July 20, 2011
Four cooks nab National Beef Cook-Off category wins

AsianBBQSkirtSteak.jpgFour home cooks been named category winners in the 2011 National Beef Cook-Off, one of the most prestigious cooking contests in the country.

The four category winners, who were each awarded a $3,000 cash prize, showcased simple preparations and cooking techniques with beef, great flavors and healthful ingredients, organizers announced in a news release today.

The cookoff, which boasts a $25,000 grand prize, is second only to the Pillsbury Bake-Off in terms of prize money. The National Chicken Cook-off, which used to offer a $100,000 purse for the grand prize winner, has since shuttered.

The Cook-Off category winners are Tedd Smith, of Mount Vernon, N.Y, for his Asian Barbecued Skirt Steak (shown at left); Peggy Calhoun, of Portland, Ore., for her Steppin' Up Beef Fried Rice; Edwina Gadsby, of Great Falls, Mont., for her Asian Beef Sandwiches with Slaw; and Ellen Verdugo, of Gloucester, Mass., for her Flash in the Pan Stir-Fry. Click here to see all the finalists and recipes.

I had the opportunity to judge the National Beef Cook-Off this year. Talk about a tough gig right? Joking aside, all of these winners' dishes were outstanding displays of what we can do with beef besides grilling a steak or patting some ground round into a patty. And many times it was hard to pick just one winner from the five finalist dishes in each category.

My absolute favorite of these category winners? Gadsby's Asian-inspired beef sandwich, a savory, delicious sammie reminiscent of a Vietnamese banh mi. The crunch of the bread, the juicy cuts of strip steak, the crunchy slaw and the smooth and spicy spread made for a sandwich I haven't forgetten, and can't wait to try at home.

And for those wondering who scored the top prize - $25,000 and bragging rights as the best beef cook in the country - you'll have to wait a while longer. The Cook-Off champion will be announced Nov. 5 at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show.

That's different than in years past, when all winners were announced at the Cook-Off. But the contest has undergone some significant changes this year.

In years past, contestants submitted recipes and finalists were flown to the competition to cook their dishes, which were presented to sequestered judges for deliberation.

This year, four judges were brought to San Francisco to judge the final 20 dishes, which were prepared by professional cooks according to the contestant's recipe instructions.

The Cook-Off's shift from cooking contest to a recipe contest was needed both in terms of budget considerations and identity, said Sherry Hill, program director for the National Beef Cook-Off. There was a vibrant energy at the competition in years past, but the focus sometimes was too heavy on the contestant and not on the recipe itself.

"We wanted to be able to continue the program - it's important," she said. "But we had to come up with a way to contemporize it."

The array of ingredients, cooking techniques, cuts of beef and flavors were inspiring, she said.

"The contestants were able to give us health and convenience in an easy way," Hill said.

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