You know you’ve stumbled across a great idea when it originates as a side thought and becomes the main attraction. That’s the case with Daniels Chili Cookoff. Daniels Top-O-The Poconos Family Resort started the event in 1989 as part of Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau’s winter carnival. Since then the chili cookoff has remained a strong and enduring fixture of springtime in these parts. For many locals, this one Saturday afternoon of eating and dancing is practically a rite of spring. The truth of this event is that while decades in the running, Daniels Chili Cookoff still grows every year as more contenders enter the competition and more visitors attend.
First thing’s first: Daniels Chili Cookoff is serious fun, but it is also serious competition. This event is officially sanctioned by the International Chili Society. Official judges such as hospitality professors from the local university and representatives from Sisco Foods rank and award creative concoctions from area businesses, restaurants, and self-proclaimed “chili-heads”. The Chili Cookoff is no small batch either. Recent years have seen nearly forty different chili entrees and about two dozen salsa entries. Both can vary between competitors in terms of style and spiciness. There are awards for first, second, and third prize, and for honorable mention and the People’s Choice Award. Competitors understand that the real prize is the local fame and it seems this is what draws would-be winners back for a shot at chili immortality.
Yes, Daniels Chili Cookoff is official (in a sense) and an event doesn’t last thirty years for nothing. But the cookoff is chiefly a community event and it is the camaraderie and focus on local connections that seem to be the highest concern. So while awards and cash prizes are on the line, most entrants would agree that in reality it is the sheer fun of the event that is the biggest appeal. For instance, all interested contestants are welcomed to register their concoctions, even up to the very last minute and entries are free! Visitors meanwhile are welcomed to try all the chili they want, while regional favorite County Line Band plays upbeat country-rock music. Competitors and visitors alike can literally dance away the afternoon between tastings of world-class chili and salsa.
Admission cost to the cook off is one dollar with the proceeds benefiting local charities and organizations. Parking is free.