As a steady drizzle of light rain sprinkled Billings on Sunday, hundreds of chili lovers gathered at the Billings Depot for the 3rd annual Magic City's Best Chili Cook-Off. We had a spot at the judge's table and from mild to wild, we got to try over a dozen chili recipes submitted by amateurs and pros alike.

The Billings Depot
Photo by Ting Tian on Unsplash/Michael Foth, TSM

Judges tried traditional chilis, brisket chili, chicken chili, and more.

Teams assembled early to prepare their secret-recipe chilis and set up their stations. Categories again this year were Traditional, Open, and Peoples Choice. Doors opened to the public at 11 AM and chili fans began streaming into the Depot.

sample cup
Blind-taste #1. Credit Michael Foth, TSM

The judges settled in at 11:30 with the first chili.

One by one we sampled steaming hot little cups of chili. It's a blind taste test and we were instructed to give credit based on the EAT method of judging (Execution, Appearance, Taste). Some were immediate hits with most of the panel. A few others were not.

What was most interesting, is that great chili is very much a personal preference. Some judges would LOVE one sample, while up to half of the 11-member team completely disagreed, bringing heated (ha! pun!) discussion amongst the judges. That said, there were a handful of standouts.

Pop from Pop's Tots
Pop's Tots was a big winner. Credit Michael Foth, TSM

Pop's Tots Takes Top Honors at the 2024 Chili Cook-Off

A relatively new food truck in Billings has been getting great reviews for its take on a classic childhood comfort food (who doesn't love tater tots?) and if you get a chance to try his chili, do it. Pop's Tots chili won the top spot in the Traditional category.

Pop's Tots chili also won People's Choice. Rollin' Smoke food truck nabbed 2nd place in People's Choice. Chef Mike at Hooligans took 2nd place in Traditional and home chef Michael Mutch's chili earned a respectable 3rd place finish.

Stock photo. Credit Canva
Stock photo. Credit Canva

A Three-Time Winner in the Open Class.

Home chef Raychel Hust struck gold again, now winning three years in a row at Magic City's Best Chili Cook-Off. Hust's white chicken chili verde checked all the boxes for the judges in the Open Class. Phil Bauer, another home chef, took 2nd place in the Open Class, and Maria Rivera from the American Legion on Broadwater finished 3rd in Open Class with her smokey, savory, brisket chili.

Magic City's Best food competitions are a fun way to enjoy a ton of great Billings food at one time and place. The next upcoming foodie-fest at the Depot is the popular Tacos and Tequila event on May 5th. Find out more here.

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