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Snowdown Chili Cook-off insiders dish what goes on behind the scenes

Snowdown 2018 Chili Cook-Off contestant Jenni Gross stirs her Durango Cowgal red chili and pork green chili at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

Think your homemade chili is pretty hot stuff?

Here’s your chance to find out. You, too, can join this year’s cast of Snowdown comics who probably can’t even agree on the spelling of this treat, let alone on what should go into the pot. Or not.

The Snowdown Chili Cook-off, Durango’s epic, few-to-no rules, annual free-for-all, happens Saturday. Cash prizes, trophies and bragging rights go to the winners.

Heartburn goes to the rest of us.

Now’s the time to round up some cows or pigs, peppers, garlic and onions. Then get yourself a sharp weapon and start chopping about 24 hours ahead of time because cooks get only three hours to make a winning pot of red, green or vegetarian chili.

Last year’s People’s Choice Red Chili winner, Beau Lindborg, got a jump on the competition. He says he marinated 25 pounds of tri-tip for 14 days. If that wasn’t enough to get the pot seething, he showed up at the fairgrounds at 4:30 a.m. to fire up his propane stove in the parking lot.

“The people have spoken,” Lindborg bragged.

“It was a landslide, but it’s the judges that don’t like my chili,” the Back Country Gourmet food truck owner joked.

Cooks typically wait until sunrise before they kick down the doors of the La Plata County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, eager for the annual culinary fight to begin.

Two years ago, Josh Lokken went head to head with his father, Eric, to prove which Lokken was the better cook. Angela Lokken, stationed as sous chef between her husband and her son, mediated.

The younger Lokken took the People’s Choice for Chili Verde, while his father’s slightly hotter creation earned a second place nod from the judges.

The father and son rivals have started text-taunting, with the ribbing likely to escalate in the days ahead. The Lokkens may use the same ingredients, but their pots of chili are completely different, Angela Lokken said.

Retiree Dale Ruggles has taken first place and Peoples Choice awards for his green chili, claiming he eats 10 bushels of roasted peppers every year.

“I like lots of cumin,” Ruggles said. “Plus I add some chopped fresh cilantro in the end.”

Veteran cooks advise first-timers to start with good ingredients and to have fun while supporting Snowdown.

Lindborg reminds cooks to make enough chili to feed the hungry noon-hour crowd. Ruggles said it’s not a good idea to break out a new recipe the day of the cook-off.

And what does this veteran Chili Cook-off judge say?

If you’re thinking about adding weird low-carb stuff like kale or rutabaga, just stay home.

To participate

Preparation and table setup is at 7 a.m. Saturday at the Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall. Questions and an enrollment form are available from Greg Yucha, (970) 382-0788 or greg.yucha@gmail.com.

Contestants must make 3 to 5 gallons of chili on site, providing their own heat source (electric or propane tanks no larger than 12 pounds if cooking indoors, 20 pounds if outdoors, and extension cord if necessary). No more than one green and one red may be entered for judging.

Salsa and Bloody Mary contest rules are also available from event coordinator Greg Yucha.

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