Cooking Contests of Yesteryear – Early Years, History of Competitions for Home Cooks

Cooking and recipe contests have been going on for many years, origins dating back into the 1800s and probably earlier. In October 1873, a novel idea was introduced at a county fair – they held a cooking contest for the young ladies of Rome, Georgia and the neighboring towns. This was something new and exciting for these young women and yes, being 1873, men were not included in this contest to demonstrate cooking ability, rather this was preserved for the younger, unmarried ladies to show off their skills in the kitchen (perhaps to help snag husbands?!). In this contest of the 1870s, the women who produced the best meat and vegetable dinner won a cooking stove or cash prize. Similar to the way cooking contests are often judged today, the “best dinners” were decided based on taste and appearance, as selected by the judges. And, how cool, one skilled young lady of only 12 years old won herself twenty dollars for excellence – that’s a lot of money for that time period!

Cooking Contest History 1800s with Prizes for Best Dinners

“Encouraging the Culinary Art” – Early Cooking Contest held in 1873 with prizes for Best Dinners


In the Spring of 1899, the Boston Sunday Journal held a recipe contest, inviting readers to send in their best Original Chafing Dish recipe. Apparently, at this Turn of the Century time period near the brink of the 20th Century, as stated in the Sunday Journal contest advertisement “The chafing dish has passed from a luxury to almost a necessity” – wow, very interesting. The winner of the contest to be awarded the chafing dish fork and ladle shown in the picture, noted to be “handsomely mounted in real ebony” as well as “indispensable to the chafing-dish cook”. (By the way, notice how someone penciled in the word “NO!” after “DO YOU WANT THESE?” – I am curious if someone wrote that on their actual newspaper in 1899 never realizing their copy would end up in a future archive, or someone wrote that on later when this paper was  actually scanned for the newspaper archives!) This contest was to be judged by a lady editor of “American Kitchen Magazine”. Even back then there were cooking magazines!

Prize Chafing Dish recipe contest for home cooks circa 1899

Prize Chafing Dish Recipe Contest circa 1899, inviting readers of the Boston Journal to send in their best original chafing dish recipe!