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How do you plan a chili cook-off at work?

Planning a chili cook-off at work can be a fun way to boost morale and bring employees together. Chili cook-offs encourage friendly competition, highlight culinary skills, and provide an opportunity for collaboration. With some strategic planning, your work chili cook-off can be a spicy success.

Why Host a Chili Cook-Off?

A chili cook-off gives employees a chance to take a break from their normal routines and work together towards a common goal. Here are some of the key benefits of hosting a chili cook-off at work:

  • Builds camaraderie and strengthens relationships between coworkers
  • Allows employees to showcase their cooking abilities
  • Encourages creativity and friendly competition
  • Boosts morale and provides a fun activity to look forward to
  • Gives employees a chance to sample a variety of tasty chilis

Overall, a chili cook-off can be a tasty team-building activity that brings your workplace together. The event doesn’t have to be overly complex or time-consuming to plan, either.

Planning the Event Logistics

Here are some key considerations when planning the logistics of your work chili cook-off:

Pick a Date and Time

Choose a date and time that works well for most employees to attend. Midweek lunches or Friday afternoons tend to be good options. Allow at least 2-3 hours for the cook-off and eating. Avoid scheduling it too close to major holidays or office events.

Select a Location

Good location choices include:

  • Office break room or cafeteria
  • Conference room or event space
  • Outdoor patio area

Look for a space with access to tables, chairs, power outlets, and a place to set up the chili. Make sure the area can accommodate the number of attendees you expect.

Send Invites

Create an evite, email, or paper invite to send out to all employees. Include important details like:

  • Date, time and location
  • Whether the event is optional or mandatory
  • If employees should bring food to share
  • Who to RSVP to

Give employees at least 2-3 weeks’ notice so they can make arrangements to attend.

Plan the Schedule

Decide on a schedule for the cook-off. For example:

Time Activity
12:00pm Cooks arrive, set up chili stations
12:30pm Guests arrive, taste testing begins
1:30pm Judging and awards
2:00pm Eating, mingling and cleanup

Keep the schedule fairly loose, allowing at least 1-2 hours for tasting and judging all the chilies entered.

Choosing Cook-Off Rules and Guidelines

Establish some chili cook-off rules and guidelines for participants to follow. This helps set clear expectations.

Entry Guidelines

Decide on entry guidelines such as:

  • Whether employees can cook solo or in teams
  • If there’s a max number of chilies each person/team can enter
  • If there’s an entry fee to help cover costs
  • If crockpots or other equipment will be provided or if cooks should bring their own
  • If there are any ingredient restrictions (like no beans, meat only, vegetarian only, etc)

Judging Criteria

Determine judging criteria for participants. Example criteria:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Spice level
  • Aroma
  • Color
  • Creativity

Recruit a panel of judge volunteers in advance. 3-5 judges is ideal.


Offering fun prizes helps motivate participation. Prizes can be for categories like:

  • Best overall chili
  • Spiciest chili
  • Most unique chili
  • Best team spirit
  • People’s choice

Good prize ideas include gift cards, plaques, ribbons, or work-related rewards like extra PTO.

Food and Supplies

Besides chili, plan out any other food and supplies you’ll need for a successful event:

Tasting Supplies

  • Small paper cups for sampling
  • Plastic spoons
  • Napkins
  • Serving gloves
  • Labels and pens for chili cooks to identify their entry

Sides and Drinks

Provide sides like:

  • Corn bread
  • Chips
  • Cheese
  • Sour cream

And drinks like:

  • Soda
  • Water
  • Iced tea
  • Beer

Ask employees to sign up to bring items or have them provided by the company.


Decorate to set the tone with:

  • Chili pepper string lights
  • Red and yellow balloons
  • Bandanas
  • Chili-themed paper goods

Judging Supplies

  • Clipboards
  • Pens
  • Judging ballots
  • Chili pepper trophy or ribbons for prizes

Cook-Off Promotion

Generate excitement leading up to the big day with some fun promotional ideas:

  • Send out weekly email reminders
  • Encourage chili name brainstorming sessions
  • Have a pre-event decorating party
  • Share chili cook-off fun facts
  • Print flyers to hang around the office

Rally coworkers to join in on the preparations and build enthusiastic anticipation.

Day-Of Event Tips

To pull off a seamless chili cook-off event:

  • Set up tables, chairs, tasting cups and napkins first thing in the morning
  • Lay out side dishes, toppings and drinks
  • Designate a registration table for cooks to check-in
  • Review the judging criteria and process with judges
  • Give cooks time to set up their chili station
  • Kick things off with a welcome announcement
  • Keep a schedule handy and give time reminders to judges and cooks
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Have a trash can handy for tasting cups
  • End with an awards ceremony and prizes

Stay flexible – minor timing changes or slowdowns are bound to happen!

Post-Event Follow Up

Wrap up a successful chili cook-off with these final action items:

  • Send a company-wide thank you email with photos, winners and thanks to all who participated
  • Gather feedback via an online survey to improve next year
  • Share winning chili recipes in an internal company cookbook
  • Recognize winners again at the next company meeting
  • Set a date for the next annual cook-off event!


Hosting a chili cook-off at work requires coordination but pays off in strengthened employee relationships. Define the event logistics, rules, food, supplies, and promotion ahead of time. Rally your coworkers to participate and lend a hand. The day of, oversee timing and keep things on schedule. Follow up to celebrate winners, gather feedback, and set plans for next year’s event. With thoughtful preparation and enthusiastic participation, your work chili cook-off will be a spicy success!