Chili lovers, ready your spoons and your taste buds.

The 27th annual East Texas Oilmen’s Chili Cook-Off is returning to downtown Kilgore Oct. 24.

“A Kilgore culinary event tradition, this annual all you can eat chili throw down showcases oilfield service and energy companies from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma as they prepare hundreds of pounds of chili and compete to claim the title of number one chili in the oilfield. Hosted at the World's Richest Acre in Historic Downtown Kilgore, this event benefits the East Texas Treatment Center,” reads an event post on TourTexas.com.

Competing teams will set up booths and trailers along Commerce Street to hand out samples of chili to hungry guests. Cook-off committee co-chair Nicole Oubre, interviewed earlier this fall, said 86 teams turned up to the event last year, offering home-cooked chili in a variety of styles.

“There’s not much that sticks around for 27 years and it started a long time ago. It started with just a few companies and it’s grown tremendously. It raises a lot of money for Kilgore and it’s benefited multiple organizations in the years. It’s currently benefiting the East Texas Treatment Center, which is a non-profit organization. So we’ve always kind of given money towards a non-profit, a local company,” Oubre said at the time.

East Texas Treatment Center, which began operating in Kilgore in 1952, provides rehabilitation services to its patients, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and more. The center offers a sponsorship program to patients to assist them with the cost of rehab services and the chili cook-off is just one of several fundraisers hosted annually by ETTC to fund its sponsorship program.

Expect this year’s event to be as popular as previous years, with plenty of chili recipes available for sampling.

A Sept. 30 post on the event’s Facebook page confirmed all available space for entrants has been sold out, adding up to 3,236 feet of space filled by oilfield service and supply companies.

For just $5, guests can snag a wristband that entitles them to as much chili as they can sample between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Oct. 24.

In addition to the food on offer, many competitors liven up the event by getting into the spirit of its theme. This year’s theme is the pirate-esque “Chili Me Timbers” so guests can be on the lookout for skull-and-crossbones logos, eye-patches and other swashbuckling attire.

The chili isn’t the only hot thing at the cook-off – the competition gets pretty hot, as well.

“There’s people that try to win year after year. The most a team has ever won has been two years in a row. But there’s never been a three-peat, as we call it. We’ve kept the same plaque, same trophies for over 15 years now and people post them in their office. People are very proud of them,” Oubre said.

At the end of the day, all the competition is for a good cause.

“It is our biggest fundraiser,” ETTC Executive Director Lauren Cammack said.

“We also apply for the United Fund of Kilgore and we have other ways to raise funds, but as far as events, chili is definitely our biggest.”

ETTC offers its sponsorship program on a sliding scale, which is based on a patient’s income and medical bills.

“We have a sponsorship program that we raise funds for throughout the year. Anyone that is underinsured or uninsured, if they fill out a sponsorship application they can, depending on income, be approved. Most of our sponsorships are approved at 100 percents so they get treatment for free,” Cammack said.

Many of the people who benefit from ETTC’s services are blue-collar workers suffering from job-related injuries but Cammack said people in many occupations, such as hairdressers, can get back to work with the help of ETTC for injuries that would otherwise put them out of their job.

The cook-off will be held Thursday, Oct. 24, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., when winners will be announced. The event will be held in downtown Kilgore by the World’s Richest Acre.

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