Want to Win the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest? Here's What You Need to Know

Winning Tips, Trivia, and More Must-Knows About the Bake-Off Contest

Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters by Beth Royals won the Simply Sweet Treats category at the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. Image (c) Pillsbury

If you live in America, chances are that you've heard about the famous Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. But have you thought about entering to win it? If you think your cooking isn't good enough, you might want to reconsider. The Bake-Off Contest has been giving away huge prizes to amateur home cooks across America for more than 70 years! Here's what you need to know to enter.

What Is the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest?

The Pillsbury Bake-Off is a long-running recipe contest that allows amateur cooks across America to submit their favorite kitchen creations for the chance to win big prizes. The contest, which has run since 1949, showcases Pillsbury products by challenging cooks to create highly original recipes containing ingredients from a pre-specified list.

The Bake-Off contest was originally developed as a way for Pillsbury to celebrate their 80th birthday. The contest was officially called the Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest, but the media seized on the name "Bake-Off." It fit so well that Pillsbury adopted the media's name for later contests.

The very first prize winner was Theodora Smafield, who submitted her recipe for No-Knead Water-Rising Twists in 1946. Theodora took home $50,000 for her win.

You might not realize it, but the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest has probably impacted you, even if you've never entered. For example, if you have a Bundt pan in your kitchen or you've enjoyed any of the popular cakes that use them, you can thank the iconic contest.

That's because the winner of the 1966 Bake-Off used a little-known cooking tool in her Tunnel of Fudge Cake recipe: a Bundt pan. The recipe was so popular that demand for the Bundt pan soared. It quickly became the number-one selling pan, and Pillsbury joined up with NordicWare, the creators of the ring-shaped pans, to put out a line of special cake mixes designed to be made in Bundt pans.

How the Pillsbury Bake-Off Works

The Bake-Off was originally held every year but recently, entries have been accepted bi-annually or even more irregularly. This gives the judges time to narrow down the entries and to select the best recipes. The winners are announced in the years when no entries are submitted.

From 1996 through 2014, the grand prize in the Pillsbury Bake-Off was a million dollars in cash. In 2017, the Bake-Off Contest returned after a three-year hiatus with a grand prize of only $50,000.

Aside from the cash prizes, winners also receive additional goodies such as kitchen appliances.

Each year, the contest also offers special award categories. Some examples of special Bake-Off categories in recent years include America's Favorite Recipe Award, which recognized the recipe with the most consumer votes, GE's Imagination at Work Award, which recognized the most innovative recipe, and the Jif Peanut Butter Award, which went to the best recipe that used peanut butter. Each of these winners received cash and other prizes.

Each recipe is reviewed by a panel of judges from an independent agency on the basis of taste, appearance, creativity, and consumer appeal. The best recipes are selected for screening by the Pillsbury Bake-Off Test Kitchens. The chosen recipes are then prepared according to the entrant's directions and vetted to ensure that they have not been previously published and have not broken any other contest rules.

The top 100-scoring recipes are selected as finalists. The finalists then compete for the grand prizes in a live bake-off competition, which gave the contest its name.

To enter, you must not be a food professional. What, exactly, is considered a food professional is decided by the judges. For example, working in a restaurant as a cook would probably disqualify you, whereas working as a hostess might not. Some food bloggers are considered food professionals, and others aren't. Writing a cookbook probably disqualifies you, unless it's a non-professional collection, like your family recipes.

The good news is that this levels the playing field for those who don't create recipes for a living.

Using the Bake-Off As Inspiration for Your Own Recipes

If you're looking for ways to improve your own recipes, either for your family to enjoy or to make better recipe contest entries, the Bake-Off is a great place to start.

The judges take extra care to select recipes that are unique and delicious. The winning recipes are published online at Pillsbury.com and you can peruse them and try them for yourself. By making the winning recipes at home, you can see how the ingredients were used in interesting ways to create something new and different.

You can visit the Bake-Off Contest Recipes section of the Pillsbury website to get all of the judges' favorite recipes for free. You can load the recipes on a tablet computer or your smartphone to have them at your fingertips while you cook.

If you prefer to get your recipes the old-fashioned way, Pillsbury gathers the best Bake-Off recipes from each contest and turns them into cookbooks. You can find them on Amazon.com and other bookstores.

Entering to Win the Pillsbury Bake-Off

If you want to enter the Bake-Off, keep your ears open for an announcement that the contest is starting up again. The Bake-Off has not followed a regular schedule in recent years.

Setting up a Google Alert could help ensure you don't miss the start of the contest. You can also check the New Sweepstakes List frequently to see if one has been posted.

Once the Pillsbury Bake-Off has officially begun, read the rules carefully to see what criteria the judges are using, which products you are allowed to use, and other helpful information. The rules are usually very specific about things like which ingredients you can use, how many ingredients your recipe can have in total, and more.

Then it's time to come up with your submission.

Coming Up With a Bake-Off Contest Entry

Creativity is an important part of any winning Bake-Off recipe, so you might want to check out some tips to inspire unique recipes.

If you're looking for which direction your recipe should take, analyzing previous winners can help you. For example, a quick review of the grand-prize winners shows that over the years, more than 70% of the winners have entered with dessert recipes like Mini Ice Cream Cookie CupsMacadamia Fudge Torte, and Buttercream Pound Cake.

Of the savory dishes that have won, many have included chicken, like Chicken Florentine Panini and Salsa Couscous Chicken. Another popular option for savory entries has been various types of bread. 

Doing your own analysis of the recipes can also prevent you from wasting your time by submitting a recipe that is too close to one of the previous winners'. No matter how good your recipe is, it's unlikely to win if it doesn't stand out.

Once you've picked a direction, experiment with different flavors until you come up with something you love. Have your family and friends taste test for you, take notes on their responses, and tweak as necessary.

When you've created a recipe you love, write it down and make sure that the measurements are perfect and the instructions are crystal clear. Double-check that your recipe meets all of the guidelines and restrictions posted in the rules.

At that point, it's a good idea to give your recipe to a friend and have them make it themselves. This will ensure that you don't skip any steps that could ruin your chances of winning. Tweak if your recipe tester has any problems making the recipe.

Finally, double-check your work against the contest's rules again, proofread to ensure you haven't made any typos or mistakes, and make sure your recipe's name is pithy, interesting, and sounds delicious.

After that... congratulations, it's time to submit your recipe and cross your fingers that the judges love it as much as you do!