Marco Johnson decided to bring “the big guns” to the 13th annual Protective Services Chili Cookoff—his wife, Jill. The strategy paid off because Johnson’s chili recipe won first place, standing out against some stiff competition.
Johnson, a shuttle bus driver for Protective Services, added his own special touches to the recipe developed by his wife; he used Kielbasa as the main ingredient and increased the smoky flavor, hence the name Jill’s Smoky Kielbasa Chili. The recipe also included crispy bacon, hot pepper seasonings, and a variety of diced tomatoes, from roasted to hot.
“I really wanted to do something robust and unique,” he said. “Something that every time you ate a spoonful, you couldn’t help but want another and another—flavor first, heat second.”
This year’s cookoff, held Jan. 11, was a tight race, with only a 10-point difference between the first- and third-place winners, and a tie for second place.
“It was quite a contest, but I knew that I was doing something special this year that was going to set me apart,” said Johnson, who received a reserved parking space for one week as his reward for winning first place.
Second place was a tie between Jim Stull, animal care supervisor, Laboratory Animal Sciences Program, who previously won first place three years in a row, and Tom Gannon-Miller, manager of Protective Services and the event’s organizer, who is slowly creeping up to his coveted first-place spot after coming in third last year.
Stull did not stray far from his previous recipes for his Mixed Bean and Corn Chili. “I combined a couple of recipes that I’ve made in the past, always tweaking the ingredients and amounts used,” he said.
Gannon-Miller’s recipe originated from “Dad’s Own Cookbook.” He has used several variations of this recipe over the years. “Basically, my chili consists of hot sausage and turkey, with several types of peppers thrown in,” he said.
Third place went to Ross Smith, Information Security, Data Management Systems, who changed his recipe slightly from last year, when he won first place, to create Major Cojone’s Chili. Smith, a volunteer firefighter/emergency medical technician, adapted the recipe from Firefighters Local 3915 in Colerain, Ohio.
“This recipe may seem excessive, but by the time this massive pot (five gallons) of chili is done cooking, and certainly by the time you’ve gone through the last of it, you always want just a little more,” he said, adding that he custom ground the hamburger and sausage.
The 2016 cookoff was the largest ever, with 22 different chili recipes entered, Gannon-Miller said. He noted that 125 to 150 people usually attend the event.
“The diversity in such a basic food group is amazing,” said Dave Heimbrook, Ph.D., president of Leidos Biomedical Research.
“There was definitely a greater variety of chilies entered this year; something for everyone’s taste buds,” Stull said.
“People really showed up and kicked it into high gear with some of the flavors this year,” Johnson said.
Gannon-Miller encourages employees to participate in next year’s cookoff, but Johnson warns that he will still be the one to beat.
Jill's Smoky Kielbasa Chili
2 11-oz. packages Hillshire beef smoked sausage
2 11-oz. packages Hillshire beef Kielbasa
4 to 5 crispy bacon strips chopped into pieces
4 packages McCormick chili seasoning: 2 original, 1 hot, 1 Tex Mex
4 cans Rotel diced tomatoes: 2 original, 1 hot, 1 roasted tomato
2 cans dark kidney beans
2 cans black beans
1.5 red onions, diced
1.5 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon brown sugar (granule)
1 tablespoon Stubbs Hickory liquid smoke
Dice the sausage into small pieces and brown; drain the sausage. Sauté the onions, tomatoes, and garlic, and then add into the sausage and bacon. Add the seasoning and beans to the meat. Add beef broth and liquid smoke to beans and meat, cover, and slow cook for several hours, either in a Dutch oven on the stove or in a crock pot.