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How the Heck Do Food52 Recipe Contests Work?

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If you've been a community member on Food52 for a while, you probably know about our contests—but you might not know how they work. And if you're new to Food52, you may have no idea what I'm talking about! Which is why we're here: Our recipe contests are a huge part of Food52, a big, constantly in-progress dinner party, and everyone is invited.

Portrait of the author, figuring out contest logistics.
Portrait of the author, figuring out contest logistics. Photo by James Ransom

"Our recipe contests are a cornerstone of Food52," says our founder Amanda Hesser. "We launched our site in 2009 with recipe contests because we thought it would be a fun and gratifying way for cooks to get involved in the site—and for their great talents to be celebrated." They're the reason our site is Food52 (52 weeks in a year, 52 contests), and at first, they were an experiment in crowdsourcing from smart, dependable home cooks: The winning recipe from each contest, as tested and determined by Amanda and co-founder Merrill in Amanda's kitchen, was published in two cookbooks—Volume 1 in 2011 and Volume 2 in 2012.

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Five years later, we care about our contests as much as ever: Some of the best parts of the contests are also the best parts of Food52—meeting new people, learning from their smart recipes, cooking from their recipes again and again. So many contest-winning, finalist, and Community Pick recipes have gone on to become our own standards. Like... the Magical Marvelous Memorable Cookies from drbabs, which was a Community Pick once upon a time and has been favorited nearly 5,000 times. Or kaykay's Absurdly Addictive Asparagus, winner of the Your Best Asparagus contest, which is truly addictive. Many of our contest regulars have gone onto write cookbooks, like MrsWheelbarrow and cheese1227—or been included in our Food52 cookbooks, like Baking. Clearly, we love cooking from your recipes (and so does everyone else—contest winners tend to be the recipes with the most favorites, saves, and views).

Recipes we wouldn't have known about if not for contests (and thank goodness we know about them):

Brown Butter Butternut Rolls

Brown Butter Butternut Rolls by inpatskitchen

One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf by deensiebat

Extraordinary Marinated and Roasted Chicken, Potatoes, and Chickpeas

Extraordinary Marinated and Roasted Chicken, Potatoes, an... by Selma | Selma's Table

Ridiculously Easy Macaroni and Cheese

Ridiculously Easy Macaroni and Cheese by mrslarkin

Coffee-Marinated Flank Fajitas with Pico De Gallo

Coffee-Marinated Flank Fajitas with Pico De Gallo by aargersi

Forbidden Rice Salad with Thai Coconut-Lime Dressing

Forbidden Rice Salad with Thai Coconut-Lime Dressing by Asha Loupy

So we want to make sure everyone knows how the contests work—what happens between the time we announce the contest to the time we announce the contest's winner, and everything we do behind the scenes.

How we run contests has changed only a tiny bit since we first gave you a behind-the-scenes tour in 2011, just by virtue of Food52 growing. This video is still helpful in understanding the basic process. Those who want a more detailed run-through, keep reading!

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Let's take it from the top!

First things first—we decide on a contest theme.

As Amanda says in the video above, this can be a pretty random process. It's almost always seasonally relevant (or aseasonal, something like "Your Best Mash-Up"). Sometimes we decide on a theme because we want your help making the site's collection of recipes more well-rounded (past themes include Your Best Cheap Feast, Your Best Open House Dish, or Your Favorite Ways to Eat Eggs for Dinner) and we want your help closing the gap.

We announce new contests every other Monday at 10 A.M. in both a post on the site and on our contest page. You can start submitting your recipes right away!

How to submit a recipe to a contest:

Once you've picked out the recipe you want to submit, hit "edit recipe" and scroll down to the drop-down menu called "Submit my recipe to a contest." Click the menu, select the current contest, and then save your recipe. That's it! You have until the following Tuesday to submit. And you can see what other community members are submitting on the contest page.

How to enter a recipe into a contest. (Yes, we know—this is not the most user-friendly nor immediately clear. We promise we're working on it!)
How to enter a recipe into a contest. (Yes, we know—this is not the most user-friendly nor immediately clear. We promise we're working on it!)

Next, Food52 editors and recipe testers read all the recipes submitted.

Yep, every one. Our head recipe tester Stephanie Bourgeois, her team of testers, and I divvy up all of the submissions and read every one, looking for recipes that really jump out at us—ones that are fairly seasonal, that use interesting techniques or ingredients in unusual ways, and ones that sounds really, really good. We initial the ones that stand out in a Google doc, and the 20 or so recipes with the most initials by them are nominated as Community Pick (CP) candidates.

It's recipe testing time.

Every other Friday at 10 A.M., we put out a call for recipe testers, which looks something like this:

Be a Recipe Tester for the Your Best Recipe with Dried Fruit Contest!
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Be a Recipe Tester for the Your Best Recipe with Dried Fruit Contest!

What are we looking for? We depend on the notes of recipe testers to help us narrow the 20 CP candidates down to two finalists and five CPs. (You can read more details on what exactly what we look for in testing notes on any of these "Be a Recipe Tester!" posts—like this one.) We take as many as three testers per recipe.

Most importantly, your input is valuable because these are your recipes; we want to know what your experience is of cooking them in your own home kitchens (not just our test kitchen). Also, uh, they're called Community Picks for a reason! We started doing them because we wanted you to be involved in the process of choosing and honoring the best recipes.

Who tests the recipes? Two groups of people test: our group of Food52 recipe testers (who work closely with our head tester, Stephanie), and any community members who want to! Instructions for signing up are included in all "Be a Recipe Tester!" posts. As long as you can send us testing notes by the following Tuesday at 6 P.M., we'd love for you to test a recipe (or two!).

Recipe Headnotes Hall of Fame

"This smooth and creamy pudding-like dessert was like having the best hummus of your life served as a dessert, if that makes sense." —for Baked Halva

"Well, she had me at 'fish' and 'sticks.'" —for Lime and Tarragon Aioli with Panko-Crusted Fish Sticks

"They are moist and tender and loaded with blueberries... When I took a bite it was like getting a big hug from Mom." —for Royal Wedding Scones

What will you do with the testing notes I send? We use them to figure out which recipes should be finalists and CPs, and we use the best ones as the headnote for the recipe. Another reason to make your words count and give honest feedback—it will help your fellow cooks make the recipe successfully.

Are all of the CP candidates tested? That's our goal! And the more testers we have, the closer we get to it. Unfortunately, sometimes not all of the recipes are tested, which means that they can't be further considered in that contest. (Go tell your friends! We always need recipe testers!)

Sometimes our recipe testing really does look this good!
Sometimes our recipe testing really does look this good! Photo by Linda Xiao

When the notes are in, we choose finalists and CPs.

Members of the editorial team read all of the testing notes we receive and take the testers' experiences and feedback on the recipe into account in choosing the contest's two finalists and five CPs. If testers loved a recipe, and found almost no fault (or a very small fault, like, "I might bump up the spice a little, but that's just me"), there's a good chance we'll make it a finalist.

Other positively reviewed recipes are chosen as CPs. Sometimes these are more recipes that the tester loved completely (but we've already chosen our finalists); sometimes they're recipes that got a bit more constructive criticism in the testers' notes, but was still really delicious. Either way, you can count on the tester's notes being helpful, and the recipe being a good one. Of the five CPs, we can unfortunately only photograph three—so we try to pick the CP recipes we think are either super-seasonal, especially smart, or just plain interesting to be photographed.

We test the finalist and CP recipes in the Food52 test kitchen and photograph them.

Tuesdays are a fun day in the Food52 office: Our Test Kitchen Chef Josh Cohen and Test Kitchen Manager Allison Bruns Buford test the finalist and CP recipes, making any additional notes. Then we photograph them here in the office, with our editors cum stylists Ali Slagle and Sarah Jampel working with our rotating cast of photographers to make each recipe look beautiful. (And then the rest of the Food52 happily eats the goods.)

We take two photographs—an ingredient shot and a final shot—for finalist recipes, and one final shot for CPs.

Photos by James Ransom
Above, the ingredient shot and finalist shot for a recipe (Roasted Radicchio and Shrimp with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette) photographed in 2012. Below, a recipe's (Sherried Mushroom Clafoutis) ingredient and final shots taken in May 2016! Photos by Linda Xiao

Meanwhile, we get the recipes into shape.

I read through each of the finalist and CP recipes again, editing for style (e.g. making sure certain words are capitalized and others aren't), grammar, spelling, and clarity (e.g. making sure the ingredients are listed in the order used, and that the steps make sense). I also add any testing notes from our test kitchen and any other testers. Our photo assistant Liz Andrew puts the final touches on the photos, and I upload them to the recipes.

Next, I upload the best testing note for each finalist and Community Pick. We look for headnotes that are constructive, concise, and leaning positive, so we may edit a headnote lightly so that it maintains the tester's experience (good or less good) but presents it in a friendly way.

We blow the trumpets and announce the finalists and CPs! And ask for your vote.

Every other Friday, we announce the finalists (at 12 P.M.) and Community Picks (at 2 P.M.) of a contest in posts on the site. Here are some examples of finalist announcements:

Vote for the Winner of Your Best Recipe Made with Coffee

Vote for the Winner of Your Best Recipe Made with Coffee by Food52

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Vote for the Winner of Your Best Recipe Made with Sesame

Vote for the Winner of Your Best Recipe Made with Sesame by Food52

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...and Community Picks announcements:

5 Crispy, Crunchy, Springy-as-All-Get-Out Shaved Salads

5 Crispy, Crunchy, Springy-as-All-Get-Out Shaved Salads by Food52

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5 Chicken Dinners (All Winners) for Spring and Summer

5 Chicken Dinners (All Winners) for Spring and Summer by Food52

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At this point, we need our community to vote! We ask for votes on the contest page—all you need to do is vote for the recipe you think should win the contest. (Only Food52 members can vote, and you can only vote once.)

Head to the contest page to vote for the finalist you think should win.
Head to the contest page to vote for the finalist you think should win.

We announce the winner!

After we announce our finalists, I email them with a list of Q&A questions, which we publish in the event that they do win. The following Wednesday, at 12 P.M., we count the votes, announce the winner, and share their answers to the Q&A questions so that the community can get to know the winner! Here are a few recent Q&As:

Meet the Winner of the Best Thing You Ate this Year

Meet the Winner of the Best Thing You Ate this Year by Food52

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Meet the Winner of Your Best Recipe with Parmesan!

Meet the Winner of Your Best Recipe with Parmesan! by Food52

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So what does the winner get?

Well, fame and glory—but also (and this is brand-new!) $100 to our Shop! (Contests that are sponsored will have their own prizing. The winner of one contest we ran last year got a whole year's worth of butter!)

Your recipe is also featured on the site, and once it's photographed and marked as a finalist, others are more likely to find and cook your recipe! Remember the Absurdly Addictive Asparagus I mentioned earlier? It's been favorited over 12,000 times! And new recipes like it (yours!) are being uploaded and entered all the time.

Did we answer your questions? Let us know what we missed in the comments below, and we'll try our darndest to answer them.

Tags: how to enter contests, food52 contests, recipe contests