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Taste of Texas comes to Queens for 2024 Chili Cookoff

The backyard of Pig Beach BBQ during Sunday’s event. Photo by Queens Post

June 5, 2024 By Queens Post News Team

Over 700 people attended the Texas Chili Cookoff at Pig Beach BBQ in Astoria on Sunday afternoon, celebrating the Lone Star State’s best chili and queso. 

Now in its 55th year, the annual event hosted by the New York Chapter of the University of Texas at Austin alumni group, Texas Exes, featured over 20 amateur and professional competitors, each offering their unique take on Texas staples.

The cookoff also featured live music, family-friendly zones and a “tailgate zone” complete with party games like cornhole, ring toss and beer pong.

A number of Texas-based stores, including Texas jeweler Kendra Scott and Knockout Clothing, participated in the event, and Texas alcohol products such as Austin East Cider and Garrison Brothers bourbon were also available. 

Featuring Stetson hats and costumes aplenty, Sunday’s colorful event also featured numerous games and prizes, including a memorable stein-holding competition that saw participants hold full stein glasses aloft for more than 10 minutes. 

Attendees take part in a “stein-holding contest” at Sunday’s cookoff. Photo by Queens Post

The yearly event raises scholarship money for New York students to attend UT at Austin. Out-of-state tuition starts at around $41,000 per year. 

Ira Weidberg, a native New Yorker and the chair of the New York Chapter of Texas Exes, described UT as an “elite public school” and said the scholarship program “helps to bring people together”. 

“The more New Yorkers that go down to Texas, the better for us,” Weidberg said, adding that the scholarship program equally benefits UT, New York City, and the New York Chapter of Texas Exes. 

He said events such as Sunday’s Chili Cookoff also help to bring Texas pride to New York City. Around 770 people attended the event at Pig Beach, located at 35-37 36th St. 

“It gives people a piece of home,” Weidberg said. “I’m a New Yorker who went to Texas, but a lot of people are Texans who came up to New York, so this makes them feel like they’re at home and back to their college years. I think they enjoy having a piece of Texas here in New York City.” 

Weidberg said the event raises around $40,000 toward the scholarship program, adding that the New York Chapter of Texas Exes is aiming to raise $100,000 throughout 2024 as part of the organization’s 100th anniversary celebrations. 

Bart Morrison, a former chair of the Texas Exes who has been attending the Chili Cookoff since 1984, said the event has grown astronomically over the past 40 years.

Morrison added that the Texas Exes scholarship program promotes the University of Texas and enriches New York City. 

“We think the University of Texas has a lot to offer for someone preparing for their advanced careers.  And I think New York City’s a lot more fun with more Texas in it,” Morrison said on Sunday. 

Sunday’s Chili Cookoff featured a wide range of amateur and professional vendors offering vastly differing variations on Texas-style chili and queso. 

A number of New York-based restaurants and catering companies competed in the professional categories, while a number of amateur chefs, predominately from Texas, competed in the amateur category. 

The backyard of Pig Beach BBQ during Sunday’s event. Photo by Queens Post

Some New York-based competitors added beans to their chili, a divisive issue among purveyors of Texas-style chili. 

For Morrison, the debate is a no-brainer. “No beans. No tofu. Nothing but beef.” 

Allison Giller, who has been competing in the Chili Cookoff since 1993, concurred with Morrison, stating that anyone who puts beans in a chili is a “Yankee”. 

“It’s all meat,” Giller said. “No beans. You put beans in, you’re a Yankee. It’s all about the spices.” 

However, Dr. Kathy Yates, a Texas native and a judge during Sunday’s competition, saw no issues with beans in chili. 

“Give me beans every day of the week,” Hines said, adding that she was “extremely impressed” with the entrants in the amateur competition. 

Fellow judge Shari Hinds, a native of New York, also said she prefers chili with beans.  

“I like beans in my chili,” Hinds said. “It’s all about the spice as well.” 

Hinds, like Yates, was impressed by the standard of chili in the amateur competition and described the Cookoff as an ideal family day out. 

“The amateurs have really surprised me regarding their creativity. And how they have their own vision,” Hinds said. 

Sunday’s Cookoff featured a variety of weird and wonderful chili stalls, including Disco Stew, modelled after the 70s-era disco character from “The Simpsons”, and Chili Con Blarney, which boasted no ties to Ireland despite its very Irish-sounding name. 

All judges voted anonymously during Sunday’s contest, while members of the public were able to vote for the people’s choice award via a QR code. 

Disco Stew won both the judge’s and people’s choice awards in the amateur category, with the judges naming Hill Country BBQ the best professional restaurant. 

New York-based caterer Cooley’s BBQ took home the People’s Choice award in the professional category, while King David’s Tacos won the award for best queso. 

Phillip Cooley Jr., a Bronx native who founded Cooley’s nine years ago, said the secret to his chili is a healthy mixture of “heat and sweet.” 

“I use beef brisket, which is a very high-quality meat,” Cooley Jr. said. “I smoke it for 12 hours and also grill peppers and onions.”

“Any kind of chili needs to have a level of flavor,” he added, stating that the first bite is crucial to showcase a chili’s spiciness and sweetness. 

He added that he pairs his chili with cornbread in order to achieve a mixture of sweet and spicy.  

Cooley Jr. said Sunday’s event was an opportunity to showcase the various ways that chili can be cooked. 

“People come from all around to try different food and different opinions,” he said. “My interpretation is totally different from my neighbor’s or a person across the street, so we all come together and exchange recipes, ideas, and concepts and create new things.”

email the author: news@queenspost.com

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SunnysidePostSucks

where did they go to the bathrooms? my guess is in park bushes. beans make you go mega fast.

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