Perhaps drawn by the strong aroma of cumin and chili powder that filled the Fellowship Hall of St. John's United Church of Christ, about 150 people sampled the 30 types of chili at the church's third annual chili cook-off on Jan. 29.
"I couldn't be more pleased. It was exactly the kind of turnout we were hoping for," the Rev. Jenn Glover said, noting the church organized the event to reach out into the community. "It was great to see as many strangers as I did having a good time."
The event, Glover said, raised $500 to benefit the church's Christian education group.
Three chefs received prizes in the categories of Best Vegetarian Chili, Best Chili Con Carne Chili and Best Use of Spices Chili based on voting by the tasters.
Jan Bauer, of Jessup, won Best Chili Con Carne Chili.
Christine Pettie, of Owings Mills, won for Best Use of Spices.
Barbara Truckenbrodt, of Catonsville, won for Best Vegetarian Chili.
From those winners, five judges, including the winners of the first two competitions, Carl Manger, of Arbutus, and Barbara Truckenbrodt, of Catonsville, selected the best overall chef.
That honor, and the top prize of a video camera, went to Deibel, who had entered the cook-off the past two years without winning.
"She'd been tweaking the same recipe for three years," said Glover, one of the judges. "I felt she finally got her due."
While most of the participants using meat in their recipes opted for beef, Arbutus resident Jennifer Doherty chose something a bit different.
A friend of Doherty's who hunts provided her with some ground venison, the secret ingredient of her chili that provides a "sweet flavor with a little bit of zip."
"The thing I like about venison is that it's so lean. It can be a healthier choice than the full fat ground beef," Doherty said, noting she figured some people might be turned off by her choice of meat.
"Flavor-wise, if you have it in chili or spaghetti sauce, it's not a big difference in taste than using ground beef," she said.
Doherty has used the recipe for about 10 years and said it also features baked beans instead of the traditional kidney beans.
Halethorpe resident Amy Bell entered the chili cook-off for the second time after missing last year because she had just gotten out of the hospital after giving birth to her fourth child, Audrey.
Bell's chili featured four different kinds of beans, ground beef, dark beer and her secret ingredient.
While Bell's chili was a hit at the cook-off, she said only she and her 2-year-old son, Nathan, are the only members of her family likely eat to chili.
For her entry, Bell spent six months modifying a recipe she found on the Internet.
"If I use salsa, I don't have to chop up onions and peppers," Bell said, a few days before the event. "It would be nice to win, but the thing I'm really looking forward to is getting to go and socialize."
By and large, the tasters were thrilled to have so many different types of chili to taste.
Catonsville resident Eric Costello started tasting and judging the vegetarian varieties and was impressed by a concoction featuring black beans, tomato, corn and carrots.
"I like the mix of vegetables they used. It was very balanced, rich texture, good flavors developed well," Costello said.
Arbutus resident Jim Sanford scoped the competition at the Best Use of Spices Chili table and found that one of the nine spicy chilies lived up to his desires for a "hot, lingering effect."
"There are some very good chilies here. It's hard to compete," Sanford said, noting he has had his chili recipe for about 10 years. "But I'd have to tell you mine's one or two on this table."
Ralph Ward, 91, a resident of Brightview, stayed away from the crowds that huddled around the three tables and sat with four other residents of Brightview enjoying several different samples.
"I'm not a daily chili eater, but sometimes I crave something like that," Ward said. "I enjoy talking to people and meeting people."
Connie Heasley, of Arbutus, started judging the Chili Con Carne chilies and recalled how she attended the very first chili cook-off but missed last year's and noted how the event has grown.
"I think that's great," Heasley said. "There's lots of people that the church members don't recognize so they're people from the community and that's great."