Chili Cookoff: Unique Ingredients Prove Successful in Ross Smith’s Big Pot of Chili

Ashley DeVine
Portrait of a woman and a man.

The winners of the 12th annual Protective Services Chili Cookoff. From left, Jackie Cullison won the Cookie Bakeoff contest, and Ross Smith won the Chili Cookoff.

By Ashley DeVine, Staff Writer

If the past is any indication, judges at the Protective Services Chili Cookoff give high marks for chili recipes containing unique or uncommon ingredients. Previous winning recipes have included ingredients such as black beans, pumpkin, pineapple, pork loin, and even bourbon.

Judges at the 12th annual event, held Jan. 5, continued this tradition by voting for Ross Smith’s Big Pot of Chili, which featured three types of meat, four different sauces, baker’s chocolate, and parmesan rind.

Smith, information security architect, Data Management Services, describes his chili as “complex, with a sweet, savory tang, and layers of meaty flavor throughout.”

“It’s a multi-dimensional sweetness derived from a number of ingredients: carrots, ketchup, barbecue sauce, sugar, and baker’s chocolate,” he added.

Smith, who serves as a volunteer firefighter/emergency medical technician, adapted the recipe from Firefighters Local 3915, located in Colerain, Ohio. The recipe was passed down to him from other firefighters, he said.

For next year’s chili contestants, Smith offers this advice: “Keep it simple. Make sure your ingredients can be found at most markets. Complicated recipes don’t often win, and if you have to go to another country to get the ingredients you can forget it.”

Tom Gannon-Miller’s Chili Makes It to the Top Three

An interesting twist at this year’s cookoff was that Tom Gannon-Miller’s chili was voted third place. Gannon-Miller, manager of Protective Services, Leidos Biomedical Research, and organizer of the event, has tried for years to create a winning chili.

“My chili this year was very similar to the chili I made last year. After several years of disappointing finishes, I finally decided to simply use the cheapest ingredients that I could find,” he said. “I am happy to see that NCI at Frederick employees are finally beginning to realize what a great chili tastes like.”

Second place in the cookoff went to Karen Barber, assistant biosafety officer, Environment, Health, and Safety, Leidos Biomedical Research.

“I prepared two versions of the chili and adjusted the second one to enter into the contest,” Barber said, adding that “all the chili entries were very good.”

Second Annual Cookie Bakeoff

The winner of the second annual Cookie Bakeoff contest was Jackie Cullison, animal caretaker II, Laboratory Animal Sciences Program, Leidos Biomedical Research. She made lemon crinkle cookies based on a recipe from her mom. The recipe includes lemon cake mix, which Cullison said could be substituted with a different cake mix if you prefer.

“I entered the cookie contest because I love to bake,” Cullison said. “These cookies were easy to make, and my husband said he loved them.”

More than 100 employees attended the event and 92 voted for their favorite chili and cookie recipes. Twelve employees entered the chili contest and four entered the cookie contest.

“The turnout was good this year,” Cullison said. “I have been coming to it for three years now and this was the first time I entered both contests.”


Ross Smith’s Big Pot of Chili

Adapted from Firefighters Local 3915

2 lbs. Applewood-smoked bacon, diced into 1-inch squares

4 lbs. spicy Italian pork sausage, removed from casings

6 lbs. ground beef

6 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped

6 red bell peppers, chopped

4 large onions, finely chopped

3 carrots, grated

8 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 cans (28 oz. each) chili beans

4 cans (28 oz. each) crushed tomatoes

4 cans (28 oz. each) tomato sauce

2 cups ketchup

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

½ cup BBQ sauce

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

4 tablespoons red chili powder

3 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce

2 ounces unsweetened baker's chocolate

1 parmesan rind (grated until your arm hurts)


In a large pan, cook the bacon until it is crispy, drain off the grease, and add it to a 5-gallon pot. Brown the sausage in the same pan, and then drain off the grease and add it to the pot. Brown the ground beef (Smith prefers to grind his beef—2 lbs. rib eye steak, 2 lbs. sirloin steak, 2 lbs. chuck steak), drain off the grease, and add it to the pot with the other meats. Add all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a bubble, stirring periodically. Then, lower the heat and simmer on low all night. The next day, fill the crock pot and heat. Serve with chili toppings: shredded extra sharp cheese, sour cream, and chopped scallions. Recipe yields 4 gallons (20+ servings).


Jackie Cullison’s Lemon Crinkle Cookies

1 box of lemon cake mix

1 egg

2 cups Cool Whip whipped topping

½ to 1 cup confectioner’s sugar


Combine the cake mix, egg, and cool whip—the mixture will be sticky. Form cookie balls and roll them in confectioner’s sugar. Bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow the cookies to cool for 1 minute on a cookie sheet.

Rows of crock pots chili tasting lined up for chili The chili cook off Sampling Chilis Deserts too