Hot Chili, Hot Day, Cool Cause at Sea Pirate Campground

Jun 14, 2017
Photo by: Grant Kelly

The weather Saturday was unexpectedly warm – one of the first warm days the area has seen after a recent spate of wet weather. But instead of cooling off, chili cooks from far and wide descended on Sea Pirate Campground in West Creek to turn up the heat a little more at the 15th annual Chili Cook-Off.

Kids ran around playing a wide array of different sports, not concerned with the heat while their parents looked on, sweating while eating their chili only to cool themselves down with a craft beer from Pinelands Brewery. The cooks couldn’t escape the heat, either, huddled under their tents as they worked furiously to serve their secret chili recipes, hoping they would emerge from the fiery competition a champion. For local fire companies in Eagleswood and Parkertown, the chili event is an important annual fundraiser and their one chance to add to the heat instead of extinguishing it.

It was a funny sight at Sea Pirate Campground: people moving from tent to tent, looking up at the sun then back to their bowls of chili, trying to decide which was hotter. People all over were beginning to realize maybe a hot bowl of chili wasn’t the best snack for a hot summer day, but their love of chili helped them persevere through the sweltering temperatures and the scorching spices.

“Jesus, it’s hot out here, isn’t it? I don’t know how you guys do it all day,” said a woman as she grabbed her steaming hot chili, enjoying it as she worked her way back to the shade to escape the blazing sun.

Next, a young boy stepped up, dripping wet after a long stint in the pool.

“Hi! Can I please have some chili and also can I please have some water to splash on my dog? He’s panting and very hot.”

What started 15 years ago as a fun way to bring people to the campground on a typically quiet weekend has evolved into a full-fledged chili gauntlet with trophies and prize money going to best individual chili, best restaurant chili, best fire company’s chili and best decorated booth. A healthy mix of outrageous booth decorations included the 2016 Chili Cook-Off champs, Misfit Chili, with their massive display inspired by the land of misfit toys, and the more subtle looks but chili with huge flavor with the Three Chili Heads, hailing from Manahawkin, who decorated with their signature chili pepper hats and three of the trophies they won by bringing their killer recipe to competitions as far as Virginia.

Mama’s Vegematic Chili drew people to their booth by partnering with Mama’s-gona Rescue adoption shelter of Tuckerton, which brought some of their adorable puppies.

Many participants have been competing in the event for a number of years, but it has grown to include some new faces such as Pinelands Brewery, and the campground has hopes to make it even bigger.

“This is a great event to support local fire departments; all the proceeds go to them,” said Matt Benn, the general manager of Sea Pirate Campground. “We’re hoping to get even more fire companies and breweries involved for next year’s Chili Cook-Off.”

As the sun began to lower and the chili cooled down, everyone congregated under the tent in the center of the campground for the moment everyone was waiting for: Whose chili reigns supreme?

First, they announced best restaurant chili with Calloways taking home the prize. That was followed by best firehouse chili, where Eagleswood just edged out Parkertown by a few votes. Next, onto best decorated booth, where The Moonshiners’ outdoor adventure-themed tent came away with the people’s choice for best decorated booth. Finally, silence fell upon the campground as everyone awaited the coveted best individual chili first prize.

Competitors linked arms with their teammates, holding their breath, waiting to hear if their name was called. Groans and cheers were heard as third place went to Misfit Chili and The Moonshiners took second. A long, dramatic pause was taken and then the members of Chappy’s Smokehouse Chili erupted into excitement as their name was called for the best individual chili at the 2017 Chili Cook-Off.

— Zach Hoffman

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