Belleville’s 32nd Chili Cook-off will cause quite a stir this weekend around the Public Square and along Main Street.
You can sample chili from more than 60 vendors competing for prizes and for your vote as People’s Choice. White chicken chili, taco chili, chili with beans, sweet corn, chili like someone’s mom used to make and even bacon chili will tempt you, along with other foods from pork kabobs to fried Twinkies.
“I am amazed at how creative and inventive the chili cookoff contestants are,” said John Lengerman, executive director of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce. “We have some new entries and lots of favorites that people return to year after year.”
One of the old favorites is the St. Clair County Bar Foundation.
“It’s a great PR thing for lawyers,” Greg Shevlin, a foundation board member, said tongue-in-cheek. “You know everybody hates lawyers until you need one. We want to do something visible that’s good to show we’re not all bad people.
“Seriously, we do it to raise money for our charities, mostly law-related charities like CASA and Land of Lincoln legal aid.”
The lawyers typically make eight batches of chili with beans, or close to 100 gallons. They haven’t locked in a price yet, but you can gets tastes, bowls, pints and quarts.
“I’ve been doing this about 15 years,” Shevlin said. “The original recipe was mine, but it has evolved over the years. We always have chili with beans. Some people think it’s not chili if it doesn’t have beans.”
Don’t like beans in your chili? What are you going to do, sue a bunch of lawyers? Just try another booth to find chili that suits your taste.
“A lot of folks come back to us year after year. It’s a great place to meet people. Oh my gosh, I’ve seen some people I haven’t seen since high school.”
The festival has a lot more to offer than food.
I am amazed at how creative and inventive the chili cookoff contestants are.
Ed Lengerman on the types fo chili available
“We also have a couple of bands that will rock the square. Well Hungarians, a local favorite, will play on the main stage Friday night, and Dance Floor Riot will get people up and moving on Saturday night.”
The family-friendly event offers a childrens area, sponsored by the YMCA of Soutwestern Illinois, with bounce pads, rock climbing and a building center by Lowe’s. You can get your picture taken with an Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday.
A Junior Idol competition from 4 to 8 Saturday features finalists from audtions early September.
If you need to work up an appetite before tacklng all that chili, join in the Chili Chase 5K Race or the kids Pepper Dash at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The Belleville Chili Cook-off has had as many as 60,000 visitors in the past.
“The police say that we pack them in better than any Belleville event,” Lengerman said, “and we expect a good crowd again this year. It’s fun for the whole family during the day, and the bands draw people in the evening.”
At a glance
- What: 32nd Annual Belleville Chili Cook-off with more than 60 vendors
- When: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Where: Around the Public Square, on East Main to Church Street and West Main to First Street
- Admission: Free
- Food samples: Vendors set their own prices for chili or other menu items. Other food items will be for sale, including hot dogs, chicken wings, french fries and desserts. Tokens are not needed to buy food.
- Beer: A 14-ounce beer is 1 token. Tokens are $3 each or four for $10 at booths by the fountain and at East Main and Jackson streets.
- Where the money goes: All of the money spent at each booth goes to that vendor. Money donated for the People’s Choice Award ($1 donation equals 1 vote) goes to the Community Interfaith Food Pantry. Money spent for beer tokens goes toward Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce programs.