Lighthouse Chili will again be competing this Saturday. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Crawl picks up as island’s chili cook-off slows

For 41 years, the St. George Island Regional Charity Cook-off and Auction has been among Franklin County’s biggest events, with the first weekend of March featuring  dozens of “professional” International Chili Society chili cooks vying for a shot at the world championships.

But a lot has changed in recent years, so that this Saturday, there will be lots of chili lovers flocking to the island to take part in the event, but fewer than 20 competing in the regional cookoff held at the foot of the lighthouse, where the cooks have to follow strict ICS rules, which bar beans.

Many visitors will be on the island to savor the chili offered at the “Crawl,” with the only competition at stake being between those homes scattered throughout as to who offers the biggest party and the tastiest chili.

There’s an auction on Facebook at St. George Island Chili Cook-off and there appears to be a record turnout for the golf tournament, nearly 60 contestants, who will take part in the foursome best ball scramble at  St. James Bay Golf Club on Friday, March 1. The tournament includes a $15,000 hole in one prize, prizes for top three teams, buffet lunch, and more. For more info email Bob Landiss at

And of course Saturday morning at 8 a.m., under the experienced eye of Shelley Shepard, there’ll be  the Red Pepper 5K Run, starting in front of Paddy’s Raw Bar, and a huge field of runners are expected. Last year there were 168 registrants.

But when it comes to the official regional cook off, which carries big prize money and punches the team’s ticket for a trip to the Worlds, there are fewer than 20 competitors.

“I feel like chili is kind of at its grandparents stage now,” said Grayson Shepard, the longtime overseer of the coffee competition.”We really don’t really have fresh new teams coming in.”

Shepard said he also is running into a housing crunch for teams that had traditionally come for the weekend.

“It’s expensive, March kicks off spring break rates,” he said. “Prices have absolutely gone up on St. George Island,across the board. It’s got more expensive; everything is more expensive. They really can’t afford it. They say ‘It’s fun but it ain’t that much fun” and that’s a factor hurting us.”

Unlike the January Butts and Clucks BBQ competition in Apalachicola’s Battery Park, which had 51 competitors, most staying in RVs, the island does not allow overnight camping in the public area.

“RVs have never been an option for our people, and that eliminates a huge group of chili competitors,” Shepard said.

Even the ICS has gone up on the price tag for the competition to be officially sanctioned.

The co-ed debauchery that used to mark the Miss Chili Pepper and Mr. Hot Sauce contests are now a thing of the past, with fewer FSU students coming down for the event.

Expected to have a good shot at winning the top prizes, is Team Spice Boys, which dominated the field in both 2022 and 2023, and gave the prize money back to the fire department. 

Spice Boys consist of Scott Abercrombie, Greg Machamer, Heyon Hoe and JG Carver and three of them carry a separate ICS number and are in good standing, so each of them is eligible to compete.

“Each one of them cooks their own chili, “ said Shepard. “It’s the same recipe but they each tweak it a little bit. They have done it for years; they have perfected their game. They have been third or fourth in nationals and they know what makes a good chili.”

He said he’s heard some grumbling about the Spice Boys’ dominance but they play by the rules, which is one chili for each registered ICS cook. “They could all pack in a bathtub and cook chilis, I have no control over that,” Shepard said.

He relies on a core group of repeat judges, so since “their tastes are kind of what they are, they may be helping the same team win over and over, I don’t really know.”

While the Spice Boys are the most serious competitor, the other 15 teams are no slouches, although Team Toilet Bowl, Dead Serious, The Nunn family and Hot Lips kissing booth, all traditional crowd favorites, have since retired.

Taking part will be Leslie Short with Lighthouse Chili; Chuck Stubbs with Water Dog; Dana Kelly with Mad Cow; Larry Darnell with Pepper Boyz; Bobby Grubbs with Big Shots; Joe Minor with Team Lucky; Mark Meadows with Blue Line Chili; Tommy Darsey with the Grill Deal; James Leadbetter with Great Bowels of Fire; Dwight Jackson with This-N-ThatCatering LLC; Gary Carlson with Uncle Bugs; Neal Trafford with Firefighters Forever; Vicki Gullang-Harris; Andrew Bodrey; and Todd Kurn.

In the center of the island as well, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department will be selling chili, chili dogs, hotdogs, funnel cakes and more in the lighthouse parking lot.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor


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