- Cullman, Alabama


January 24, 2014

Chili cookoff Saturday; Burke Buster to perform

When the weather is cold and snow threatens the Tennessee Valley, nothing warms the body like a great bowl of steaming hot, spicy chili. Even with an expected “heat wave” of 49 degrees, chili sounds so good!

With that in mind, you might want to mark your calendar for the third annual TP Chili Cookoff, scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 25.

Last year’s cookoff brought in eight of the best chili experts in the area. This year at press time there were nine teams on the roster.

Live entertainment will be furnished by Cullman native Burke Buster, who always draws a big crowd. A 2001 graduate of Cullman High School, Burke attended Auburn University where he finished in 2005. After being in sales for seven years, Burke went back to school to get a master’s in counseling from Richmont Graduate University.

"Music didn't become a way to make a living until I decided to go back to graduate school," says Burke. "I play music at a church currently and also play in a band called The Rusty Busters, named after my father whose name is Rusty."

Burke plays a little bit of everything, from The Band, to 2Pac, and John Prine, so no matter what kind of music you like he will probably hit on one of your favorites sometime during the afternoon.

Burke wouldn't necessarily say that music was always his dream. "I never really thought I would use it as an avenue to support myself or entertain people," he said. "Pursuing counseling is my main focus, but I think music will always be a part of my life in some form."

The Rusty Busters play at bars, weddings, private parties, among other gigs, like the one at TP Country Club this weekend. "I have been playing guitar since my junior year of high school and really began singing and playing while in college," he said. "I play covers and have played all over the southeast and even the Cayman Islands. Playing in Cullman and at Terri Pines is always fun for me," he said. "The crowds have always been good and lively. Getting an opportunity to see family and friends is always special and I am very grateful for their support."

Last year’s chili cookoff winner, TP Bartender, Tiffany Jones, and her teamate, Meghan Creasey, had a lot of fun preparing their winning recipe. "I grew up in New York where there were a lot of firehouses," said Tiffany. "I made authentic Firehouse Chili and I was surprised and happy when it won."

She credits the added ingredient, Hershey’s cocoa powder, which gave the winning chili a thick, rich flavor. Since Tiffany is expecting her second child around the time of the chili cookoff, she won’t be participating this year, but says to look out, because she will be back next year and intends to win!

Tiffany is also a Cullman County Fair Kitchen Queen contestant. At the ripe old age of 24, she competed against some of the more seasoned cooks in the area to take home five ribbons for her culinary talents.

The entry fee for the TP Chili cookoff is $25 per team. Teams will compete for some great prizes and of course, braggin’ rights to the title. The Chili Cookoff winning team will take home a grand prize of $150 for first place, and a People’s Choice Award of $100 per team.

Of course, all the chili will be cooked on site, from scratch. All entries will be judged on flavor, texture of the meat, consistency, blend of spices, aroma and color.

Contestants will begin cooking at noon. Cooks may test their stoves and begin on site preparation of canned or bottled tomatoes, tomato sauce, peppers, pepper sauce, canned beans, broth. Then will commence a bevy of grinding and/or mixing of spices and beverages, chopping, slicing and peeling to prepare some mouth-watering chili recipes, which are normally very closely guarded secrets.

Last year Jim and Susan Eller had a ball at the TP Chili Cookoff. "Jim is really the driver of the chili cookoff adventures of our family," says Susan. "He has his ‘secret recipes’ of unique chili that he thinks will win and he is just waiting to see if the judges agree!"

Jim will be competing again this year for the title. His chili almost defies description. "You’ll just have to show up and let my chili speak for itself," said Jim confidently. It takes about an hour-and-a-half for Jim’s chili to reach perfection. He’s been cooking for about 20 years, so he’s had plenty of time to get it just right.

Jim once won at another event, and has won the "People’s Choice" at TP. "Which just makes him want to participate even more!" laughed Susan.

When Jim entered the first one, Susan was a little skeptical as it was in a pasture with about five guys. "Then Bridgette Chandler showed up and I had a partner," said Susan.

"It is a lot of work because you can’t do anything beforehand except getting all your equipment and supplies together," she said. "Last year, we had the back of his truck full as well as the back seat. It takes a lot of ‘stuff’ and effort to make the prize-winning chili!"

Public tasting begins at 4 p.m., so, bring your appetite and get ready for some of the best chili you’ve ever tasted! It only lasts until the last bowl of chili is served, so be ready, bowl in hand, at the appointed time!

There is no admission fee. The music begins at 3 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m., so you’ll want to be there when the doors open.

Check out for a sample of Burke Buster's style. Click “About” for upcoming gigs.

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