What’s Up With Chili In The South?

By: WFAE’s Scott Graf

Earlier this Fall, I was part of a group that attended a chili cook-off in the Lake Norman area.  Good food, outside, with all the proceeds going to charity – what a great way to spend part of a Saturday afternoon, right?

Dozens of teams had set up tables and provided ‘tasters’ with small samples in plastic cups.  Each attendee was given one vote, and organizers asked that they vote for their favorite chili.

Soon after I began tasting the different samples, I noticed a trend: the chili seemed sweet and not very spicy.  The more I tasted, the more I noticed it.  The chili even reminded me a little of some Brunswick stews I’ve eaten.  The rest of my group said the same thing: the chili was a little too sweet for our tastes.

A week after that event, I was having a conversation with someone about (what else?) chili.  I mentioned that I’d just been to a cookoff and noticed something I considered unusual about the local way of making chili.  Before I could say anything else, he asked “It’s really sweet, isn’t it?”

His response told me perhaps what I was noticing was a geographical difference.  This person is a Pennsylania native.  Those of us who attended the chili cook-off are all Midwest natives.

So, is there a ‘Southern’ way of making chili that’s different than chili made in other parts of the country?

Have you noticed the same thing I did?  Did you like it?  Have you changed the way you made chili after moving to the South?

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1 Comment

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One response to “What’s Up With Chili In The South?

  1. Barbara Vermeire

    You hit on a basic premise, Scott. Everything is sweeter in the south! Aside from a Chamber Commerce slogan, it’s a real taste truth. Compare sweet pickles made in Pennsylvania and those made in Carolinas. You’ll taste more sweetness in the latter. Sweet iced tea is also sweeter here. Traditional holiday dishes bear this out, too. Sweet potato casserole vs. baked sweet potatoes with butter. Cornbread stuffing vs. Giblet and sage stuffing. Crispy Creme uses potato flour that breaks down in your mouth for a quick burst of sweetness. Dunkin Donuts does not. Keep tasting and comparing and you’ll note that many foods, like southern chili, are just part of a sweet , sweet culture.

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