Have you ever thought about entering one of your creations in a cooking contest? Maybe you have, only to find out that, as in any competition, it takes strategy and perseverance to learn how to win a blue ribbon.
Here are a few of the tips for you that we picked up talking to hundreds of winning cooks. Use these strategies and you’ll surely heighten your chances of taking home that blue ribbon.
1. Most of the winners we know enter lots of recipes in many different categories and change their recipes according to the judges’ comments. The following year, they enter the modified recipes as well as a few new ones in different categories. Winning cooks spend hours experimenting and refining techniques.
2. Winning cooks try to catch the judges’ eyes. Their recipes are original, yet they stay within the contest parameters. For example, if they are making a two-crust pie, they use an unusual fruit, such as pears or persimmons, and they design a part-solid, part-lattice crust. To ensure a good look, entrants often add a garnish, such as fresh berries, at the last minute to prevent “bleeding.”
3. When sending a recipe to a cook-off, winning cooks pay particular attention to how it is written. They enter it into an online form or they use letter-size paper (not an index card unless the contest rules require this) and type or print neatly. They list the ingredients (spelled correctly) in the order they are used, with no abbreviations for measures. If the recipe calls for a can or package, they indicate the size in ounces: 1 can (12 ounces) tomatoes. Entrants also need to be specific about pan size, greased or ungreased, cooking temperature and time, and yield.
4. A winning recipe at any cook-off combines ordinary, easy-to-find ingredients to create a unique taste. According to officials from more than 100 cooking contests, judges look for a dish that has an addictive taste and pleasing texture, photographs well, and can be prepared in 30 minutes or less using no more than ten ingredients. Sponsors also want their products presented prominently.
5. When judges rate a prepared entry, taste is the most important criterion. Forty percent of the score is normally allotted for taste. Not only does a winning entry have to taste good, but its flavor also must have wide appeal. In general, judges like to see three or four seasonings added to ten or fewer main ingredients.
Good luck, and all of you hardworking cooks have our admiration for putting countless hours into perfecting your winning recipes.
Find some winners in Blue Ribbon Recipes, a cookbook from our sister publication, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Click here for two pickling recipes from a blue ribbon winner from Fitchburg, MA, Verna Soini.