there are several theories on where the true origin of Texas chili began, many historians trace the famous dish back to San Antonio in the 18th century. Immigrants from the Canary Islands had been recruited to settle in the area, and many women began cooking up the earliest forms of chili to sell to people in the city’s Military Square, at the grounds of the Alamo.
Our state’s love for chili heated up during the cattle drives of the mid-late 19th century. When traveling from town to town, cowboys would cook chili straight out of their chuck wagons.
Ingredients for their chili, such as onions and peppers, could be found while they were working the cattle drive trails.
Today, Texans heading north up I-35 from San Antonio know another chili-loving city. Austin is home to the Texas Chili Parlor, a fan-favorite for a great bowl of chili with good company. Just a few blocks from the Texas State Capitol, this local favorite opened the same year that chili became our state dish. Aside from their many well-known recipes, this establishment is also familiar to movie lovers: scenes from Death Proof with Quentin Tarantino were filmed there.
Traveling back down to southwest Texas, we hit the self-proclaimed chili capital of not just Texas, but the world: Terlingua. This West Texas town is known for its chili cook-offs which started back in 1967. The first recorded chili cook-off in Terlingua consisted of two cooks: a New Yorker named Allen Smith, and a Texan named Wick Fowler. In a battle between the Empire State and the Lone Star State, the competition resulted in a draw when one of the judges scorched his taste buds. The next year, the ballot box was stolen by masked bandits who threw it down a mine shaft, setting the tone for this spicy annual event. Every year during the first week of November, thousands of chiliheads gather for the annual chili competitions in Terlingua.
Our final stop takes us to Snook, Texas, which is known for hosting the annual Chilifest Music Festival. What first started in a Walmart parking lot, Chilifest has grown into a Texas-sized gathering that attracts thousands of people who come to listen to Texas’ best country music and enjoy a bowl of reds. Over the course of 30 years, this red-hot event has raised more than $3.5 million for local charities.
No matter where you get your bowl of blessedness, be sure to make the most of the cooler weather by cooking up a batch of our state dish.