top of page


CHILI @ 7000 FT!

The origins of the Flagstaff Chili Festival go back to 1987, when a young, new dentist in Flagstaff joined the Flagstaff Jaycees. The group was looking for new projects at the time and Dr. Paul Whitney, who had recently moved to Flagstaff from Massachusetts suggested running a chili cook-off and the group went for it. Dr. Whitney had some experience, having run the Massachusetts State Championship Chili Cook- off in 1985 and 1986. It was suggested by a member of the Jaycees to tie the event in with Western Week in Flagstaff, which was overseen by the Pine Country Pro Rodeo. Approval was reached with the Rodeo Committee, and the first Pine Country Chili Cook-off was scheduled the weekend before the rodeo, the first event of Western Week. The event was held in June, 1988 and was a district level cook-off at the time, sanctioned by the International Chili Society. District cook-offs qualified their winners to go straight to the finals table of a Regional or State level cook-off, whose winners go directly to the
World Championship Chili Cook-off. Our winner advanced to the Indian Nations Regional, held in
Phoenix. The Pine Country Chili Cook-offs rolled along nicely for a number of years, held out at one of the picnic ramadas at Ft. Tuthill County Park. In time, the Indian Nations Regional had moved from Phoenix to Payson, and then the group in Payson decided to give it up. The Flagstaff Jaycees requested and were granted the rights to the Indian Nations Regional, and with it, our winners would now advance directly to the World’s. The event had moved from Ft. Tuthill to downtown Wheeler Park, but even with the name change, was still under the Western Week umbrella. After two years as the Indian Nations Regional, the tie in with Western Week was severed and a new association was established with a new festival, the Route 66 Festival. We went to the ICS and requested to change the name to the Route 66 Regional to reflect this new tie in and this was allowed. When that festival went defunct, the cook-off moved around a little bit after that, being held downtown on Leroux St, at Babbitt Ford once and out at Ft. Tuthill one year with the Made in the Shade Beer Festival. The Route 66 name stayed though. All
were good events, but we were looking to find a good home for the event in the long run. Around this  time, The Flagstaff Jaycees chapter had folded, so a new group to run the Route 66 Regional Chili Cook-off was formed, the Flagstaff Chili Society. In the mid 2000’s the Route 66 Regional found its current home at Thorpe Park, at the base of Mars Hill,home to the Lowell Observatory. With the built in ramada, a paved area for the cooks and a bit of protection from the prevailing winds of the Flagstaff area and a gorgeous view of the Peaks and Mt.
Elden, this location has been a perfect spot for our annual event. Many of the cooks over the years have commented on watching the Aberts squirrels frolicking in the ponderosas that are abundant at the park. In 2012, the group at the Matzatzal Casino in Payson which had taken over the Arizona State Championship Chili Cook-off for a number of years, let it be known they would be giving it up and so the FCS committee went to the ICS and requested the rights to the Arizona State, which they were granted. This allowed the event to grow into a 2 day event, which allowed us to attract more cooks, looking for 2 chances to qualify in 1 weekend. The now 2 day event was christened the Flagstaff Chili Festival, with the Route 66 Regional being held on Saturday and the Arizona State Championship being held on Sunday. The events were a fixture on the June calendar for Flagstaff for a number of years, but then, Covid-19 hit and the 2020 event had to be canceled. The City of Flagstaff closed down to outside events until July 1, 2021, so the 2021 Flagstaff Chili Festival was held in August of that year. A good thing too, as fire restrictions in the area would have canceled the 2021 event, as no fires or stoves, even propane, were allowed in city parks. August being during the monsoon season, the FCS committee opted to keep the event in August for 2022, to take the chance of fire restrictions off the table. It appears the first weekend of August will be the new home dates for the Flagstaff Chili Festival going forward. Back in 1988 when the first event was held, only Red Chili was contested as an official category, but over the years the ICS has added Salsa, Chili Verde, Homestyle Chili and Vegetarian Chili as official categories. Veggie chili has been discontinued for now, but we at the FCS hope the ICS will bring it back soon. At the Flagstaff Chili Festival, Red Chili, Chili Verde and Salsa are competed for at the Route 66 Regional, while at the Arizona State on Sunday, competitors cook Homestyle, Chili Verde and Red Chili. We also had a youth division for cooks 6 to 17 for a few years, but unfortunately, due to lack of interest, we had to end that contest. Historically, many of our champions from both days have made finals table at the World Championship, but in 2022, Kevin Foley of Galveston, Texas, our 2021 Arizona State Champion in Red Chili WON the World Championship Chili Cook-off in Myrtle Beach, SC. He won $15,000.00 for his efforts representing our event here in Flagstaff. We are so proud of Kevin and know he is a tremendous ambassador for our event. Also, in 2022, we were able to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Arizona State Championship Chili Cook-off. Arizona was the first state in the country to have its 50th ICS State Championship. The 2024 Flagstaff Chili Festival will be held August 3 and 4 at Thorpe Park in Flagstaff.

Route 66 logo-2024 Color_00_edited_edited.jpg
bottom of page