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Terlingua Is A Spicy Party In The Texas Desert

by Steven Doyle

It’s the right of passage for seasons; merging Summer into Fall in a spicy mélange set in a bowl of stewed meat. Chili gives us pause to celebrate, and many do as 8,000 people have qualified internationally to cook at one of two cook offs set in the desert near the Mexican border in Terlingua, Texas.

I wrote up the history of the cook off last week, detailing the highlights that produced the legendary event set in the Chihuahua desert. We just celebrated Terlingua’s 46th cook off in grand style with near perfect weather. The final night a gale-force wind swooped in, but otherwise you couldn’t ask for better weather.  

Many cooks and enthusiasts arrive early in the week to stake their claim to prime real estate. The event begins Thursday, and it is best to know that if you were not an invited guest judge you may sign up for one of the many categories besides chili to judge. There are actually quite a few contests now that are judged starting Friday afternoon, including brisket, chicken, black-eyed peas, beans, ribs and margaritas. Judging can be fun and filling.

This past Friday many chili-heads made their way to the Terlingua cemetery where they celebrated   El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead which honors our dead loved ones. The tradition is that it’s a time to joyfully remember the lives of those we miss with favorite foods, drinks, songs and stories. A community altar is rebuilt each year and mementos are placed to honor loved ones. A community pot luck was served riddled with tamales, chili and so much more.

While many were at the cemetery, even more celebrated with the cowboys at the cook off grounds. A donation to ALS netted revelers a feast prepared by ranch hands. The cowboys raised over $60,000 with the dinner and a trail ride to Terlingua from Alpine which is 80 miles away.

Later that night music fills the grounds as local entertainers jam. This year the highlight for me was a band from Alpine called Los Pinche Gringos. Freaking amazing band that had a repertoire that included Nortena, classic rock, country, Hill Country polkas, sometimes mashed into one flowing tune. The set went well beyond 3 hours of solid tunes. If you make your way to Alpine, see if they are playing and catch the boys in action.

Dr Ted Hume, winner!

Saturday starts a frenzy of chili, with the many cooks busily preparing their own brands that they guarantee will win the 100 pound trophy. This year’s winner was from Dallas, and this was not his first time in the winner’s circle. Local Dentist Ted Hume took the victory once again as he did back in 2003. If you are a patient of Hume be sure to ask him for a bowl.

Kathleen Tolbert Ryan

Terlingua is fantastic weekend of chili and camaraderie that should be on every Texan’s bucket list.

Visit the official site for the chili cook off at A Bowl of Red.

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