Your favorite chili recipe probably has pinto beans, ground beef, diced onion, tomatoes, perhaps some dried cherries because we are in Northern Michigan—but what about pumpkin puree, used coffee grounds, buffalo wing sauce or Carolina Reapers? These Northern Michigan chili cook-off winners and their pro bowls are game-changers.

Walloon Lake Chili Cook-Off for Charity 2021 Winner

First Place | Eddie Marusarz, Executive Chef at Barrel Back Restaurant, Walloon Lake

“This recipe, as with most, is an evolution of experiences and cultural contributions over the years of my career, and I personally hesitate to take credit for the final result,” Eddie says. “Most of the ingredients and methods were gleaned from the advice and suggestions of others. I only take credit for listening to them.”

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Eddie Marusarz’s Award-Winning Chili Recipe

  • 1 pound bacon, diced
  • 1 pound pork sausage (Italian does well)
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, diced
  • 2 cans plum tomatoes with juice
  • 1⁄2 cup ground pasilla powder or similar chili pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons cumin powder
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄2 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kala namak (Indian sea salt)
  • 2 Tablespoons used coffee grounds
  • 1 pound cooked brisket, beef or other meats (optional if you want an extra-hearty chili)
  • Goldfish crackers to garnish


1. Render bacon, then sausage in a large pot.
2. Add vegetables and cook till translucent.
3. Break up tomatoes into smaller pieces and add along with other ingredients (except optional meats). Simmer for approximately 1 hour.
4. Cooked brisket, ground beef or other meats can be added at this point (optional). 5. Serve with crushed Goldfish crackers on top.

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Related Read: Searching for more delicious and seasonal recipes? Visit our Northern Michigan Food & Drink page.

Glen Lake Winterfest’s Chili Cook-Off Winner 2020

First Place | Buffalo Chicken Chili by Linette Rouzer, General Manager at Crystal River Outfitters, Glen Arbor

“We wanted to make a non-traditional chili with a little kick to it,” Linette says. “the concept was to combine the flavors of buffalo hot wings and a jalapeño popper into a creamy bold chili. After a few batches and the staff’s input, we felt we came up with a fun recipe that has the perfect amount of spice and heat.”

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Linette’s Buffalo Chicken Chili Recipe

  • 1 1⁄2 pounds boneless chicken breasts
  • 14.5 ounce can Great Northern beans, drained
  • 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained (can substitute regular diced tomatoes)
  • 14.5 ounce can chicken broth
  • 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup buffalo wing sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 14.5 ounce can sweet corn kernels, drained
  • 1-2 seeded & chopped jalapeños (optional)
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon dried cilantro
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • Topping options: tortilla chips, fresh cilantro, blue cheese crumbles, additional hot sauce (I used blue cheese and celery sticks for garnish)

Slow Cooker Directions (Linette’s Preferred Method)

1. In a 5-quart slow cooker combine all the ingredients except the cream cheese and toppings.
2. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
3. Shred the chicken in the slow cooker using two forks. You can also use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken to a cutting board, shred it, and then return to the pot.
4. Add the cream cheese and stir until it is incorporated. Serve with desired toppings.

Instant Pot Directions

1. Place all the ingredients in the instant pot except beans and cream cheese. Cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Naturally release for
10 minutes and then quick release remaining pressure.
2. Use two forks to shred chicken in the instant pot or remove chicken to a cutting board to shred then add the chicken back to the pot.
3. Add drained beans and cream cheese to the instant pot. Stir until chili is creamy and smooth. Serve with desired toppings.

Buffalo Chicken Chili

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Traverse City’s Downtown Chili Cook-Off Winner 2020

First Place, 3-Alarm Category | 3-Alarm Chili by Bryan Petrick, Chef de Cuisine at Aerie Restaurant & Lounge, Acme

“Don’t let the title of 3-alarm chili scare you,” Bryan says. “the spice is on the back end of the chili. It’s not overpowering but definitely has a kick. There are a lot of beans and veggies in there to round out the flavors of the spices.”

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Bryan Petrick’s 3-Alarm Chili Recipe

  • 1 cup Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 cup red onion, diced
  • 3⁄4 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1⁄2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1.5 pounds smoked beef brisket
  • 128 ounces canned tomato
  • 1⁄4 cup tomato paste
  • 1⁄2 cup chili sauce
  • 2 cups black beans
  • 2 cups pinto beans
  • 4 cups kidney beans
  • 1 cup fire-roasted jalapeño pepper, pureed
  • 1 cup fire-roasted poblano pepper, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon dark chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 dried Carolina Reaper
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste


3-Alarm Chili Directions

1. sauté onions and bell peppers until translucent.
2. Add the beef brisket, canned tomato, tomato paste, chili sauce, jalapeños, poblanos, cayenne, chipotle, chili powder, paprika, Carolina Reaper and oregano.
3. Add water and cook for 1.5 hours.
4. Add beans and cook for 1 hour.
5. Season with salt and pepper.

Bryan Petrick's Chili

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Traverse Area District Library Chili Cook-Off 2021 Winner

First Place: Spicy Chicken Chili by Scott Morey, Assistant Director for Technology at Traverse Area District Library

“The key is effectively balancing spiciness versus creaminess so that you can taste all the amazing spicy flavors without burning your tongue off,” Scott says. “The version I shared at the chili cook-off this year was probably a 7 (out of 10 for spiciness). You can increase or decrease the level by using more or fewer peppers, selecting different peppers or changing how many seeds you leave in them.”

Scott Morey

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Scott Morey’s Spicy Chicken Chili Recipe

  • 2.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2 15-ounce cans corn
  • 3 15-ounce cans black beans (rinse before adding to crockpot)
  • 3 10-ounce cans Rotel
  • 2.5 8-ounce packages cream cheese 1 cup Mexican-style shredded cheese 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1.5 cups onion, diced
  • 6 jalapeño peppers (remove seeds from half of them and chop up in a food processor)
  • 2 poblano peppers (remove seeds and chop up in a food processor)
  • 3 habanero peppers (remove seeds and chop up in a food processor)
  • 3 red bell peppers (remove seeds and chop up in a food processor)
  • 2 1-ounce packets dry ranch dressing mix
  • 3 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning


Spicy Chicken Chili Directions

1. Put chicken in the crockpot first and then mix in all the other ingredients on top of it except the Mexican- style shredded cheese.
2. Put the crockpot on low, cover it with a lid, and let sit for 7 to 9 hours (stir occasionally).
3. After 7 to 9 hours, remove the chicken from the bottom of the pot and shred it.
4. Put the chicken back into the pot along with the Mexican-style shredded cheese and stir.
5. Leave the crockpot on the warm setting for another 30 minutes.

Scott Morey's Chili

Photo by Michael Poehlman

Winter Chili Cook-Offs in Northern Michigan

Find the dates to these annual cook-off events on the websites of local chambers and DDAs, gathered for you below.

Photo(s) by Michael Poehlman