How To Have A Summer Charity Cook-Off

cook-offThis post was written by a guest contributor.

Eager to give back to your community? Have a cause you want to support this summer? While there are many ways to go about fundraising, this time of year we’re particularly fond of cook-offs. Holding one has some immediate benefits for everyone involved: it allows everyone to enjoy the summer weather outdoors, it motivates participants with a little friendly competition, and it involves food! This last point is especially useful when it comes to bringing in money for your specific cause. Everyone likes to eat, and the opportunity to taste and judge a variety of chefs’ best offerings is a great incentive for people to come out.

But how does one pull together such an event? It’s not hard once you know the preparatory steps involved. So, if you think a cook-off might be the thing for your charity event this summer, read on.

What exactly does a cook-off involve?

While there are certainly many ways to go about it, in our experience charity cook-offs involve teams that cook in competition with each other. These teams often represent local restaurants, and they’re usually constrained by a specific theme (chili, BBQ, etc.). They pay to enter (the competition offers a nice opportunity to advertise their restaurants), while participants pay to eat the food prepared by the teams. A portion of the money brought in will cover expenses for putting the event together, while the rest goes to the charity being supported. Often corporate sponsors are brought in as well to help defray the costs or donate prizes.

Assemble a committee.

This often needs to be done months in advance, as planning a charity cook-off can be a major undertaking. Your committee will be responsible for selecting a charity, planning the theme, contacting restaurants and teams about participating, and getting out the word so people actually show up. Since your committee will have their own lives and work to attend to, trying to pull something like a charity cook-off in a short time is all but impossible.

Decide upon a date.

This might seem like a small detail, but in reality a lot goes into this decision. You’ll want to investigate what other events are happening in your local community and find a day with little else going on. It’s common courtesy and in your charity’s best interest to not plan your event on the same day as another charity event.

Choose the theme.

cook off bbqIt’s common to run with something universally loved like BBQ. It’s a safe bet likely to draw a significant crowd. If you go that route, you might consider narrowing it down to a more specific sub-genre: ribs, pulled-pork, dry rub or wet sauces, etc. Or you can run with another crowd pleaser like pasta, or something a bit riskier like, say, sushi or Mediterranean. Both types of food have enough devotees that you should still be able to draw a sizable crowd. Who knows, the novelty might manage to draw an ever larger crowd than BBQ or chili.

Brush up on health code.

This one catches people by surprise sometimes. But yes, if you’re holding a public event in which people pay money for food, you’ll need to abide by all appropriate health codes. When you’re trying to raise money for charity, the last thing you want to deal with is concern among the patrons about food safety or, heaven forbid, people getting sick.

Select judges.

Any competition needs judges, and if the winners of your cook-off receives a cash prize or some other reward (we recommend they do), you want the judging to be fair and meaningful. That means finding another chef with the knowledge and expertise (and name recognition, if possible) to weigh in effectively and without bias.

cook off prizeSpread the word.

What good is a charity event if no one shows up to offer their money. No matter how strong the planning, how professional the execution, and how delicious the food, you still have to spread the word before people actually show up. This involves sending out a press release to local media and putting up signs around town, having participants blast the event on their social media channels, and advertising on your local radio or TV news station. You should also get signs made affordably by using a website like  

So, there you have it: Our best tips for pulling off your summer charity cook-off. Follow the steps above and you’ll go a long way towards raising money for that special charity that means so much to you and your organization.


  1. Julie Wood says

    This sounds like a great way to help raise money for a charity. I have been to a Charity cook off in my town and I thought the food was great. They had a big one last summer. I do not think that I could pull this off though.

  2. I’ve heard of Car Washes, Silent Auctions and Bake-Offs to raise money for Charities, but never a Cook-Off. I think this is wonderful idea and your tips are great on how to get started.

  3. this is a great idea – food for thought!

  4. Rebecca Kellerman says

    I think selecting a committee is the most important part. It’s so much work to do alone, and you want to make sure that you pick adequate and hard-working committee members.

  5. Sounds like a great idea!

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