Some like it hot. Many more like it extremely hot. Some say beans are a must, but a hard core of aficionados adamantly disagrees.

Some add tomatoes, onions and other vegetables to the basic dish of ground beef seasoned with hot peppers, but purists contend these only adulterate the taste.

Chili. No matter how you make it, no matter how you eat it, it is a dish that engenders a passion as fiery as the chili peppers that go into it.

So when it comes to the most intensely watched and talked-about game of the football season -- the Super Bowl -- what better dish is there to serve than chili?

But what kind of chili? Therein lies the rub. Many chili aficionados prefer to make their own concoctions from scratch, but hundreds of less intrepid cooks rely on the growing number of quick-fix chili mixes now on the market.

To help these cooks select the best mix, The Washington Post decided to conduct a taste test of 14 packaged seasoning mixes and three chili sauces that come in jars -- all available in Washington-area supermarkets and specialty food stores.

The testers were Texans, of course. True, there is some dispute among ardent chili lovers over which state makes the best chili. In addition to Texas, many claim New Mexico, others point to Colorado, while some say the best can be found in Ohio, right in Cincinnati. Yet, there is considerable (although not firm) evidence that chili originated in Texas. Besides, Texas is the largest continental state and its residents seem to yell the loudest and longest when it comes to talking chili.

So The Washington Post Food Section ventured off to the office of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), where 19 staff members lent their brave stomachs to test a total of 17 different batches of chili. (The senator, like all Texans, is a chili buff but he was out of town -- fortunately, for his stomach's sake at least.)

The chili in question had all been made a day ahead to let the flavors fully develop before D-Day (Digestion Day). All dishes were prepared according to the packages' directions -- if beans were called for, beans were added; if the beans were optional, they were not included. If the amount of chili or cayenne pepper to be added was left up to the cook's discretion, all that came in the package was added. After all, these were hot-headed (and hard-stomached) Texans who were going to do the tasting.

Once reheated, the dishes -- labeled simply by numbers, no brand names were evident -- were ready for the tasting. And immediately, even before a single taste was taken, controversy erupted as several Texans objected to the presence of kidney beans in some of the chilies. "Texans don't eat chili with beans," said one. Another, while admitting that there is a difference of opinion over using beans, said that even if Texans eat beans, they would only eat pinto beans. "No Texan could stomach chili with kidney beans."

With the preliminary arguments out of the way, the tasting began in earnest, aided with sips of water and Saltine breaks between bites. Even then, three tenderfooted souls couldn't make it through all 17 bowls.

In the end, 16 fiery tongued tasters cast their votes -- rating each chili on a scale of five down to one -- but not without noting that, overall, they were greatly disappointed.

For one thing, one tester noted, "when you taste chili you expect it to be hot. But only two come close." Virtually all agreed -- even those who admitted to liking their chili mild -- that if they were making these dishes at home, they would pour in considerably more spice, and then, as one tester said, "suffer the price for the next few days."

As a result, it was no surprise when it came to tallying up the votes that there was no clear stand-out. Instead, four brands tied for first place. They were, in alphabetical order: D.L. Jardine's Texas Chili (the powdered mix version), McCormick Hot Chili Seasoning Mix, Old El Paso Chili Seasoning Mix and Tabasco 7 Spice Chili Recipe (in a jar).

Jardine's scored well because testers said it was the hottest of the chilies. Tabasco, on the other hand, was ranked high for its, "nice, multi-flavored taste." As for McCormick, "it's a go for chili powder lovers," one tester commented. Others liked Old El Paso for its "decent flavor."

Close behind the top-ranked four was Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili, which many of the tasters later said they used as a starting point for their own home chili. "It may not necessarily be the best, but because of the packaging {it comes in a brightly colored box with little packets of paprika, onion and garlic, oregano, chili powder, and red pepper} you're kind of sold on it," said Allison Silberberg, Bentsen's chief research assistant.

But in the end, the testers found that fancy packaging and high prices do not necessarily a better chili make. Two of the top-rated chilies were among the least expensive. Old El Paso costs 59 cents; McCormick, 63 cents for a small packet of seasoning to which one pound of ground beef, tomato sauce and beans (yes, beans) were added.

On the other extreme, the most expensive -- Cattlebaron Hot Chili Fixin's, at $3.99 for a 15 3/4-ounce jar to which a pound of beef must be added -- was a clear loser. "Awful. Tastes like meat and tomato sauce, a Chef Boy-ar-dee wanna-be," said one tester. Tied for last was The Brown Bag Chili Mix, which came in a cute brown bag filled with separate seasoning packets. "This recipe should be retired," one tester said.

Tasters also found that jars of ready-made "fixin's" -- as the manufacturers like to call their products -- are not necessarily any better than powders. In fact, D.L. Jardine's powder mix fared considerably better than its jar of sauce, which came in third from the bottom.

Here are the specific rankings, in alphabetical order within each category:

Top ranked: D.L. Jardine's Texas Chili (powdered mix), McCormick Hot Chili Seasoning Mix, Old El Paso Chili Seasoning Mix and Tabasco 7 Spice Chili Recipe (spicy version).

Runner Up: Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili Kit.

Acceptable: Carroll Shelby's Original Texas Brand Chili, Mickey Gilley's Seasonings for Wild Bull Chili, Six Gun Chili Mixin's and Tio Sancho Chili Seasoning Mix.

Fair: French's Chili-O, Hard Times Chili (Texas Spice Mix), Knorr Chili, Lawry's Chili Seasoning Mix and El Paso Chili Co. Spices & Fixin's.

Poor: D.L. Jardine's Texas Style Chili Fixin's (16-ounce jar).

Clear losers: The Brown Bag Chili Mix, Cattlebaron Hot Chili Fixin's.