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Family cooking competition ideas: ready, set, cook!

If you’ve ever wanted to participate in a reality cooking show but aren’t exactly a seasoned chef, a family cooking competition is your answer. The best part about in-home cook-offs? They’re not televised, so it’s a totally pressure-free environment and a hundred times more fun. Let’s go over three of the most common cooking competition formats and find out which one your family might enjoy the most.

Close-up of a hand chopping vegatables
Alyson McPhee/Unsplash

Try the mystery ingredients basket challenge

This challenge pits two equally-divided teams against each other. It’s a great activity if you have equal numbers of adults and children on each team. Impartial judges are preferred, but if not available, each team can judge the other’s dish.

  • What you’ll need: two boxes of five easy-to-use ingredients and one “difficult” ingredient (total of 6), two competing teams
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Take a cue from insanely popular (and competitive!) shows like Chopped Junior by hosting your own mystery ingredients box challenge at home. Fill a box with five common ingredients like your grocery store veggies and grains. 

  • Here’s the challenge: add an extra ingredient that requires a little more inventiveness and creativity. Think: animal liver, oysters, or vegetarian-friendly items like fermented beans, or fiddlehead ferns.

Give each team 10 to 15 minutes to plan their recipes and 45 minutes to prep, cook, and serve. Make sure each team has access to necessary cooking surfaces and basic tools like knives and spatulas. You can set ground rules about whether or not the spice rack is off the table, and whether or not cooking is limited to the stovetop.

Make it simple with a follow-the-recipe cook-off

To make things simpler for families with young children, you can prepare a recipe that each team must follow. Whoever cooks up the tastiest version wins.

  • What you’ll need: enough copies of the recipe for the number of teams, the ingredients box, the appropriate tools.

This type of competition relieves some pressure off the participants by giving them steps to follow instead of having to come up with their own. It also gives you an excuse to use up some soon-to-spoil ingredients in your fridge or pantry, saving you big bucks and less time composting.

  • Cooking and judging: Some classic recipes include a breakfast plate of pancakes, eggs, and fruit, salad and garlic bread, and loaded pasta with different veggies, proteins (or meat substitutes), and cheeses. One neutral judge evaluates each plate based on visual presentation, taste, and how true to the recipe it is. Tom’s of Maine likes the breakfast idea.

Print out a mock scorecard if you have young kids and award the winner(s) ribbons. For older kids, offer age-appropriate rewards like a gift card to their favorite store, a small cash prize, or a basket of yummy goodies.

Edgar Castrejon/Unsplash

For older kids and adults, tackle the three-course meal competition

100 Days of Real Food says cook-offs are a great way to get teens involved in the kitchen and out of their room. Go all out with a three-course meal tournament. We suggest dividing the family into just two teams to ensure enough room for cooking. Challenge each team to come up with an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert.

  • What you’ll need: All the ingredients laid out on the counter or on a dinner table, two teams, cooking tools, a timer, scorecard signs for fun
  • The rules: Give the teams 20 minutes to whip up an appetizer, 45 minutes to perfect their main dish, and 40 minutes to prepare a dessert. Between each round, have the judge or judges hold up a scorecard for each team’s dish. In the end, the team with the most points wins. Set the timer at the beginning of each round and count down in five-minute increments. This will light a fire under each team and make the atmosphere feel even more competitive. It also makes the cook-off more fair for everybody involved.

This well-paced competition makes for some fond memories and new go-to recipes for the whole family. Thus, we especially recommend this for large holidays. Alternatively, you can make it a once-a-month Sunday tradition to bring the family closer together. 

Now it’s your turn to plan, shop for ingredients, and prepare the kitchen for your family’s cooking competition. We’ve gone over three different cook-off ideas you can modify depending on your family’s size and your children’s ages. Whether you’re arranging a black box competition or a three-course meal series, you’ll enjoy watching family members work, battle, and laugh as they try to fix up the best-tasting plate.

In addition, check out our guide on how to get rid of cooking smells in your home or apartment.

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Deb Goncalves
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Deb's work has appeared on Moms, Babygaga, and WorldAtlas. When she's not working (that's hard to say about a Capricorn), she…
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