Build a Better Burger Contest Winners – 1998

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners – 1998

Blue and white décor was the order of the day at the annual cook-off, and both Judges and finalists wore white aprons emblazoned with the Sutter Home logo. As the grills were fired up on the lawn of the Sutter Home Victorian, a brush fire across the highway added more smoke to the blue skies and caused a few minutes of anxiety among the cook-off attendees.

1998 was the year that the broadcast media discovered BBB. San Francisco’s KGO radio broadcast its very popular show Dining Around with Gene Burns live from the cook-off for the first time, a tradition that’s continued ever since. And Marjorie Poore Productions filmed the event for the Cook-Off America series on PBS television.

Nevadan Connie Emerson was back for her third try as a finalist, a record surpassed only by Floridian Theodore Skiba, who returned to the competition for his fourth try at the big bucks (he won the Award for Creativity in 1991).

Inspired by the pulled-pork sandwiches of his home area, North Carolina technical-business consultant Larry Elder edged into first place. Larry’s wife, Janice, had been a finalist in the 1993 BBB cook-off, and both Janice and Larry have been finalists and winners in numerous contests and cook-offs before and after Larry’s BBB victory, including the Pillsbury Bake-Off®, National Chicken, National Beef, Paul Newman’s Own, and Fine Cooking magazine’s Best Home Cook in America.

Shortly after the 1998 cook-off, Sutter Home Public Relations Director Stan Hock made the bleak announcement that “this was our last Build a Better Burger® contest. We are not discontinuing the promotion because of any dissatisfaction on our part but because the State of California has changed its regulations on contests. It is no longer legal for us to sponsor any contest in which the prize exceeds one dollar And that’s no prize, because for a buck you can only get one of those other burgers, not the one-in-a-million variety but just another one of the eight or twenty billion or so.”

As it turned out, the legal experts at Sutter Home determined that the new California law only made California residents ineligible to participate in the contest, joining the state of Utah where the contest is also illegal, so BBB was able to continue after all.


James McNair’s staff screened the entries and a panel of independent food experts assisted him in choosing seven regional finalists.

Event Manager

Christel Fouquet Milcan, Public Relations Assistant, Sutter Home Winery


  • Grand Prize: Larry Elder, Charlotte, North Carolina – Carolina Pork Barbecue Burgers
  • First Prize: Jason Boulanger, Williston, Vermont – Caesar Salad and Flank Steak Burgers with Garlic Crostini
  • Second Prize: Ron Perkins, Scottsdale, Arizona – Samurai Burgers
  • Award for Creativity: Debbie Vanni, Libertyville, Illinois – Sauerbraten Burgers

Other Finalists

  • Connie Emerson, Reno, Nevada – Burgers Italiano with Avocado Aioli
  • Richard McHargue, Richmond, Kentucky – Caribbean Couscous Burgers with Mango Salsa
  • Theodore Skiba, Tequesta, Florida – Stilton-Glazed Toasted Walnut Sirloin Burgers with Grilled Tomatoes and Spicy Leeks


James McNair, Head Judge
Gene Burns
Janet Fletcher
Patricia Unterman
Bob Trinchero

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners - 1997

Build a Better Burger

Build a Better Burger Contest Winners - 1997