The first step in organizing a cooking contest is to decide on a location, event date and potential sponsors. A cooking contest could take place in conjunction with some other event, such as a holiday bazaar or a community fair, or it can be a stand-alone event. The location itself depends on the number of participants, the number of people expected to attend and the type of cooking involved. Barbecue cooking contests are traditionally held outdoors, where participants have plenty of space to set up large grills and smokers. Other types of cooking contests require access to kitchen equipment such as stoves, ovens and coolers, so a indoor location is necessary. There must be enough room at the location to accommodate the participants and be sure that each one has adequate space to prepare and cook his food. An alternative to contests that involve cooking on-site is to have a cooking contest for food items made in each participant's home or business ahead of time. Baking contests are good examples of this type of contest; the contestants bring their prepared baked good and it is set out to be judged on appearance before being judged on taste.
Whether the contest focuses on barbecue, baking, main dish, raw food, preserved food, it's a good idea to set a theme so that there is some continuity in the food prepared as part of the contest. It is easier for judges to compare similar foods, thus choosing the best out of a particular category, than it is for them to judge across an entire spectrum of food types. For example, a baking contest might have a pie theme. A barbecue contest might have a smoked pork theme. A main dish contest theme might be use of local ingredients, or best pasta dish.
Judges for a cooking contest can be professionals from the food industry, such as chefs, restaurant owners or food critics. But they can also simply be local people with an appreciation for good food and a willingness to sample many different kinds of the same type of food. Judges should have particular standards to judge by, with a certain percentage or points given to each standard, so that it is easy to tabulate the score of each entry and determine its ranking in the contest.
Participants, of course, are the main ingredient in a cooking contest. Without participants, you have no entries, and thus no contest. The best way to find participants is to publicize the cooking contest and offer prizes. Cash prizes are always popular, but even small prizes and the recognition that comes from winning a contest is enough for many folks to get involved. Another thing to consider is whether food professionals, such as chefs and caterers, will be allowed to enter the contest.