2018 Great Chili Cook-Off: Experts weigh in on what makes a great chili?

2018 Great Chili Cook-Off: Experts weigh in on what makes a great chili?
Ryan, Amanda, Kelly and Robert were cooking up a storm at the 2018 cook off (Source: WTOL)
Ryan, Amanda, Kelly and Robert were cooking up a storm at the 2018 cook off (Source: WTOL)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The winners are in and once again WTOL 11 and Fox 36's team has walked away with the People's Choice Award for their "First Alert Chili" at the Annual Mobile Meals' Great Chili Cook-Off and second place in the Judge's Award.

What makes a prize winning chili? That was the question for the WTOL 11 and FOX 36 team as they defended their title.

This year's team captain, First Alert Meteorologist Kelly Heidbreder needed to get some culinary secrets from some of Toledo's best chili chefs.

"Everyone has their family recipe," Heidbreder said. "So I thought it would be a good plan to go to one of Toledo's most famous restaurants, Tony Packo's."

Mobile Meals' Great Chili Cook-Off was held at the Stranahan Great Hall on Saturday, where dozens of celebrity chefs and chili experts whipped up their best recipes.

Last year, WTOL's team won first place for People's Choice in the media category, lead by WTOL General Manager, Brian Lorenzen.

"No pressure here," says Heidbreder sarcastically. "These are some big shoes to fill because our General Manager is a great home chef. So I think I need to make sure we hold on to that title and get some expert advice."

First secret, keep the flavor of the meat.

Tony Packo Jr. says his family has been making chili for over 85 years in Toledo.

"My dad used to start out the recipe with lard as the base, then add the ground beef to that," Packo said. "That's where all the flavor is. Since many people don't use lard in their daily cooking, you can start out by browning two pounds of ground beef with a stick of butter."

The second secret, is a jar of special sauce.

"Once the meat is cooked, add a jar of Tony Packo's Super Charged Chili Starter. We have been making our signature chili sauce for over 80 years, and people really love it," Packo explained. "We took all of the spices and sauces that we usually add to our own chili and put it in a jar. All you have to do is add that to your ground beef to get that true Packo's taste."

"So there's salt, pepper, chili powder and what else," Heidbreder asked, pointing to the jar of chili starter.

"It's a secret," Packo laughed.

"Let the chili starter simmer with the ground beef to infuse all of those traditional Packo family ingredients," Packo continues. "Then you can add two, 14.5 oz. cans of undrained Petite Diced Tomatoes and one 15 oz. can of undrained Kidney Beans."

"You can also add different meat, like ground turkey, venison or even chopped steak," Packo explains. "You can also add jalapenos to spice it up or brown sugar to make it sweeter. Here's where you can get creative. I could eat this chili every day and not get tired of it. It is really meaty and hardy."

"Thank you for sharing your family's recipe with me," Hedibreder said. "I will use the butter secret with the meat and you have given me a few other ideas for our 'First Alert Chili.'"

Packo also gave Heidbreder the honor of signing a bun for the Tony Packo's Wall of Fame. Her autographed bun will go on the wall in the east Toledo restaurant along side over 4,000 others including Presidents, astronauts, musicians and actors.

Teams competed for the title of best chili in northwest Ohio via the Judge's & People's Choice Awards. Come taste a variety of chili recipes, from hot and spicy to sweet and tangy. Competition categories include Corporate, Amateur, Restaurant and Media.

Those attending voted for the People's Choice winner, while the Judge's category was selected from food experts in our region. Other activities included music with a D.J., face-painting and concessions.

Carolyn Fox, Associate Executive Director of Mobile Meals Toledo explained the impact of today's event.

"All the funds raised today benefit our home delivery meal program. We deliver to about 500 people a day. That are either shut-ins, can't prepare food, can't get to the store, so we deliver nutritional food by our volunteers and also do a daily safety check to make sure everyone's okay and safe in their own homes," said Fox.

22 teams competed for the top prize, the coveted People's Choice chili.

Once again, the WTOL 11 'First Alert Chili' took first place.

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