“My pro tips?”

Lauren Cammack laughs incredulously at first, but after a moment’s thought, yes, she does have some pointers for visitors attending the East Texas Oilmen’s Chili Cook-off.

Setup for the downtown event began Tuesday and everything should be in place by midday today before the 27th annual celebration’s participants gather tonight for the year’s Wednesday evening teams-only networking and revelry.

The main event runs 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

Pro Tip No. 1: “Get there early,” says Cammack, executive director of East Texas Treatment Center, the longtime primary beneficiary of the fundraiser’s proceeds, bolstering its sponsorship fund.

For one thing, there’s definitely going to be a crowd at the Oct. 24 event. ETTC purchased 10,500 wristbands for the event – all-you-can-eat, $5 each – and the vast majority have been distributed to advance buyers and the participating 85 teams and guests.

“Even though it’s one fewer team than last year, we’ve actually sold more space,” Cammack said. “We have a waiting list. Teams are getting bigger spaces.

Filling the whole of Commerce and its side streets, “We’re kind of at our limit.”

About 300 wristbands have already been allocated for walk-ups at the event’s five entry gates, and the cook-off’s volunteer organizers are looking for backups just in case.

So don’t arrive too late, Cammack said, or a guest might leave a little less full than anticipated.

“To make sure you get a taste of every chili you want to, you need to be there by noon,” she added. Pro Tip No. 2: “Bring raingear and layers. Although, this year is supposed to be beautiful.

That said, “It always starts out cool then gets hot.”

It’s Cammack’s fourth year participating in the event. She took her post at the Dudley Road treatment center a week before the 2016 cook-off and was immediately impressed by the friendly atmosphere that permeates the event.

“It was a lot of my first interactions with people. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. And it really is like a family down there. Some of these people have had teams in for the whole 27 years.”

This year, the oilfield-related companies that can snap up cook-off berths have a theme of ‘Chili Me Timbers’ courtesy of the volunteer organizers.

“That is one thing that amazes me,” Cammack said, the efficiency of the volunteer board’s efforts for Kilgore’s largest event. “They have it down to a science. Our committee’s awesome.”

Granted, as efficiently as they set things up, it’s not as quick as the cook-teams moving out after the event’s 1:30 p.m. awards ceremony.

“It’s amazing how quickly everyone packs up and zooms out.”

Before that point, though, visitors need to vote on their favorite chili (by about 12:30 p.m.) to contribute to the People’s Choice award.

As for Pro Tip No. 3: “Go easy. Pace  yourself while eating. Don’t try to sample everyone.”

It’s a lot of chili options, Cammack said.

“I usually just do a bit. Very rare is that I eat the entire little cup,” but some of the best chilis demand more. That said, “I try to limit to a bite.”

For more information about the cook-off, call 903-984-5571.

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