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Contestants battle for blue ribbons in the Iowa State Fair pie eating contest. Des Moines Register

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Are you an amateur home cook with a recipe that your family and friends love? You could enter an Iowa State Fair live-judged food contest and win some of the almost $50,000 in cash, gift cards and prizes up for grabs this year — and your first blue ribbon.

And Iowa State Fair food contests are not just about pies, cake decorating and canning. With close to 30 new food contests for 2019, amateur contestants can compete with their favorite recipes for dips, snack mixes, brisket, banana bread and even healthy snacks for kids.

And speaking of kids, there are plenty of food contests for young people, ages 5 and older.

Interested in Iowa food news? Follow @briantaylorcarlson on Facebook, @BriinDSM on Twitter and @briindsm on Instagram.

"We want to encourage people to not be intimidated and come join us because it's fun," said Karen McKilligan, food superintendent at the Iowa State Fair. "And if you have a recipe that your family loves and that you've worked on to perfect and you think you've got it just right or if you want to try something new and be adventurous, come enter the fair because there are opportunities to do just about any kind of cooking or baking or food preparation or presentation that you'd like to do."

Mindy Williamson, Marketing Director of the Iowa State Fair said eight more pie contests have been added this year and that will be the most ever at the Fair.

And the best part about entering a food contest is that you don't have to pay admission to the Fair when you observe the judging on August 6-7 (but your contest may not take place on those dates). Last year, the Iowa State Fair had over 9,500 entries in close to 170 divisions and 750 classes.

Here's how to enter

Entering a contest at the Iowa State Fair is easier than you think. All entries in the Food Department must be the product of the exhibitor and made in their home kitchen and not a means of livelihood. The deadline is July 1.

To enter a contest:

  1. Look for a food division in which you think your dish could enter and win. The Premium Book where all contests and rules are listed can be found at iowastatefair.org/participate/competition/how-to-enter.
  2. Register as a food exhibitor at iowastatefair.org by July 1. Registration is $10 and gives the contestant 10 entry tags — small square identification stickers you receive from the Entry Department to be filled out and placed on the bottom of the board or plate used for your entry. These tags will be mailed to the contestants and additional tags are 50 cents each. 
  3. Read the rules in the Premium Book for your particular contest. 
  4. Bring your dish to the Iowa State Fair at least 30 minutes before judging time for your particular contest. A full schedule of cooking events can be found in the Premium Book online

Be sure to bookmark these frequently-updated special dining features:

If you need to bring your dishes a day, two days or a week ahead, McKilligan said fair organizers can freeze or refrigerate food entries to preserve them until the contest or reheat items that need to be reheated or microwaved if they have to be stored ahead of time.

And fret not about having to walk your dish across the massive parking lot. McKilligan said when you register as an exhibitor, along with your entry fee tags, you'll receive a drop-off pass which allows you to enter the fairgrounds through Gate 9 which is the southwest corner of the Fairgrounds. 

Contestants can bring dishes directly to the Elwell Building and drop off at the southwest corner of the building in the 15-minute loading zone. 

Prizes and rules for each contest are determined by each contest's sponsor.

New food contests

Here are the new food contests at the Iowa State Fair for 2019:

  • 9x13 Versatility — Can be a main dish, side dish, bread, rolls or dessert
  • AllSpice Jerky Contest — Use any combination of AllSpice Culinarium rubs, blends, spices, oils or kinds of vinegar to create a unique beef jerky
  • Bake Your Best White Cake — From scratch, of course
  • Best Mardi Gras King Cake
  • Bring Your Best Dip — Hot or cold, anything goes
  • The Campground Throwdown — With eight ways to win, contestants from the campground can enter to win a new Traeger Grill with breakfast dishes, sides, entrees, desserts and more
  • Celebrate Oakridge. Celebrate Cuisine Diversity! — Authentic African dishes 
  • Cinnamon Ridge Satisfying Favorites with Beef & Pork — Casseroles or hot dishes featuring beef or pork
  • Dakota Style Pretzel Craving Creation — Create a dish using Dakota Style pretzels
  • Famous Brisket — Contest sponsored by Famous Dave's BBQ
  • Fruit Based Beer Jam — Create a fruit-based jam using beer as an ingredient
  • Get Creative with Grass-fed Beef!
  • Give Us Your Tots! — Sponsored by the Barton Family Trio (including award-winning hog caller, Kyle Barton), entrants present a dish made with tater tots, cheese and at least one vegetable
  • Go WILD with Wildtree — Create a main dish using Wildtree Kids Cheez Blend
  • Healthy Snack for Children
  • Homemade Two-Crust Cherry Pie
  • Iowa’s Best Bacon Dessert — Anything goes for this contest where contestants create desserts made from bacon
  • Iowa’s Best Family Team Dessert — Cook a dessert as a family using at least one Iowa ingredient
  • Kids Sweet Treats — A sweet treat contest open to entrants ages 5 to 15
  • Most Festive Birthday Cake
  • Peach Blend Two-Crust Pie — A combination of fresh peaches blended with any other fruit
  • Prize Winning Pastries
  • Rana Pasta Creations — Create a recipe using Rana pasta
  • Sandwiches We Like
  • Wild Game Contest — Create an entree using any wild game meat of your choice - may be any fish or game found in Iowa
  • Winner Winner Chicken Dinner — Bring your best chicken recipe
  • Youth Decorated Cakes — Contest open to youth ages 17 and under and includes five classes of cakes including sugar artistry, sculpted cakes and cake balls

The last day of the Fair — Aug. 18 — is called Extreme Sunday with crazy contests such as Fruit-Based Beer Jam, Be Creative with Mrs. Wages and Rana Pasta Creations.

Unique opportunities abound like one contest that allows contestants to take a shot at getting their food product on grocery store shelves. The Great Iowa Food Challenge (TGIF) is a contest hosted by Valentine Food Company and gives the winning creators of barbecue sauces, dry rubs, fruit spreads, salsas and other sauces a chance to have their product(s) sold at Hy-Vee in Indianola.

"If you love food and if you love competitions, give it a chance because the experience has been rich and rewarding to a lot of people," McKilligan said. "Come see what it's all about by participating."

For more information, visit iowastatefair.org/participate/competition/how-to-enter.

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