What started as a debate among friends about who made the better chili soon grew into one of the biggest annual events in the city of Chelsea.
It has been over a decade since Chelsea Councilor Scott Weygand and Dr. Justin Fogo, who owns a chiropractic practice in Chelsea, decided to take their friendly competition to the next level.
2022 marks both the 11th year of the annual Fire at the Foothills Barbecue and Chili Cook-Off and the event’s move to a new location.
As the event grew, more space was needed. It was initially at Tractor Supply before moving to Chelsea City Hall. This year’s event will be held at the Chelsea Community Center on Saturday 2 April from 1pm to 4pm.
Weygand, who is still heavily involved in organizing the event, said the community center will provide more space and avoid road construction in front of City Hall.
Jane Ann Mueller, program director at the community center, said that last year made it clear that the event had outgrown City Hall’s parking lot, so normal progression was to move it to the community center. Community center staff will be on site Saturday to help with the event.
All competing BBQ teams will be lined up in the parking lot to the left of the community center. Depending on how many teams register, some may be in the area behind the community center.
Fire at the Foothills is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three finishers in the Ribs, Chicken and Pork categories. Judging will take place at the community center, but the building will be closed for all other uses except for the restrooms.
Barbecue awards include first, second and third place, reserve champion and grandmaster. The audience award goes to the team that collects the most tips. Team Spirit has won this several years in a row.
“The judges come from all over the country and are certified by the KCBS,” Weygand said. “There are certain requirements that you must meet in order to become a certified judge. KCBS sets the rules for the number of referees per team. If we have 30 teams, there will be around 35 judges; it is close to a 1:1 ratio.”
Many teams come back year after year. Weygand said about 30 to 40 percent of the teams are local and others are from across the state and surrounding states.
“Most teams that compete do it over and over again,” he said. “The way we’re running our event is more fun for the teams because it’s geared towards the public.”
In addition to the grill cook-off, there will also be a dessert cook-off. Competitors are encouraged to bring cakes and tarts and children can bake biscuits to enter the competition, which will be judged by members of the Chelsea Fire and Rescue Department.
“This year we want to get more people involved,” Weygand said. “The sky’s the limit. Last year, a banana pudding won the pie contest.”
The event usually attracts a lot of people. Usually between 1,000 and 3,000 people attend, and last year the crowd was estimated at around 2,000. Mueller said it’s difficult to get an accurate count because it’s a come-and-go event.
“It’s all free. We’re just asking for donations,” Weygand said. “All funds raised [from the barbecue competition] Go to the Chelsea Kiwanis Club, which supports local children’s charities. The money from the dessert portion goes to the Chelsea Fire Brigade’s fire safety program, which they teach in schools.”
The Chelsea Fire Department receives funds from the dessert contest, and Chief Joe Lee said it will be used to buy materials for fire safety programs at local schools and daycares, including coloring books and plastic firefighter helmets.
Chelsea of Kiwanis Club Treasurer Mike Denton handles getting the KCBS judges. He said they pick winners based on taste.
For this year’s cook-off, 20 teams had already signed up before the end of February, which Denton says is earlier than usual.
“Our 20-22 teams is relatively small compared to some other events, but most of the people who come here to attend our event like it because it’s relatively small and that any money we make is for used for charity,” Denton said.
The Chelsea Kiwanis Club donates money raised from the barbecue contest to local charities including Easter Seals Camp ASCCA, King’s Home, Chelsea Elementary Schools (each receiving $500), Chelsea Public Library and to help foster families in Shelby County.
There will be activities for children and Chelsea Public Library staff will be giving away free books. Chelsea High School Key Club members will be selling drinks.
The Chelsea Community Center is located at 1101 Chelsea Road. For event information, visit facebook.com/fireatthefoothills.