The Ghost Town of Terlingua and Its Annual Chili Cook-Off


History of Terlingua

History of Terlingua

Terlingua began as a mining community in the late 1800s. Miners extracted quicksilver, also known as mercury, from the ground. The town thrived during this period, attracting workers and their families. Schools, shops, and houses were built to support the growing population.

However, the good times did not last. By the 1940s, the mercury market declined. This caused the mining operations to stop. As a result, residents started to leave in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The once-bustling settlement quickly turned into an empty ghost town.

Today, Terlingua is mostly deserted, with crumbling buildings and abandoned structures. Despite this, it still draws visitors, especially during the annual chili cook-off. This event revives the spirit of the old town for a brief moment each year. The history of Terlingua is a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change.

Annual Chili Cook-Off

The event showcases the participant’s best recipes, hoping to win the title of the best chili. The contest is not just about the food; it’s also about the atmosphere. There are live bands, dancing, and lots of laughter. 

Visitors can taste different kinds of chili, each with unique flavors and spices. The cook-off transforms the ghost town into a busy place. It’s an experience everyone looks forward to every year.

When is the Annual Chili Cook-Off?

The cook-off happens every year in November. It is usually held during the first weekend of the month. This tradition started in 1967 and has continued ever since. Many people look forward to it because it’s a fun and exciting event. 

Visitors plan their trips to Terlingua to coincide with this occasion. The exact date is always set early, so everyone has time to prepare. If you love chili and good times, mark your calendar for November and join the celebration in Terlingua.

Unique Contest Categories

Every year, the event offers a variety of unique contest categories that keep both participants and spectators entertained. The cornerstone of the event is the Traditional Red Chili competition, where cooks present their best takes on this classic dish. But the fun doesn’t stop there; you’ll also find categories like Chili Verde and Salsa, showcasing diverse flavors and techniques.

Participants get the chance to flex their culinary skills in other areas too. There are contests for Beans, Chicken, Ribs, and even Dessert, ensuring that there’s something for every palate.

If you’re into cocktails, don’t miss the Margarita Mix-Off, a spirited competition that tests the bartending skills of contestants.

Adding to the excitement are categories like the Ms. Chili Pepper and Mr. Hot Sauce competitions, where personality and presentation play a big role. Showmanship is another crowd favorite, allowing cooks to decorate their booths and don costumes that reflect their chili themes.

For those seeking even more thrills, there are Bloody Mary contests, open-fire cooking challenges, and jalapeño eating contests. Each category brings its unique flavor to the event making this once-a-year event an unforgettable experience.

Live Music Performances


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Live music performances create an electrifying atmosphere at the annual chili cook-off in the town. As you stroll through the event, the sounds of live bands and musicians fill the air, offering a diverse array of genres from country and folk to rock and blues. This musical variety guarantees something for everyone, enhancing the overall enjoyment of the event.

While savoring delicious chili, you can groove to the rhythm of live tunes. The energy from the music melds seamlessly with the enticing aromas from the cook-off stalls, creating an unforgettable sensory experience.

Here are some highlights you can expect from the live music performances:

  • Diverse Genres: Enjoy a wide range of music, from soulful blues to foot-tapping country tunes, catering to all musical tastes.
  • Local Talent: Discover talented local bands and musicians who bring their passion and unique sound to the stage.
  • Interactive Shows: Engage with performers who often involve the audience, making the experience more personal.
  • Continuous Entertainment: With performances scheduled throughout the event, there’s never a dull moment.

The fusion of live music and mouth-watering chili makes this event a must-experience.

Local Vendors

Explore the vendor area where you’ll find unique, handcrafted items that embody Texan artistry. Local vendors offer a diverse array of one-of-a-kind souvenirs and gifts, perfect for commemorating your time at this event. Handcrafted jewelry, stunning art pieces, and charming home decor fill the stalls, each reflecting the skill and creativity of the artisans.

The variety in the offerings ensures there’s something for everyone’s taste. From intricately designed necklaces to rustic wall hangings, the vendor area provides a rich shopping experience infused with Texan flair. Supporting these local businesses not only brings home a piece of Terlingua but also sustains the community’s artistic spirit.

The lively atmosphere of the cook-off is enhanced by these vendors adding another layer of excitement to the chili-filled festivities. Whether you’re searching for a special gift or just browsing, the vendor area is a must-visit.

Take your time, chat with the artisans, and immerse yourself in the local culture while savoring the delicious chili around you.

Culinary Competition

The Culinary Competition in Terlingua is a major event. Chefs from everywhere come to show their skills. Each participant prepares a unique chili recipe. Judges taste every dish and pick the best one. Contestants use secret spices and special techniques. The cook-off is exciting and full of flavor. Spectators enjoy sampling different chili bowls. The atmosphere is fun and lively. Winning the contest is a big honor. Chefs feel proud when they win.

Intense Flavor Battles

Each contestant aims to impress the judges through a meticulous evaluation process that focuses on:

  • Aroma: The first whiff should entice and excite the senses.
  • Color: A rich, inviting hue that promises depth of flavor.
  • Consistency: A perfect balance of meat, spices, and sauce.
  • Taste: The ultimate decider, where bold flavors must harmonize perfectly.

Participants pour their talents into their chili pots, each hoping their unique blend of spices and techniques will set them apart. The stakes are high, and the competition is fierce. The cook-off isn’t just about winning; it’s a celebration of culinary creativity and a validation of the art of chili-making.

Judges are attentive to every detail, from the first bite to the lingering aftertaste, making this one of the most challenging and rewarding chili cook-offs in the country.

Unique Chili Recipes

As you stroll through the cook-off grounds, you’ll encounter an astonishing array of unique chili recipes that showcase each competitor’s ingenuity and passion. These chili cooks aren’t just preparing any ordinary chili; they’re crafting masterpieces with diverse flavors and styles, making this event a true gastronomic journey.

From smoky and spicy to sweet and tangy, every bowl tells a story of creativity and innovation. You’ll find recipes that incorporate unusual ingredients, adding a twist to traditional chili. Some cooks might add chocolate for a rich, deep flavor, while others might use exotic spices to create an unforgettable taste.

Each chili cook takes pride in their craft, and the competition fosters an environment where culinary skills shine. As you sample these extraordinary creations, you’ll appreciate the dedication and creativity that goes into every pot of chili, making the experience unforgettable for any food enthusiast.

Participating in the Cook-Off

Participating in the Cook-Off

Entering the chili cook-off is an exciting experience. First, you need to sign up early because spots fill quickly. Preparing your recipe is important. Choose fresh ingredients and test your chili multiple times. 

On the event day, arrive early to set up your cooking area. Meeting other contestants is fun and you can learn new tips. When cooking, follow your recipe carefully. Taste and adjust your chili as needed. Presentation matters, so make your dish look appealing. Judges will taste each entry, so stay confident. Winning is great but participating and having fun is what matters.

Celebrating the Winners

Honoring the winners of the event is a big deal. After the competition, everyone gathers to recognize the top chefs. Trophies are handed out to the best cooks. The crowd cheers loudly for the victors. Proud smiles and happy faces fill the stage. 

Winning the contest means more than just a prize; it brings joy and respect. These skilled individuals work hard to perfect their recipes. Their dedication and talent shine brightly during the event. Celebrations continued late into the night marking the end of another successful cook-off.

As a spectator, you’ll witness the enthusiastic celebration of these culinary masters. The atmosphere buzzes with excitement as champions receive their accolades. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Awards Ceremony: Winners are honored on stage, receiving trophies and certificates.
  • Media Coverage: Both local and national media outlets highlight the champions, sharing their stories and recipes.
  • Community Festivities: The town comes alive with parties and events to celebrate the winners.
  • Inspiration for Aspiring Cooks: Future participants are motivated by the champions’ success and are excited to compete next year.

The champions of the cook-off inspire others to aim for culinary excellence. Their achievements in creating the perfect dish contribute to the legacy of Terlingua’s annual event.


Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the chili cook-off, where history and community spirit come alive.

This event isn’t just about chili; it’s a celebration of Texan culture and camaraderie. Whether you’re savoring a spicy new recipe, enjoying live music, or mingling with locals, you’ll be part of a tradition that keeps Terlingua’s legacy thriving.

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