A warm winter recipe of southern beefy chili.


A three-day world chili competition that draws a crowd of 10,000 people is making Ankeny its new home.

The 53rd annual ICS World Championship Chili Cook-off will be held Sept. 6-8 at The District in Prairie Trail — the new home of the event for the next five years.

The championship is free to the public and open to all ages.

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The International Chili Society (ICS) considered 17 cities in the Midwest during a competitive selection process before reaching an agreement with DRA Properties, L.C. to bring the ICS World Championship Chili Cook-off to Iowa.

The ICS identified the Des Moines area and The District as the ideal fit for the world championship event. 

About 300 invitation-only entries vying for the top spot in four chili categories will converge on Ankeny for a weekend of competition. And two more category competitions are for children in a youth division, part of the competition's dedication to working with Iowa 4-H. 

“We’re excited to bring the most famous and well-known chili cook-off championship to Iowa and to The District at Prairie Trail,” said Scott Toland, president and CEO of ICS Chili, Inc. “This event has grown from a chili cook-off challenge among a small group of friends to the culminating event of a yearlong series of sanctioned cook-offs in 39 states and attracting hundreds of thousands of chili fans along the way.” 

The International Chili Society started in 1967 with a chili competition in Terlingua, Texas.

Categories include traditional red, homestyle, chili verde and veggie chili. Youths compete in traditional red and homestyle categories.

Homestyle chili can involve unusual ingredients such as seafood, peanut butter, chocolate, turkey, sausage, prunes, marrow and even a whole pork chop floating on the top. Chili verde is traditionally made with pork and green chilis. 

Contestants are given three hours to cook the chili using locally-bought ingredients. Past winning recipes are posted on the ICS website. 

In addition to chili competitions, there will be competitions for other food items that pair well with chili — like cornbread, chili dogs, cinnamon rolls, chili pie and others.

Toland said the outdoor festival will bring vendors, live music, arts, crafts and other entertainment to the area and it was a perfect fit for ICS's long-term vision. Event-goers pay for samples of chili, beverages and other goods, and will also include local restaurants.

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The ICS theme is "Family. Friends. Fun." That theme was central to what Toland and the ICS were searching for as they sought a new host for 2019 and a more permanent location for the ICS World Championship Chili Cook-off.

Attendees at the cook-off are immersed in the cooking process and are encouraged to wander throughout the competition area, asking chefs questions about their chilis and how they are made. 

“The World Championship Chili Cook-off is expected to bring in over 300 championship chili entries and over 200 judges, scorekeepers and their families to central Iowa for five days,” said Ashley Johnson, marketing director of DRA Properties, who estimates the economic impact to the region will approach $1.5 million. About 30 percent of the judges will come from Iowa.

“Chiliheads” compete in over 125 sanctioned ICS cook-offs in 39 states throughout each cooking season for the hopes of qualifying for the ICS World Championship Chili Cook-off held each fall. The cook-off expects to have competitors from six countries by 2020. 

Home cooks can get in on competitive cooking during the event as well. On Friday, Sept. 6, a last-chance competition open to all will take place for the opening of the event.

Toland said there will also be restaurant competitions, a hero and first responder competition, tailgate chili competition and a campfire competition. More details will emerge on these contests later in the year. 

The total prize money at the World Championship Chili Cook-off is expected to top $100,000.

ICS has been working with Catch Des Moines and Des Moines entrepreneur Brooks Reynolds, well-known as co-founder of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. Reynolds has been retained by the ICS as President of International Events and World Chili Cook-offs.

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Brooks said so far, there will be about 50 craft beers, wines from Diageo, eight bands, and a different environment each day of the competition.

About 8,000 people live in the Prairie Trail community and many of them can simply walk from their front door to the festival. The championship is expected to draw people from a 300-mile radius.

"The environment is perfect as a food destination," Johnson said. "Prairie Trail is full of local food entrepreneurs. Having the cooking championship here is exciting."

The group’s mission is to continuously improve chili while raising money for charities and non-profits. Close to $100 million has been raised and donated to date. 

For more information or to sign up to compete, visit the ICS website at

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