Chow Town

August 11, 2013

Judging the 2013 National Beef Cook-Off

Have you ever dreamed of winning a recipe contest?

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

Have you ever dreamed of winning a recipe contest?

Or, maybe your idea of fun would be to taste prize-worthy dishes. Oh, the dreams of a foodie!

It all came true for me when I helped judge the 2013 National Beef Cook-Off.

I could not believe it when I got the invitation — and being a part of the action was as wonderful as I dreamed it might.

While “mum’s the word” before the event, I can now share the exciting story with you. In addition, I gleaned food trend insight and contest tips along the way that I am eager to share.

The acclaimed food event is 39 years old and the Grand Champion will win $25,000.

These facts, along with food trivia such as Julia Child once was a judge, put this contest in the very top tier of recipe contests and food cook-offs.

The theme for this year’s contest was “Making The Most of My Plate,” and entrants for the contest, sponsored by the American National CattleWomen, were to develop original beef recipes.

Categories included Belt-Tightening Beef Recipes for a healthy affordable beef dish, Semi-Home Made Beef Recipes where easy preparation was a key target, Real Worldly, Real Simple Beef and Potato Recipes that combined lean beef and potatoes in international dishes, and Craveable Fresh Beef and Fresh California Avocado Recipes that focused on California cuisine and fresh California avocados.

For two days, we tasted, discussed and dissected 21 beef dishes. One perfectly prepared dish was presented to the panel of judges every 30 minutes over the two days, so we had time really taste and analyze each.

Each of us scored each recipe based on a 100-point criteria. So many current, great recipes made the task more than difficult.

The regional winners have just been announced and you can find a list of the winners and the recipes online at the

National Beef Cook-Off website


You will have to wait until November to learn which recipe is the Grand Champion. And yes, I can keep a secret!

What I learned

While we may not sit down to an old-fashioned pot roast like Grandma made or big, juicy restaurant-style steaks every night, beef can be the center of lots of great tasting dishes.

Many dishes in the final round of the contest featured ethnic flavors including Asian, Mexican and Italian favorites.

If the recipes I saw are any indication, you will be enjoying lots of salads, sandwiches, tacos, bowls, and burgers with bolder, international flavors.

There was a list of several eligible cuts to select from for the contest, but it is interesting that flank steak, top sirloin, and lean (95 percent lean) ground beef were the most popular beef cuts in these dishes.

Common flavor additions, besides the required potatoes or avocados, included feta cheese, arugula, quinoa, and red peppers — both fresh and roasted.

There were very few onions, though once that would have been a common flavor and aroma boost.

Do not be afraid of adding fresh herbs like cilantro or basil, or fresh produce such as citrus fruit, cabbage, fennel or lettuce, even when holding fast to a lower budget or limited cooking time.

To up the flavor in your beef dishes, follow the lead of these contestants and add Korean barbecue sauce, Greek Seasoning, pesto or other flavor-packed sauces or vinaigrettes.

Enter recipe contests

Enter this contest or any of the many recipe contests and cook-offs. Cook your original recipe several times to be sure it tastes and looks as good you hope.

Follow the rules — check your entry carefully to be sure you enter it correctly, use all of the required ingredients, but no more than allowed, write it clearly and get it in by the deadline.

You never know, but you may win big. Even if you don’t win, you may discover a new favorite food and most certainly, will enjoy some great dishes along the way.

The judges

To say I had fun was an understatement and to be part of such a prestigious contest was incredible. The other judges were Kristen Browning-Blas of

The Denver Post, Leslie Green, blogger at and Barbara Kiebel of

, and we instantly bonded.

These professionals were insightful, careful judges — but we laughed, shared and talked food.

Our hosts, the American National CattleWomen, and especially Sherry Hill, sponsored a well-run, highly organized contest and were delightful and gracious as well.

What a memorable experience and I am grateful too have been a part of it.

Kathy Moore is one of two cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. Her most recent cookbook is Triple Slow Cooker Entertaining. She develops the recipes for the “Eating for Life” column for The Kansas City Star and is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier. She blogs at

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