CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The notion of putting beans in chili has been a sensitive topic as long as competitive cook-offs have been around.
So this year the International Chili Society is saying: let's do both.
For the first time, the ICS will have traditional red chili and bean-optional chili categories at its 46th world championship event, which returns to West Virginia starting Friday.
Chili purists contend beans are nothing more than filler. Proponents say they certainly belong.
John Jepson of Merced, Calif., won the ICS traditional red chili world title last year and is entered this year both in that category and the new "homestyle" division that has no restrictions on ingredients.
Jepson qualified for the homestyle division by winning a cook-off in Elk Grove, Calif., in May.
So what tastes better: chili with or without beans?
"That's a good question. Geez," Jepson said, taking a moment to ponder it. "They're both great. I can't say I'd like one over the other. If I'm having hot dogs, I'd just go with competition (chili). If I'm just having a bowl of chili, I'll have beans in it. That's the good one for sitting around and eating. I love it."
Adding beans to the competition fare will do little to quash the debate over using them.
"Oh, no. That will always go on," Jepson said.
ICS CEO Carol Hancock said beans of any type are a dominant flavor in chili, which is why they aren't included in the traditional competition.
"You're going to have chili beans instead of chili," Hancock said. "And we're looking for chili in its purist form, which is meat and spices."
About 400 cooks are expected to compete for $55,000 in prizes at the world championships in Charleston, including a $25,000 first prize in red chili. That's one reason the red chili competition is fierce.