Texas Invites Best Cowboy Chili in Upcoming Honky Tonk Chili Challenge

by Amy Myers

What’s more Texas than a town festival with a chili challenge, country music and lots of dancing? On March 19, the Honky Tonk Chili Challenge returns to Tomball, Texas.

Tomball residents will be bringing their appetites and their dancing boots to the streets for the ninth annual chili cook-off. This will be the first time the town is holing the cook-off since 2020, before the start of the pandemic. The event will start at 11 a.m. on March 19 at the Tomball Downtown Depot, 201 S. Elm St. It will last until 4 p.m. or until all the chili is gone!

Chili cooks from all around southeast Texas will be bringing their pots to the event. The winner will earn a coveted spot in the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) Championship later this year. The CASI-sanctioned events raise roughly $1,000,000 each year for both local and national charities as well as several scholarship programs. So every bowl of chili served goes towards a good cause.

In addition to the CASI-qualifying chili challenge, there will be a chance for local organizations and businesses to compete in their own category for the title of Tomball’s best chili. For those that prefer spirits to spices, there will also be a margarita “pour-off” competition the same day.

This Year’s Chili Challenge Honors Special Member of Tomball Community

Beyond the fact that this is the official return of the event, this year’s Tomball chili challenge holds a special significance for the town. The event first came into existence thanks to Tomball’s former marketing and tourism director Mike Baxter, who just retired at the beginning of March. Now, the rest of the tourism department is showing their appreciation to Baxter for setting such a remarkable precedent.

“We started with the Second Saturday at the Depot and then once we hired Mike, we kind of challenged him to make several festivals during the year,” Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan said. “He came up with several of them.”

Originally, Baxter deemed the event the Memorial Day Chili Challenge, but they later moved the event from May to March.

“It’s moved over the years as we’ve seen which (events) have been the most well-attended,” Fagan said. “It was just to get people to Tomball, to get people to come shop in our businesses and eat in our restaurants and that kind of thing.”

Ever since the challenge’s first year, locals have happily gathered to the streets to watch the competition and dig into some prime chili.

“When you can have businesses compete against each other it’s just fun, it’s kind of a comradery,” Fagan said. “We keep them during the day, they don’t go late at night, so it’s family oriented.”