The Great Hot Dog Chili Taste-Off

By Gil Hoffman, Publisher

It’s the time of year when Chili tastes especially good. A warm, tangy bowl heats the body and warms the soul. Appropriately, the local Highlands Rotary Club holds a huge Chili Feast and feeds the whole town, and to top it off they hold a raffle and give away a new Car or Truck or SUV to some lucky soul.

But my interest in Chili goes way back, to the town I was raised in: New Castle, Pennsylvania. You see, we had a Chili tradition, and a leading restaurant was Coney Island, with their special recipe for chili on hot dogs. I grew up eating there, and when my daughters were old enough, they even worked as servers there.

The Chili was especially tangy and delicious, with a thick texture of sauce and meat. I thought it was unbeatable. Until…

My son-in-law and youngest daughter now live in Cincinnati, where the local tradition is known as Skyline Chili. Andy, my son-in-law, swears the Chili is the best, and it is certainly has a long tradition. It’s a thin, tomatoey base, and is not only used on hot dogs, but even on spaghetti. It’s usually served with a heaping serving of shredded cheese on top.

So, I don’t think it can compare or compete with my M&P Coney Island Chili from New Castle. This Christmas holiday, I suggested to Andy that we decide which Chili has the better taste. We would hold a “Taste-Off” and settle which one got the bragging rights.

So, we had M&P Chili flown in from New Castle, courtesy of my middle daughter who was also joining us for a family holiday get-together. Anyone can order the Chili from New Castle, carefully delivered by FedEx in insulated, dry-ice packed containers.

On judging night, we ordered a dozen plain hot dogs from Skyline, and heated up a pot of their Chili, and a pot of M&P Coney Island Chili. Everyone in the family was the judge. Each got a plain half hot dog, covered with Skyline Chili, and another with Coney Island Chili.

And we tasted them, carefully and fully. The family judges varied in age from 7 years old, to 84. We ate. And we voted, with Reed the 4 year old collecting the paper ballots which had been tendered in secret.

And then the count.

Would it be close? Would everyone have made up their mind beforehand? Would their familiar favorite be the winner?

Reed oversaw the ballot count, and Iris made the announcement.

It was a unanimous vote, 7-0, in favor of the New Castle M&P Coney Island Chili. Best flavor, best texture, best color, best aftertaste, according to the discussion following the vote.

Andy led the hometown crowd in accepting a gracious loss.

And then later in the week, we celebrated the fun Taste-Off event with a victory dinner, at of all places the local Skyline Chili Restaurant!

At this point, you may well be asking, how do these Chilis compare with our local Highlands Rotary “Chester’s Famous Recipe” Chili? We did not have any to compare or judge, but Rotary’s Chili is meant more as a bowlful, not as a topping, and the texture is quite different. But maybe another day we will include it in the judging.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Gil. Thank you for sharing your happy holiday story with us. I read it with a smile on my face. I’m now tempted to order some of your favorite chili, maybe for July 4th. That’s when we usually do hot dogs. How about sharing some more of your stories with us? Maybe this could be a new column for the NEN: Share a happy memory. M

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