The chili was hot, but so were the cooks Saturday at the 34th Annual Chili Cookoff and Craft Fair at Glen Eagles Restaurant.
About 20 competitors in the International Chili Society, mainly from throughout Nevada and California, were on fire as they set up booths and tossed together spicy ingredients, all with an eye on the prize - a chance to compete in the 2011 World Championship Chili Cookoff in New Hampshire with its $25,000 world prize.
Ron Judson of the "Great American Chili Co. Too" out of Red Bluff, Calif., was proud to show off a big rubber chicken which decorated his booth.
"You just run the chicken over all this," Judson said, slowly passing the toy over the top of simmering pots of sauce and meat, "and that's what does it."
Judson, who has been a competitor for 25 years, said he has his reasons for wanting to be a chili cook.
"It keeps me out of bars and from chasing girls," he said.
But most of all, Judson said he loves the camaraderie of seeing the same folks at all the regional cookoffs, one of which will be in Sparks in just two weeks.
Judson swears his secret to a perfect chili is simple.
"The secret is to stir the chili toward your heart with love," he said.
His wife smirked and rolled her eyes.
Voni Medcraft of Reno was intently frying up a batch of meat in a skillet in preparation for the event. Her booth, "I'm In Trouble Again" was coupled with her husband John's, "In Your Wildest Dreams."
"Red is the granddaddy of chili, but I'm doing chili verde," she said.
"I've been doing this since 1985, and my husband kept asking, 'Why do you do this?' so I told him, 'Why don't you just cook?'"
And so, he did.
"I started with three of my gal friends in 1985 - for fun," she said. "But he is serious - a chili monster."
One of the things the Medcrafts most enjoy is being able to do things together.
The secret to a winning chili, however, is not only in the peppers and powders - which she buys from Arizona and Texas companies, she said, but also in the amounts used and the timing of when ingredients are added.
Peppers and powders and other aromatic ingredients sizzled in skillets in David Hipskind's booth, "Dago Reds Too."
Hipskind worked alongside his wife Kathy Saturday, and his friend Margo Knudson, who smiled up from her cutting board as she sat chopping onions for "Margo's Red Chili" entry.
"She's our adopted mom. We've known her and her husband J.R. for 30 years, and kind of got into this at the same time. We just clicked," Hipskind said.
"Chili is the draw, but it's the people who keep us together. It's like a family reunion every time we get together for a cookoff," he said.
J.R., who founded Jimboy's Tacos, passed away this year, but won the 2006 World Chili competition for his recipe, and Margo won the championship in 1957, he said. Kathy Hipskind took first place in the 2004 world cookoff and David Hipskind placed fourth in 2001.
"Northern Nevada and Northern California probably produce more world champions than any region in the world. We have really good cooks," Hipskind said.
Two years ago, Soroptimists International of Carson City began helping to host the cook-off in Carson City once again. Soroptimists sell tasting kits for $3, and are raffling off prizes. Proceeds will benefit the club in its efforts to help the community.
Along with the People's Choice of Carson City Chili Competition, the contests include the International Chili Society's Saturday High Sierra Regional Chili Cook-off and today's Nevada Capital Regional Chili Cook-off. Entrants from Saturday also will participate in today's competition.
The event continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at Glen Eagles Restaurant, 3700 N. Carson St.