The busy weekend in Georgetown heats up Thursday night with the 2019 Fireman’s Chili Cook-off that benefits the local Toys for Tots campaign.

The annual event, now in its 17th year, serves as the unofficial kick-off to the Festival of the Horse. It starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, and people can buy a chili cup for $5 to sample as many chili entries as they want.

“When we started in the basement of the museum, David Raisor was a firefighter who started making chili. We didn’t ever think it would turn into this type of event,” said Steve Woodrum, a local State Farm agent who has helped with the event since at least 2013. “I have cups going back to 2013, and at first it wasn’t even a chili cook-off. It was more of a chili supper.”

That first year, Woodrum said there were maybe three cooks and 40 people who showed up. This Thursday, they are expecting 35-40 cooks, which 40 would be an all-time high. They are also expecting to sell 2,000-2,500 cups, and not everyone buys a cup, so nearly 3,000 people will be in the area.

And while the chili is certainly the draw, the big story is helping the Toys for Tots campaign. The event has raised a total of more than $100,000 over the years. Woodrum said.

“We have been fortunate the past couple of years that we have met the need of everyone who applied to receive assistance from Toys for Tots and we haven’t had to turn anyone away,” Woodrum said. “In fact, we’ve helped Harrison and Bourbon counties with their requests. It is really gratifying that this has grown into a regional effort.”

Each person who buys a cup gets three votes and can put in the bucket for the chili they like the best. Trophies are handed out at 8 p.m. in categories such as people’s choice, hottest and overall favorite.

“The key to winning is having a decent tasting chili and a lot of it. Competitors have to make a minimum of 20 gallons,” Woodrum said. “As people run out, there’s a lot that won’t get to taste it. So the key ingredient is making it to the end.”

Miss Kentucky will be at Thursday’s event, and will be one of the judges, along with County Judge-Executive Joe Pat Covington and Great Crossing High football coach Paul Rains.

“This is a great community event and it has been a homegrown event,” Woodrum said. “We’ve noticed that we are getting people from across the region coming year after year, and two years ago, we had some tourists from Australia who just pulled off the interstate and came. They said it was the most fun they had had in the United States.”

He said the weather looks fantastic, and State Farm does a national publication and will have a writer at this year’s event.

“This is the kind of thing that makes small towns cool,” Woodrum said.

Steve MCClain can be reached at

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