Houston Holds Biggest Church Chili Cook-Off This Side of the Pecos

The annual parish event, which will be modified this year because of COVID-19, typically hosts 30 cooking teams and 1,000 chili fans.

(photo: Photo Provided)

A lifelong Catholic who loves her faith and is involved in parish activities, Houston resident Katie Griep must be following in her mother’s footsteps. The youngest of 11 children raised in upstate New York, she watched her mother volunteer for years as director of religious education in their parish. With that as a model, Griep has spent her adult life looking for way to live out her faith and serve her parish.

Her husband’s business transfer to Houston 11 years ago offered her family the chance to find the right parish that felt like home. “When we moved, we knew how important for the family to find a parish home,” she said. After visiting several local churches, their first Mass at Christ the Redeemer felt like the right place for them. “I started being involved there from the beginning,” she said. 

For her adult life, Griep worked in Catholic education, and when an opportunity for a job with the school opened up in her parish, she said she jumped at it. Now as the director of Advancement in the school for Christ the Redeemer, she has a big challenge this month: running the school’s annual chili cookoff. This year the pandemic has changed the dynamics of the cookoff, and Griep is in charge of working out the details.

As she explained, the cookoff started seven years ago to help the school’s financial needs. “The school’s tuition dollars covered only so much,” she said. “So to close the gap and cover the cost of educating our students, we had to find ways to raise money. We call this our biggest ‘Fun’draising event of the year, as it brings the community together in a unique way. There are no other schools doing anything like this.” 

The staff invites cook teams to come onto the campus for a festival-style event. Cook teams use their own recipes, so each entry is different. Guests of the cook-off have the chance to taste each chili and when they find their favorite, they vote for that cook’s chili. The team with the most fan votes is awarded “Fan Favorite.” 

“We also have celebrity judges who decide on different categories,” she said. These include taste, after-taste, presentation, aroma and consistency. The prizes include first, second, third and an honorable mention.

Griep said that in their first event, only 15 cook teams participated, but the event has grown now so that 30 to 35 cooking teams show up. “We have had a couple of teams as repeat winners,” she said. “But each team is unique and are very proud of their recipe. They don’t have to share the recipe but just the ingredients they use. We have even had a venison chili or one with a secret ingredient that was cocoa.” She added that some teams, such as the Red Hot Chili Preppers, have participate in all seven cookoffs.

The event is open to the public and has grown immensely from the first year, when maybe 300 to 400 people showed up. But word of mouth and local advertising in the parish bulletin and elsewhere has caused the crowd size to grow to about 1,000.

As Griep noted, they must modify the event this year, spreading out the activities over two days, Nov. 13 and 14. A snow-cone truck is scheduled and the campus catering service will offer Frito pie as a special treat for the students. The parish is also selling chili kits with recipes for families to take home to cook.

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Christ the Redeemer Catholic School Texas Chili

Number of servings:

  • 4-6 “depending on their Texas-Sized  appetites,” Griep said



  • Salt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 jalapeños, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • ½ tbsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 1 box beef broth (32 oz.)
  • 2 cups water

Chef’s Choice Add-ins:

  • 3-4 lbs. of ground beef, chuck roast 
  • Beer, beans, bacon….



1.  In a large pot, cook your choice of meat. Season with salt. Set aside. (Want bacon? Here’s your chance. Isn’t everything really better with bacon?)

2.  Add onion, jalapeños and garlic to pot and stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir, then add spice mix and stir until well combined. Then return meat to pot and add tomatoes, beef broth and water. (Here is where you add the beer if you want to.)

3.  Beans, anyone? Ask yourself now the eternal question: Is it chili if it has beans? If you answered yes, add ’em now.

4.  Bring all the chili goodness to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it cook until the meat is tender, about 2 hours.  (Play a game, watch a video, bid on some auction items while the aroma fills your home.) Serve garnished with cheese and corn chips — or if you are really fancy, cornbread.