1. Keep it simple
"Don't get too fancy or complicated," says Annabelle Waugh, Canadian Living's food director. "Most of the time, the winners of these contests end up submitting something quite simple that, ultimately, is just really delicious and a unique idea."
Glo McNeill of Lunenburg, N.S., concurs. Her Luscious Lemon Pudding won in the Sweet Puddings and Pies category on Food Network Canada's "Recipe to Riches" TV show. "There are only five ingredients," she says of her winning dessert recipe. "It's extremely simple."
2. Follow the rules
All contests have rules -- and not only do the contestants have to abide by them, but the judges do, too. "We've had great recipes we couldn't use because the contestant broke a rule," warns Waugh.
3. Do your research
Before committing to entering a certain recipe, find out as best you can what the judges are looking for. For instance, when McNeill planned out her entry for "Recipe to Riches," she knew the idea was to turn the winning recipe into a President's Choice product -- so she chose her lemon pudding cake recipe accordingly. "When I knew Loblaws was looking for a product they wanted to market, it was common sense to make sure they didn't have anything like it in their freezers," she says. "Don't just do something that you think will work. Check it out and look at it from their point of view."
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Waugh agrees, noting that entries really need to speak to the nature of the contest. "If it's the most beautiful cake in the world, but we're judging a ‘Crazy Cakes' contest, then it may not be the best fit, no matter how gorgeous it is," she says. Another thing to keep in mind is whether the winning recipe will be photographed. "If it's just a sea of beige, that might play into our decision," Waugh says.
4. Stand out
Judges have to go through hundreds and hundreds of entries, says Waugh, so a great photo or recipe name can go a long way in getting them to pay attention to your recipe. "An eye-catching name that sounds really appetizing is going to give you a leg up in getting noticed," says Waugh, adding that a picture really is worth a thousand words.
5. Focus on the food
Above all, to win a cooking contest, a recipe has to taste good -- and not just to you and your family, but to the judges. "A recipe could be gorgeous and very trendy, but if it doesn't cut the mustard taste-wise, it's not going to win," says Waugh.
McNeill believes her recipe was a winner partially because of its broad applicability. "Very few people don't like lemon," she says. "It doesn't appeal to just a narrow margin of people."
6. Have a (short) story
"If you truly love and have passion for your recipe, that should shine through," says Waugh. "Pull on those heartstrings and you'll definitely have an advantage. We love a good story just as much as you do!"
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