10 years later, Lexington County Chili Cook Off has grown, still about community

By Natalie Szrajer
Posted 2/15/24

It’s a Lexington County tradition a decade in the making this year. 

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10 years later, Lexington County Chili Cook Off has grown, still about community


It’s a Lexington County tradition a decade in the making this year. 

The 10th Annual Lexington County Chili Cookoff is back at the Icehouse Amphitheater this weekend, with 30 teams competing this year. 

The event has grown consistently since Old Mill Brewpub owner John Clinger and Lexington County Blowfish co-owner Bill Shanahan discussed the idea of a chili cookoff at a Lexington County Blowfish game. 

“John and I are at one of the last Blowfish games of the season,” Shanahan recalls. “We’re talking about promotions and he said his son reminded him that when he was in Hanover, Pa., he started a chili cookoff.

“I said let’s do it. So we started,” he continued. “And I think we had several chili teams and a couple of hundred people. We got it off the ground and we were the first event at the Icehouse.”

The duo enthused that this year’s event will be the biggest yet, expanding into the amphitheater’s parking lot in addition to the performance venue itself and the attached pavilion.

“Last year was huge so we thought about how to extend,” Shanahan said. “There’s more room for people to move around.”

In addition to the many, many pounds of chili, there will be cold beverages, music from Freeway Music students (performing from 12 to 2:30 p.m.) and local band Under the Sun (performing at 3 p.m.).

With the footprint expanding, the cups in which attendees will be served chili are shrinking, from two ounces to one ounce. But the intent isn’t to limit the amount of chili that attendees can eat during their time, but to try to ensure that each contestant’s supply lasts long enough for all attendees to get to try them all — and vote more informed.

Those votes will decide which chilis win the range of honors that will be given out at the end of the event.

There will also be hotdogs, served up by the perennial summer hotdog slingers at the Blowfish, to give folks another option for how to consume their chili.

And folks will be able to buy chili to take home this year, as the event is allowing contestants to offer containers of their concoctions for purchase.

While this option allows teams to make profit, all of the proceeds from the event go toward several nonprofit organizations the Lexington Police Foundations, Camp Kemo and a surprise organization to be picked by Shanahan. The Lexington Police Foundation has several organizations they work with and will divide the proceeds among their choice organizations. 

Last year, the event raised “over $5,000 for the police foundation” and other organizations “received between $500 and $1,000,” Shanahan said. 

While the chili is the marquee attraction, the event’s founders posited that the community aspect is the highlight of the event.

“You’ve got live music, hot chili, cold beverages and it’s a community event,” Clinger said. “People run into each other. The community feel is the most important.”

“I love bringing people downtown on a Sunday afternoon to enjoy a great time and sample different chili,” Shanahan offered.” It’s just the camaraderie and it’s a great way to build morale. Some of the teams are with companies so staff members are coming together.”

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