One of the quintessential firehouse staple meals is the chili. It may be a common dish, but the actual recipe can greatly vary based on the fire department’s location and who’s in charge of cooking. As a result, there’s a ton of unique chili recipes out there, the vast breadth of which was captured in the most recent rendition of Hormel® Chili's America's Best Firehouse Chili Contest.
This year’s finalists have all produced completely different chili recipes from one another. From blue crab and scallops to guava and plantains, the five chili maestros competing for the crown of “Best Firehouse Chili” have gotten pretty creative this year.
It’s not just the ingredients that are diverse, though, as the backstories behind each of these chili recipes are just as distinct. Whether they be heartwarming, funny, or inspirational, the passion behind each offering is clear when you add the history behind it.
Below is each of the finalists’ chilis and their backstories, showcasing just how unique a classic dish can be around the country.
Dan Rinaldi - Blazin’ Blue Crab Chili
Rinaldi, a firefighter from Cranston, Rhode Island, made this recipe back when he started 30 years ago as a way of incorporating seafood into the food his firehouse was eating. “I was told that if I wanted seafood I better figure out a way to do it in a chili,” he said, and so spent weeks developing the recipe until he got the details perfected. The chili incorporates blue crab, scallops, and pork belly as the primary proteins. From there, the flavors are those that both pair well with seafood and are essential to a chili, like cumin, ancho chiles, and sherry.
Milton Williams - Texas Cyclone Chili
Williams’s first rendition of this chili 30 years ago didn’t do too well with his fellow Dallas firefighters. They felt that his original take was lacking in heat, and jokingly called it a “tasty tomato sauce.” He’s upgraded it significantly since then, and it’s now recognized by the entire Dallas Fire Department as a “flavor-packed tradition,” as he puts it.
The Texas Cyclone is called that because it joins together varying styles of Texas chili in a single bowl. It brings in chili peppers and powders from around the Southwest, and the addition of toasted cumin, coriander, and Dos Equis adds an aromatic punch.
Eddy Dumire - Smoke Showin’
Dumire coined his chili after a firefighting term that means that smoke can be seen upon arrival at a site. In this case, it’s meant to convey the amount of smokiness inside his recipe, which uses bacon, brisket, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and smoked ears of corn to add multiple levels of that aroma.
The “Smoke Showin’” has been a winner for Dumire and his fellow firefighters in Woodbridge, Virginia, who have won multiple local friendly competitions with a rival fire department with that recipe. Their firehouse hopes to win the overall competition and use the winnings to help fund a local foundation that puts together visits from Santa for terminally ill children in the local community.
Garrett Doucette - Creamy Turkey Chili
Doucette’s recipe is the only white chili variant to make it to the semi-finals. It’s got plenty of heat behind it, with cayenne and green chilies adding to the flavors of cumin and turkey breast for a unique spin on the classic stew.
The recipe is one from the family for Doucette, who hails from Upsala, Minnesota. His uncle helped develop it as a way to incorporate the turkeys they raise into creative new dishes. This one turned out to be a big hit, and has won a local chili cook-off for three straight years. That’s a lot of cred to bring against the heavy hitters that he’ll be up against for the national title of America’s Best Firehouse Chili.
Alex Callegari - Miami-Style Chili
Callegari’s recipe comes with the backing of a John Wilson, professional chef and longtime friend who he served with in Miami for many years. The chili is made in Wilson’s name to commemorate him and his family after they were lost in a tragic accident. Callegari decided to incorporate the local flavors around him to create his “Miami-style” chili. Inside are some pretty unique ingredients that capture the tastes of Miami, like chorizo, adobo paste, sour oranges, and guava. It’s served with plantains to give a unique balance of sweet and spicy that Callegari hopes can take him all the way to the championship.
Each of these entrants will be competing in the Hormel® Chili's America's Best Firehouse Chili Contest finals, which consists of a live cook-off in New York next month. The winner of that competition will own the title of America’s Best Firehouse Chili Recipe, winning a grand prize of $10,000 for their firehouse, a year’s supply of Hormel® chili, and $20,000 donated to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation (NFFF) in their name.
Created in partnership with Hormel Chili