Slideshow: Celebrating 30 years of the Big Chili Contest

"Wild" Billy Donuvan, right, with his chili.

Updated 1 pm, Feb. 1

More than 1,000 people packed into a tent outside the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs this past Saturday for the 30th annual Big Chili Contest. Over 20 contestants entered their custom chili recipes to be voted on by attendees, in hopes of taking home prizes and bragging rights.

Cash prizes were awarded to the top three picks of Jenny Johnson of NESN “Dining Playbook.”

1st Place ($500): Jim Pringle and Alan Northcott

2nd Place ($300): Cape Cod Select

3rd Place ($200): Lookout Tavern

The crowd also voted for favorites in the professional and amateur chili categories. The winners were as follows:

Amateur Division

1st Place: Official Chili/Bob Costello

2nd Place: Reading Fire Department

3rd Place: Cape Cod Select & Wild Willie

Professional Division

1st Place: Black Dog Tavern

2nd Place: Ocean View Restaurant

3rd Place: Barn Bowl & Bistro

MVY Radio, which hosts the event, awarded special prizes in the following categories:

Most Traveled Chili: Reading Fire Department

Best Vegetarian Chili: Black Dog Tavern

Is It Really Chili?: New Moon Magick Enchanted Chocolates

Hottest Chili: Edgartown Fire Department

Best Presentation: Official Chili/Bob Costello

Some of the more unique chilis incorporated ingredients such as cranberries, bison, wild boar, chicken, and brown sugar into their recipes.

Thirty years ago, when the Big Chili Contest began as a collaboration between MVY Radio and Fred Mascolo of Trader Fred’s, it was initially held at the now-closed Atlantic Connection. As the event grew in popularity, it moved to its current location at the P.A. Club.

Now the Chili Contest attracts day-trippers from all over New England, drawing upwards of a thousand attendees. The P.A. Club erects an outdoor tent with a stage for live entertainment and enough room for the contestants to set up their booths. As visitors made the rounds to sample the chili, they were treated to a myriad of musical acts such as the Mariachi Mexico Lindo Band, the BaHa Brothers (a Jimmy Buffet tribute band), DJ Alvzie, and Syndicate. For those who wouldn’t describe themselves as chili lovers, the P.A. Club offered other food options, such as hamburgers, fries, and onion rings. This year’s Chili Fest even included a raw bar. Other bars had cold beverages to quench the inevitable thirst brought on by spicy chili.

All the money raised from food and alcohol sales is donated to a scholarship fund by the P.A. Club. The $35 cost of admission benefits the Red Stocking Fund, which provided holiday gifts to 325 Island children last year. MVY Radio reported approximately $30,000 was raised for the Red Stocking Fund this year.

Greg Orcutt, the director of underwriting at MVY Radio, thanked the dozens of volunteers and companies who donated time and products to the event. Volunteer support included the Oak Bluffs Police and Fire departments, Mike Santoro of Santoro Hospitality, and the Portuguese-American Club. Orleans Auto Supply sponsored free buses to shuttle eventgoers safely to and from the ferry in Vineyard Haven. “We could not put the Chili Contest together without the support of the Island community,” Mr. Orcutt said.

Like Big Chili Contest on Facebook for more details about next year’s contest. In the meantime, hopeful contestants have roughly a year to tweak those chili recipes to perfection.