By Janet Level
On one Friday in the middle of September, something amazing happens at Founders Square in downtown Hopkinsville.
At mid-morning, streets are blocked off and a slow caravan of trucks, cars and trailers wind through the area dropping off coolers, canopies and camping gear.
As the day goes on, teams raise their canopies to stake out their territory along each carefully numbered plot of asphalt. Busy workers hustle to unpack pots and pans along with a variety of groceries. Local radio stations begin broadcasting and vendors trickle in setting up to sell their wares when the crowds come.
The beer garden takes shape, the bandstand is set up at the far end of the lot and the annual Freedom Friday Chili Cook-Off begins.
On Sept. 12, approximately 40-60 teams will compete in the chili cook-off during the annual Hopkinsville Salutes Fort Campbell week. Like all of the events that the Christian County Chamber of Commerce hosts during this week, the cook-off has tremendous support from the community and it has grown into one of the most anticipated events of the year.
Teams from local businesses, churches, civic groups and the military compete for cash prizes and bragging rights. Up to five members work together to prepare at least five gallons of chili onsite during the day. All of the ingredients are prepared fresh, and no one is allowed to cook anything before the whistle sounds at noon.
Competitors use a variety of methods and ingredients to form their special recipes. The list runs the gamut from tomato sauce, hamburger and beans to corn, prunes and vinegar. Whatever the spices, the goal is to produce prize-worthy chili.
In addition to cooking, most groups decorate their areas. Because the event supports the military, many use a patriotic theme.
Over the years, contestants have dressed as Uncle Sam, Rosie the Riveter and General Patton. Booths have been decorated like MASH units, WWII bunkers and a USO café, adding a great backdrop for the fun.
The public can join the cook-off at 4 p.m. by purchasing an empty chili bowl and spoon for $1. Anyone with a military ID is free. Taste testers will also receive a ticket to vote for their favorite chili.
The crowd favorite and judges’ picks are announced around 6:30 p.m Prizes are awarded for first, second and third place along with prizes for best theme and an overall grand prize.
At the end of the night, families, full on chili, can enjoy a fireworks show.
How to participate
Registration for the Freedom Friday Chili Cook-Off is $50 per team before Aug. 15. After Aug. 15, registration is $75. Checks should be made payable to Christian County Chamber of Commerce.
- A maximum of six members, military or civilian, can be on a team. There is no minimum number of team members.
- Each team must prepare at least five gallons of chili, but are encouraged to make more. Two water jugs must be at the booth at all times.
- Teams must provide the following items: tables for serving the chili, ingredients for the chili, cooking utensils, portable stove or cooking source, wash pans and a banner or decorations.
- Teams must decorate their booth with a military or patriotic theme.
For more information on participating in the Freedom Friday Chili Cook-Off, please contact Military Affairs Director Kensley Marcus at 270-885-9096 or visit the Chamber online at www.christiancountychamber.com.