By Mike Frees

Cooking contests have become a popular form of entertainment. From the Pillsbury Bake-Off to the Memphis in May barbecue contest, these events are staged all over the country throughout the year. Holding a cooking contest is a good way to publicize your organization, solicit donations and have fun all at the same time. When setting up a contest, one important step is to clearly define and document how the contest will be scored. It is likely that your judges will not be professional chefs or food critics, so you must help them understand how to determine fairly the contest winner.

Homemade Cherry Pie on Blue Gingham Checked Tablecloth
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Cherry pie baked for contest
woman with cake
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Woman about to taste fruit tart

Select the criteria by which the food will be judged. Possibilities will depend on the type of food being cooked, but could include taste or flavor, aroma, texture, appearance or presentation, tenderness and creative use of ingredients. Narrow down the criteria to between three and five to avoid making the scoring overly complicated.

Fine Dining Appetizer: Millefoglie di San Daniele e Porcini Marinati
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Artistically prepared dish

Determine a weight or importance for each criterion. Of course, you could decide that all criteria are equally important, but you may think that flavor, for example, should count twice as much as presentation. Assign points to each criterion appropriately. You could assign 10 points for flavor and 5 points for presentation in this example.

Female with clipboard
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Judge with clipboard for scoring

Create scoring sheets for use by the judges. These can be in the form of a grid, with columns for the selected criteria and a row for each cook or cooking team. Alternatively, you could create a separate sheet for each team's entry. The entrants should not be identified by name. Instead, assign a random number or code letter to each contestant; these assignments should be kept secret from the judges. Mark the code on the sets of serving containers to be used and give the appropriate set to each contestant.

Waitress serving bowl of appetizing, nourishing soup
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Woman carrying bowl of garnished soup

Conduct the contest and have the food carried to the judging room by "runners," so the judges do not know which team produced the food being delivered. The judges will sample each item, record the scores on the sheet and then add up the score for all criteria for each entrant. When all entries have been tasted, collect the scoring sheets and add up the scores for each cook or team from all judges. The highest total score will indicate the winner of the contest.