Summer is the season for backyard cook-offs, and amateurs and pros alike can plan a spectacular one. To make your cook-off party an unforgettable event, add a theme to your cooking competition. Each unique theme can have its own decoration, drinks, side dishes, and special meal for the cooks. Party-throwers can even offer party favors to their guests.
Fast Food Theme
Hosts can get creative with this theme. The main dish for competing cooks to create should be a typical fast food dish — with their own unique twists, of course. Start with a base idea, such as cheeseburgers or chicken nuggets. A side of fries can either be offered by the host or can be one of the foods for the competitors to cook up. Alternative side dishes include vamped-up salads, onion rings, and apple slices. Hot fudge sundaes can be served as a dessert. All of these smaller dishes should be served in fast-food sized containers. These types of containers, also known as take-out containers, can be purchased at foodservice or warehouse stores, such as Gordon Food Services or Sam’s Club. Have guests take home leftovers in paper bags with a kids’-meal-style toy (any small toy). For the seating area, arrange chairs in sets of 4 around all the tables. Have a table set up with toppings, napkins, and straws. Create a drink area that’s reminiscent of a fast food restaurant by hanging poster-sized menus on the tables or wall behind the drink area. Place a toy cash register or two on the table, with the backs facing the guests. Make sure to have a paper or plastic crown ready for the winner of the cooking competition — the fast food king or queen.
Christmas in July Theme
Celebrating Christmas in July is already a popular amusement, and what could be more fun than a Christmas cook-off? Have cooking competitors whip up a favorite Christmas dish, or create a dish using a popular Christmas meal ingredient, such as ham. Side dishes can include cranberry sauce, bread rolls, and sweet potato casserole. Serve some pecan pie or sugar cookies for dessert. For decoration, pull out any Christmas decor you have that can stand up to the elements outdoors. Hang back up some of your Christmas lights (if you even took them down!). If you don’t want to expose your fake tree to the outdoors, or simply don’t have one, buy a plastic palm tree and decorate it Christmas-style. Have dishes of peppermints placed on all the tables. Don’t forget to hang up a mistletoe (and wear your “Kiss the Cook” apron)! Party favors can include summer-themed items, such as lip balm, flip flop bottle openers, mini sunscreens, or paper fans, wrapped up in leftover Christmas wrapping paper. Present the winner of the cook-off with a popular handmade Christmas gift for chefs, such as a jar mix or an herb wreath.
Garden Party Theme
This is a cook-off theme with a challenge: cook only vegetarian dishes. Don’t be afraid — there are plenty of delicious vegetarian meals for a cook to grill! Either pick a vegetable or a specific vegetarian dish for the chefs to prepare. Sides can include anything of the garden variety — salads, buns with apple butter, fresh veggies and dip, or even popcorn. Serve fruit smoothies, banana cake, or berry cobbler for dessert. For decoration, you can pick out lawn ornaments, such as garden gnomes and pink flamingos, or decorate with flowers and floral arrangements. Hang up sprigs of dried herbs. Chili pepper garland — popular for Mexican celebrations — can be found at party stores. On each table, place candles set in glass dishes full of corn kernels. Use eco-friendly items as party favors: packets of seeds, reusable totes, or plantable paper favors. Give the winner of the cook-off an Edible Arrangements bouquet or a gift card to the store; you could even make your own edible bouquet!
No matter what theme you choose, make sure you lessen the stress of a cook-off party by being prepared. If your cooks will be barbecuing, have plenty of charcoal and lighter fluid. Have extras of napkins, plates, plasticware, and cups. Either plan small games for the guests who won’t be cooking, or set up a yard game, such as horseshoes. Remind all guests ahead of time to eat a light breakfast — they will want to have room for taste-testing the cook’s dishes!
Check out these links for more info:
Grilled Vegetable Recipes
A Guide to Preparing and Cooking Grilled Vegetables
How to Make Edible Arrangements