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Sandi Judkiewicz samples a cup of chili at Liberty Christian School’s 15th annual Chili Cook-off on Friday. Judkiewicz said the key to good chili is to find the perfect blend of flavors. “Not too sugary and not too spicy with a good cut of meat,” she said.

The weather is getting cooler. Trees are shedding their leaves. Friday night lights are in full swing. That can only mean one thing in Texas.

‘Tis the season for the chili cook-off.

Liberty Christian School hosted its 15th annual contest during Friday night’s football game against Fort Worth All Saints’ Episcopal. Parents and student groups competed for the coveted title of Best Chili and the undeniable bragging rights that come with it. Proceeds from the event go toward scholarships for students from military and first responder families.

We Texans love our chili and several folks at the event went into full Ted Cruz mode, echoing the same impassioned language the Texas senator once used to describe queso.

“It’s in our veins,” Liberty employee Caitlyn Spain said.

“It is the Texas state food,” dad John Spitler added. “You can trace it back to the open range and the cattle drives.”

“You can make it out of anything,” grandmother Cindi Lanning confessed. “But what really matters is the love you put into it.”

While we certainly agree that love is the secret ingredient that can’t be duplicated, there are about as many ways to make chili as there were Crock-Pots in the cook-off (roughly 40 by our count) and everyone has their own opinion.

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Parents scoop and stir their chili recipes during Liberty Christian’s 15th annual Chili Cook-off on Friday evening. Student and parent groups competed in several categories including Best Chili, Best Decorations and Best Side Dish.

Meats

Every good chili needs some sort of protein, and beef proved to be the crowd favorite.

“It’s all about the beef,” mom Barbara Weller said. “There is no other meat.”

Some entries tried to mix things up with chicken and venison, but most stood firmly against the idea of “vegetarian chili.”

“Nope,” dad Mario Ramirez said. “That makes it a side item.”

One group in the cook-off went all in on one specific kind of meat that roams far from North Texas.

“Elk is harder to come by and it’s more expensive, but it’s better in chili, better in a burger, better as a steak,” dad Marc DeWall said. “My wife and kids tell me the same thing so I’m not lying.”

Beans

There might never be a more divisive question in all of chili history: Beans or no beans?

For some reason, every kind of chili connoisseur will pick this hill to die on and the Liberty crowd was no different. The question alone brought looks of disgust from people entrenched in the “no beans” camp and responses of “well, obviously” from the bean fanatics.

Spitler managed to give a measured response that today’s partisans should take note of.

“It’s a house divided,” he said. “The beans have to complement the chili. They can’t overtake it.”

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Dance team moms spoon out samples at the “High Kick Corral” booth for Liberty Christian School’s 15th annual Chili Cook-off on Friday in Argyle.

Spices

After the meat and beans (or no beans, if you’re into that) come the spices, a much trickier part of the process. While everyone at the cook-off agreed that a perfect balance must be found, no one agreed on what it was.

Some declined to give their recipe, vowing to take the family recipe to the grave. Others blurted out a few staples: cumin, paprika, chili powder, a dash of jalapeno.

“It’s got to have a little kick,” Liberty senior Isabella Van Trease said.

Several stuck by the adage of less is more.

“Keep it simple,” dad Heath Massey cautioned.

The perfect cup

Liberty President Blair McCullough joked about hallucinations after eating 18 different types of chili for the contest. Results were still being tallied by the time the announcer took the microphone in the press box to honor local veterans, but McCullough said he noted some standouts.

A native of Georgia (where apparently, they eat chili and grits?), McCullough admitted that Texas chili is superior. However, as one of five judges in the contest, his opinion was among the few that really mattered.

“The meat makes the chili,” he said. “Add tender venison or beef, beans go in 100 percent, cheese and sour cream are a bonus and Fritos are the rainbow.”

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @CjonesDRC.

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