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History of the Original Terlingua Chili Cook Off

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Nov 2nd-5th 2022
A Message from the Tolbert Chili Organization

We host the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff the first weekend in November every year Frequently referred to as the Tolbert Cookoff, or Behind the Store, this is the original and Grand Daddy of all chili cook-offs - in the world!

The first cook-off in 1967, created and promoted by Frank X. Tolbert and friends, only had two cooks, New Yorker, H. Allen Smith, and Texas legend Wick Fowler. It was supposed to settle the dispute over who knew more about chili - Texans or New Yorkers. There were three judges, including Hallie Stillwell. The contest ended in a draw.

That two-man publicity stunt has more than 50 years of history now, and has grown into an event drawing thousands of attendees to Terlingua the first Saturday in November every year, and the days leading up to Saturday, to help celebrate and carry on the tradition. Each Chili Season Year, (October 1st thru September 30th), chili cooks participate in their local area sanctioned events, earning points toward qualification. Points needed vary by state, depending mostly on population. In Texas, the required number is 9.

(For complete details on the Tolbert point system see the page dedicated to Official Rules and Forms)

Once that magic number has been reached or exceeded, the cook is not only eligible but is invited to participate in the annual Terlingua November championship. It is important to note that all Tolbert sanctioned cook-offs donate proceeds to local charities such as Terlingua Schools and the Terlingua Fire and EMS, including competition Behind the Store.

In honor of the event co-founder Wick Fowler, Behind the Store's primary beneficiary is the ALS Association of Texas. ALS is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

When I first arrived I thought there would be a giant cauldron full of chili in the center of a desert, but what I found was more than that. A lot more.
Andrew Riefenstahl
People enjoying themselves in Terlingua