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Mouthwatering Food Competitions Across the U.S.

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If you’re a foodie, seeking out award-worthy bites probably comes as second nature to you, whether it’s the latest menu from a James Beard winner, a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or an out-of-this-world neighborhood gem that’s yet to be discovered. But as much as foodies love to eat great food, they may get even greater satisfaction from winning a championship title with their own creations. These six unique food competitions around the country are open for anyone to enter and try for an award.

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World Cheese Dip Championship, Arkansas

A homemade cheese dip.
Credit: Jennie Brown/ Unsplash

In 2010, the inaugural World Cheese Dip Championship took place in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was a fitting place for the competition — after all, cheese dip is a staple of Arkansas cuisine. According to legend, the popular dish, most commonly a mixture of processed cheese and chili sauce, was invented in the state in 1935. Local restaurateur Blackie Donnely ran a chain of restaurants called Mexico Chiquito, and his original restaurant quickly became famous for the dip he created. Today, you can find cheese dip all over Arkansas in all sorts of variations: with meat or without, with vegetables or without, vegan, or with multiple types of cheese. Thousands of people come to Little Rock each October to sample the best cheese dips in the country during the championship event.

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American Pie Council's National Pie Championship, Florida

First place ribbon on pie.
Credit: DNY59/ iStock

Every year since 1995, all types of pie bakers — professional, amateur, and commercial — have come together in Orlando for the American Pie Council’s National Pie Championship. Contestants from Canada and the U.S. are allowed to compete in three divisions, submitting pies in wide-ranging and highly specific categories like savory pot pies, best vacation pies, chocolate pies, and creamsicle pies. More than 200 judges tasted more than 700 pies during the 2019 competition, when winners included professional competitor David Eaheart’s rye bread cream pie, commercial competitor Synergy Food Group’s traditional chicken pot pie, and amateur competitor Ron Brontsky’s peach pie.

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World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, Louisiana

Cups of seafood gumbo with rice.
Credit: sandoclr/ iStock

Every October, a shotgun blast marks the start of the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff in New Iberia, Louisiana. Gumbo, a Creole and Cajun meat or seafood stew, has been a staple in Louisiana culture for centuries; the first written record of the dish was from a New Orleans reception in 1803. New Iberia chose to honor that heritage in 1988 with the first championship, which was actually a fundraiser to help the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce pay off its mortgage. The first event had just 12 booths; now there are more than 80 booths competing and thousands of attendees. Cooks start preparing their entries at 6 a.m. the day of the competition — professionals can choose the seafood or non-seafood category, while amateur cooks can enter in the seafood, chicken and sausage, or melange categories.

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National Gingerbread House Competition, North Carolina

Granddaughter and grandmother making the roof of Christmas gingerbread house.
Credit: Novikov Alex/ Shutterstock

In 1992, a group of community members in Asheville, North Carolina, celebrated the holidays by making gingerbread houses. It was meant to be a one-time event, but they decided to continue the tradition annually. The celebration led to what’s now the world’s largest gingerbread house competition. Past judges have included James Beard-award winning chefs, sugar artists, and museum curators. All creations must be at least 75% gingerbread to be eligible to win. In 2019, the competition drew 226 competitors, but the 2020 competition was held virtually. The winning display was called “St. Nick's Christmas Decor Shop” and featured Santa seeing children in a tiny Christmas village decorated with Christmas trees.

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Southern Hushpuppy Championships, Texas

A dish of hot homemade deep fried hushpuppies.
Credit: Cheryl E. Davis/ Shutterstock

For almost 50 years, the Southern Hushpuppy Championships have crowned a winning deep-fried cornbread ball each November in Lufkin, Texas. There are typically about 20 teams of four, who compete for a grand prize of more than $1,000. Hushpuppies are ubiquitous throughout the South, and although the championship is in Texas, the dish was actually invented in South Carolina. It’s first official mention was in a 1903 article calling it “red horse bread.” The name “hushpuppies” didn’t appear until about 20 years later. At the championships, chefs aim for surprising recipes to win the grand prize — instead of just plain deep-fried cornbread, they add ingredients like crawfish, cream cheese, and bacon.

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Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship, Wisconsin

Very cheesy grilled cheese sandwich.
Credit: George Dolgikh/ Shutterstock

The Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship was created in 2012 to highlight the best cheeses from Wisconsin’s thriving dairy industry. Amateur and professional cooks compete in four categories: classic (just cheese), classic plus one (cheese and one extra ingredient), classic plus extras (cheese and unlimited extra ingredients), and classic dessert (cheese and added sweet fillings). There’s a separate competition just for chefs ages 12 to 17. Most importantly, all sandwiches must be made with cheese from Wisconsin. Competitors — up to 100 of them, with 20 allowed per category — come from all over the country, and anyone can sit in the bleachers and watch for free. Past winners include 2018’s Esther Hill, who created a savory sandwich with sourdough, Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese (similar to Gruyere), herbed butter, and preserves with quince, apple, red wine, and shallots. In 2015, Zach Washa made a tantalizing dessert sandwich with chocolate-chip bread, mascarpone, raspberries, chocolate covered bacon, dulce de leche, and whipped cream.

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