Backyard Chili Cook-off Party and Ballot Board DIY

A few years ago our small town cancelled its annual 4th of July parade and fireworks show.  So, we started a new tradition and made some culinary fireworks of our own with a 4th of July Backyard Chili Cook-off!   This year was our third and we decided to make the voting and tasting easier by making ballot/tasting boards for our guests.  It was inexpensive and easy and I'll show you how in the tutorial that follows.

A cook-off or bake-off is a fabulously fun theme for a party.  I love the way that everyone gets excited and involved.  To host a cook-off or bake-off party of your own, simply ask guests to bring their entry all ready to serve (in a crock-pot for hot foods, or per-portioned for cold foods).  Assign each entry a number as it arrives.  Have ballots and pencils ready for when the tasting begins.  

After about an hour of tasting/voting, we fire up the grill and make burgers and hot dogs, accompanied by mountains of tater tots, homemade cornbread and Fritos.  Guests can make their own chili burgers, chili dogs, and chili taters, and load them up with all the fixin's.  We make a big jug of lemonade for the kids and another filled with watermelon margaritas for the adults. 


Our tasting/ballot boards were inspired by the plates used at many wine-tastings.  The boards perfectly hold a sample-sized tasting cup, keeping the taster's hands free to write.  Rather than using a fixed clip, we opted for a medium sized binder clip because they're inexpensive, and can be repositioned for left-handed tasters.  Also, it makes it easier to clean the boards when the clips are removed.  

You can make yours as plain or as fancy as you like.  We kept ours fairly basic.

Cook-off Tasting/Ballot Board DIY
Cost:  Approx. 50 cents each
 Makes 12 boards

1 2'x4' piece of 1/4" MDF ($6 at Home Depot)
(The MDF is easy to cut and has a nice smooth surface)
A 2 1/8" hole saw ($7 at Home Depot)
Acrylic paint and a foam brush (optional)
2 ounce tasting cups (source: Smart & Final)
Medium size binder clips

Step 1:  Use a pencil to mark off 12"x8" sections on the piece of MDF.  Use a Skil saw to cut into even pieces.

Step 2:  Attach the 2 1/8" hole saw to your drill.  Drill holes in the upper right-hand corner of each board.  Use sand paper to lightly sand the rough edges where the hole was made.

Step 3:  Design a ballot to suit your occasion and test for size on the board.

Step 4:  Optional -- paint the boards using a foam brush.  I used Country Red from the Americana collection from DecoArt.  It went on smoothly and needed only one coat.  It made it easy to paint all of our boards quickly.  

Step 5:  When paint has dried, attach a binder clip to the left side of the board.  Slide the ballot under the clip.  Insert a pencil in the opening on the left side of the clip and slide clip flush to the board, holding the pencil in place.

Provide forks and tasting cups at the beginning of the tasting line and you're good to go!


  1. That is really cool...such a great idea. And I love how you all hold this chili cook-off for your 4th of July, I would totally love to come to something like this.

  2. I used to live in a place that holds an annual chili cook-off. It's a BIG deal there! You go and camp out for the weekend, they have certain times when you can start preparing... ... The townspeople can come out and enjoy like the judges. They gave trophies and prizes and all. (There was always a prize for the worst chili too. LOL)

    I like that your neighborhood does this. I like the ballot boards you made! (Very creative!) I like the scoring sheet you made too.

    Thanks for the memories!
    Have a GREAT weekend!

  3. That is such a fun and clever idea. We live in a large planned community development & they actually do plan things that are similar. For the 4th, they had a pie bake-off contest following a patriotic parade where the children and adults could decorate their bikes, wagons, etc. It was really fun.

  4. WHat an absolutely fun idea! I hope to be as creative as you some day!

  5. Oh, I love these! With a little notch to the side it would be just like those wine-holder plates we used at a recent tasting event.

    Todd may have a new "honey-do" for this year's Pumpkin party!

    Thanks for sharing :)

  6. Oh my gosh, so smart! I wish I could have been there to try the chili (and to use one of these fun boards!).

  7. What a fun idea! I would love to attend a good chili cook-off. Around here is mostly pie tasting and wine...


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