Behind the Scenes of the Tailgating Contest Recipe Judging

Tailgating Recipe Touchdown Challenge Contest Judging

Conflict! Suspense! Glory! Tater Tots! Emotions ran high, and stomach conditions became rough last Wednesday in the CHOW.com test kitchen, as we judged the top recipes from our KC Masterpiece Tailgating Recipe Touchdown Challenge. Out of 69 total entries, one was selected to win the grand prize of $2,000, and three were chosen as runners-up, each to receive $1,000. Here's the scoop on how we chose the winners.

The contest worked like this: Our food editors were obligated by the rules to choose the grand prize winner from the top three vote-getting recipes. The three runners-up could be either from that group or from the remaining entrants. All of the recipes were evaluated based on the following categories: taste, creativity/originality, and ease of preparation. Then we narrowed it down to our top five choices (in addition to the top three vote-getters), to prepare and have the CHOW staff taste. These five recipes received scores between 1 and 100 points in each of the three categories, with taste weighted to represent 50 percent of the vote, creativity/originality 25 percent, and ease of preparation 25 percent, as outlined in the rules.

The grand prize went to BIG SCORE SLIDERS, delicious mini pulled pork sandwiches with a secret curry flavoring in the slaw. Santa Maria Style Tailgate Beans, Jalapeño BBQ Burgers, and The Ultimate BLT won the runners-up prizes. (For more details on the winners, see the contest page.) The remaining four recipes stacked up this way:

The Crabby Johns Touchdown Shrimp (14 points taste, 15 points creativity, 15 points ease = 44 points total) were universally described as "way too salty" by our staff. The idea for the recipe was pretty original: kind of a cross between a peel 'n' eat New Orleans–style "bbq shrimp" dish and a more standard grilled shrimp skewer recipe, but with a buffalo wings–flavored sauce. It was also easy enough to make. But ultimately the flavor depth just wasn't there: It needed more zing.

The Spicy Smokey Pulled Chicken Sandwiches (12 points taste, 9 points creativity, 17 points ease = 38 points total), though moist and light, were weirdly spicy and bland at the same time. There was significant heat from the chipotle chiles, but not enough salt. Also, it was too much work for what you got: only enough meat for four sandwiches (though, strangely, the recipe made enough sauce to cover a football field).

The Grilled Jalapeño Poppers (11 points taste, 8 points creativity, 16 points ease = 35 points total) were simply not cooked enough, per the recipe instructions. The jalapeños were still very firm, and the bacon, which you partially cooked before stuffing inside the peppers, was flaccid rather than crisp. Points for an interesting mixture of cheeses (Gruyère, fontina, and white cheddar), but other than that, it was a pretty standard popper recipe. Easy to make ahead before putting on the grill, however.

The Tater Tot Pita Sandwich (7 points taste, 7 points creativity, 20 points ease = 34 points total) was indeed easy to make: Heat a bunch of frozen Tater Tots and insert them into a pita along with American cheese, yellow mustard, and optional bread and butter pickle chips. But it fell down on taste. Staffers remarked that it came off like a starch bomb, and that they would have preferred that the cheese had been melted and the pita toasted. Also, putting frozen Tater Tots inside a pita is creative, for a drunk person. Low score aside, it should be noted that the Tater Tots not used in the recipe, cooling and congealing on a baking sheet, were greedily consumed by all.