Behind the Scenes: 2010 Annual Recipe Challenge Judging

In pursuit of the $25,000 top prize, readers sent in more than 6,000 entries. It took us two months to test the recipes and select the final 12. Here's a look at the final taste-off.

The Cooking Begins

Readers sent in more than 6,000 recipes, including this Marbelous Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze (pictured), entered by Edwina Gadsby, which won the Dessert category. It took eight judges (editors, our Test Kitchen director, and a nutritionist) three hours of eating, pondering, and, finally, voting, to select the winners.

Tough Rules Make a Fair Contest

Test Kitchen staffer Maryellyn Krantz (right) goes over the rules with judges Cathy Lacy, registered dietitian (center), and Gayle Butler, Editor in Chief of Better Homes and Gardens® magazine. Judges are not allowed to discuss the recipes; scoring is based on three criteria: taste (40 percent), practicality (30 percent), and creativity (30 percent).

No Substitutions

Every recipe is prepared just as it's submitted. Here, Jill Moberly, Test Kitchen recipe tester, crumbles goat cheese over individual servings of a Good and Healthy category semifinalist, Roasted Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad from Julie Hession of Las Vegas.

Tight Timing

Waiting causes greens to wilt and flavors to go flat, so the food is scheduled to come out of the Test Kitchen at 10-minute intervals. Here, Laura Marzen, Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen nutrition expert, adds cilantro to the Vanilla Peach Pork Chops with Green Onion Slaw eight minutes before the recipe is to be judged. The recipe, from Erin Renouf Mylroie of Santa Clara, Utah, went on to win the Grilling category.

Combine and Conquer

"I love the use of fresh ingredients," says Lynn Blanchard, Test Kitchen Director. "The combination of oranges and olives is very nice." The Simple Grilled Salmon with Kalamata-Orange Relish from Priscilla Yee of Concord, California, was a runner-up in the Everyday Easy category.

The Learning Goes Both Ways

"The contest gives us a peek into what our readers are cooking at home," says Lynn Blanchard, Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen Director (left). "That helps us create recipes that are in the sweet spot between classic and cutting edge."

The Power of Color

The bright red of the Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Cranberry Port Sauce, entered by Priscilla Yee, caught the eye of judges. "It's like Christmas on a plate," says Nancy Hopkins, Better Homes and Gardens Deputy Food Editor.

Hidden Treasures

The grilled exterior of this burger submitted by Cynthia Herman of Austin, Texas, conceals blue cheese and chopped cherries. "I love the surprise of the sweet cherries with the savory blue cheese," says Lynn Blanchard, Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen director.

Healthy and Delicious

Melissa Corbett of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, used healthful ingredients in her Peanut Butter Banana Bread -- a thoughtful touch that helped her recipe stand out in the Good and Healthy category. "This recipe is a great way to use whole wheat flour and flax seed, and I love the peanut butter and chocolate combo," says judge Cathy Lacy, a registered dietitian.

Tough Competition

Judges spend three hours concentrating on flavor, texture, color, ingredient combinations, prep methods, and all the other factors that separate a great recipe from the merely good. Here, Gayle Goodson Butler, Better Homes and Gardens editor in chief, deliberates during the Annual Challenge judging.

Caribbean Combination

By combining chunks of mango with the flavors from a popular rum-mint-lime cocktail, Patterson Watkins of Philadelphia created a rice pudding that the judges loved. "Mango Mojito Rice Pudding is a very fresh and original approach," says Lamont Olson, Better Homes and Gardens managing editor.

Grand Prize Winner

Three hours, 96 forks, 48 score sheets, and thousands of calories later, the judges' scores were tabulated. Dorothy Olsen of Provo, Utah, won the $25,000 grand prize for her Whole-Wheat Chocolate Blueberry Cake recipe (pictured).

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