Denton’s springtime weather may be kooky and unpredictable, but one thing you can always count on are the offbeat sights and wacky underground events that keep our weekend social calendars full of choices that’d fluster even wise ole Solomon. One of these backyard traditions is the legendary QUEST FOR THE GOLDEN JESUS Chili Cookoff, which ain’t too underground anymore but for years was held at various “undisclosed locations."
You’d be forgiven if you ain’t ever attended much less heard of Denton’s Quest for the Golden Jesus Chili Cookoff since, even though it’s celebrating it’s 13 year history over Memorial Day weekend, it pretty much started as a backyard bet for bragging rights.
Founded by chili-hound Wallace Campbell in 2004, there’s a lotta lore and typical Texas tall tales about how he managed to win that first friends-only contest, so we don’t wanna run afoul of anyone to speculate as to it’s particulars. What we do know for sure, though, is the crowds have grown and so has the competition even if you might not know it by their list of the past winner’s circle.
According to their Facebook page, “Quest for the Golden Jesus has evolved into Denton's premier chili cook-off/day drinking event,” which is sure beyond dispute. What you might notice there, tho, is that Aaron “Harlin” Anderson is the champion to beat with a whoppin’ five wins out of QFGJ’s 11 year history. Check out the complete list of previous winners below.
THE GOLDEN JESUS HALL OF CHAMPIONS
2015: Andy & Nic
2014: Team SoBo
2013: Harlan “Meatguns” Anderson and Isaac Hoskins
2012 winner: Team Larry
2011 Team Jackson
2010 Aaron "Harlin" AndersoN
2009 Aaron "Harlin" Anderson
2008 Aaron "Harlin" Anderson
2007 Team Jackson
2006 Aaron "Harlin" Anderson
2005 Peter Farmer/J.P. Hossley
2004 Wally "Sir Wallace" Campbell
While the winner’s circle may look to be suspiciously small at first glance, the fact is that the judges tapped to select the champion have become increasingly diverse in the blind taste-test showdown. #Dentoning guy, Scott Campbell, chronicled Anderson’s return to the winner’s circle after a two-year absence in 2013, when 16 upstart challengers were judged by the likes of local foodie blogger Alyssa “The Pink Antler” and Denton City Councilman Kevin “The Smoke-Fighter” Roden. While local favorites Hares On The Mountain serenaded the festive QFGJ chilipalooza of taste samplers and day-drinking dancers, local noise ordinance violations were purportedly dodged with bribes of beer and chilidogs.
2014 turned out to be yet another free-for-all contest, with hosting Team SoBo eventually pulling off a narrow upset. Threat of rain did little to dampen spirits and shenanigans, MC’d by our WDDI Godfather Glen Farris. Local brewers offered tastings as bawdy trashtalk between the tents flowed freely. The chili innovations presented ranged from boldly fruity to cocoa-enhanced meaty fare, but a vegetarian gambit has been introduced because… Denton! As the video posted below amply documents, the Memorial Weekend event has become legend for durn good reasons… and it barely mostly has to do with the chili.
The 2015 contest is still fueling today’s 2016 Quest For The Golden Jesus Chili Cookoff, which is going down at the SoBo Compound from noon ‘til after the 6pm judging event, with entertainment courtesy of the The Nice Up Crew come rain or shine. BYOB and some Mylanta to insure the only thing you don’t feel the next day is pangs of regret for missing it!! Be sure to bring your dancing shoes and a few bucks to throw-in for their “Kicksharter” campaign, and tag your pics with #WDDI and #GoldenJesusChiliCookoff to document the mayhem you witness or incite.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.