BBQ Cook-Off Fundraiser

Updated February 15, 2020
BBQ Cook-Off

Are you looking for information about planning and hosting a BBQ cook-off fundraiser? If you're looking for a fun way to raise money for a nonprofit organization, starting a BBQ cook-off just might be a great idea. If the event is a success, it could become a signature event for your organization that people in your community look forward to participating in every year.

About Cook-Off Fundraisers

Cook-off fundraisers are very popular. They are a great way to raise an organization's profile in the community where it operates while attracting and building relationships individual donors and corporate supporters. Cook-offs involve the participation of teams that prepare large quantities of their favorite recipes that are provided to judges and are given (or sold) to participants to try. Teams pay to enter, participants pay to attend, prizes are awarded and a good time is had by all!

  • If you live in a community of any size, chances are that there are already several large and successful local cook-off events held every year featuring treats like chili, chicken wings, gumbo, Irish stew and, of course, barbecue.
  • If there isn't already a local BBQ cook-off (or if you don't mind coping with some competition), and barbecue is popular in the area where your organization is located, you might want to consider planning one of these types of events of your own.

If, for some reason, you don't think a barbecue-theme event is appropriate for your organization or if there is already an established BBQ cook-off in your area that you don't want to compete with, you can apply information about organizing this type of event to just about any type of cook-off fundraising idea.

Planning a BBQ Cook-Off Fundraiser

Before you decide to hold a BBQ cook-off fundraiser, it's important to understand that this is a significant undertaking that will require quite a bit of planning, marketing and operations support. It will take several months to plan and promote this type of event effectively. As a new event, it may not raise a large amount of money in its first year. However, even if your event starts with just a few teams and a relatively small number of participants, it can grow into a major annual signature fundraiser for your organization if it is well organized and marketed effectively.

Establish a Committee

Putting together a successful BBQ cook-off will require the effort of many people. Before you get too far into the planning, put together a committee so you can be certain that you'll have enough manpower to accomplish your goal. Reach out to members of your organization's Board of Directors and other volunteers for assistance.

Choose a Date

When selecting a date, it's important to consider what else is going on in your community. Avoid scheduling your fundraiser to coincide with established events in the local area. Look for a time that there are not any other food-related fundraising events already planned. It's also important to consider weather factors when choosing a time. Avoid selecting times when severe weather is common in your town.

Choose a Theme

Select a theme for your event. You may want to go with an overall "best barbecue" theme, or you may want to focus on one particular type of barbecue. You could focus your cook-off on finding the best ribs, pulled pork, barbecue beef, barbecue sauce, or other specialties. Keep in mind the cost of the types of food that teams will be asked to prepare when making this decision. Ribs, for example, can be quite expensive for teams to prepare and serve.

Select a Venue

Find a venue that is appropriate for your event. Because many barbecue cooks like to perfect their recipes on outdoor grills and smokers, look for a park, sports stadium or other outdoor location. Alternately, look for a place where food can be prepared outdoors and brought inside for serving. Since barbecue can be quite messy, choose a casual location where you can create an appropriate ambience for a down-home cook-off event.

Solicit Sponsorships

Once you know when and where your event will be held and you have a theme, you can start soliciting corporate and individual sponsorships. Put together a variety of sponsorship packages that include a title package and smaller options. Be sure to include advertising and publicity mentions for the sponsors as well as blocks of tickets to attend the event. Include team participation in some of the sponsorship packages.

Recruit Teams

Put out the word that you are looking for the area's best barbecue cooks to show off their skills while competing for prizes and bragging rights. Set the team participation prices at a reasonable amount since teams will also have to purchase food to prepare and serve. Include a number of tickets to the event in team sign-up packages.

Operations Management

There are many operations management tasks associated with pulling off this type of event. For example, you will need to comply with all applicable food service and sales tax regulations, negotiate facility and rental contracts and oversee event layout setup. You'll also need to recruit judges, set rules, establish judging policies and procedures and obtain prizes.

Attract Attendees

Marketing your BBQ cook-off to attendees is essential to the success of the event. You'll need to send press releases to local media outlets and schedule media appearances, set up an event website or dedicate a page on your organization's website to the event and promote it through appropriate social media channels. You may also want to distribute posters and flyers throughout the community.

Start Planning Your BBQ Cook-Off

Are you ready to do the hard work that it takes to put on a BBQ cook-off fundraiser? If so, it's time to get to work. Remember to evaluate the results closely once the event is over so you can learn from your first-time experiences so that next year's event can be even better!

BBQ Cook-Off Fundraiser