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Is cooking your passion?

blue ribbon recipeMaybe you're a wiz at the backyard barbecue, or you simply like experimenting in the kitchen or creating your own recipes. If so, there are competitions waiting for you to enter coast to coast in the US to share your recipes, show off your talent - and to win big prizes.

Non-professional home cooks, foodies, bakers, or anyone else with a flair for desserts or four-star side dishes are all invited...

How to enter - AND WIN - cooking contests

If you've never entered a cooking contest, it always pays to start small at local and regional competitions. Churches, clubs, and neighborhood community centers are great places to begin showing off your cooking talents for small cash prizes.

From there, try a state fair 'blue ribbon' cooking contest. These annual events are famous for hosting annual cook-offs and often receive lots of local press, especially for blue ribbon prize awardees who can whip up a regional recipe winner.

General rules for entering a cooking contest

The attention to detail you show in the kitchen is the same that any cooking contest demands. Here's the basic recipe for success:

Follow all rules carefully, especially when it comes to cooking techniques and required ingredients. If the cooking contest is hosted by a major food brand, showcase creative ways to use the product heavily in your recipe and you will almost certainly gain instant favor with the sponsors.

Eye appeal is the first impression you'll make with your prize recipe. Besides being great tasting, the finished dish should LOOK tempting, delicious.

Keep it simple. Keep away from overly complicated or time-consuming recipes. Concentrate on a unique way of mixing textures and flavors, but use common ingredients that anyone can pick up at the local supermarket or grocery store.

Follow food trends. If pies are in this year, for example, consider entering a dessert contest with a winning pie recipe rather than a so-last-year sheet cake.

Give your recipe a jazzy name (if the rules allow), don't just describe it. For example, instead of calling your recipe "Jane's Tex-Mex Chicken", try something like "Hot Kickin' Chicken".

Major American cooking contests

If your original recipes wow friends and family, you've got a good head start in any cooking competition.

Once you've entered and won several local contests and have worked your way up to state recipe contest stature, you may have gained enough confidence to enter a national contest where even bigger prizes (and stiffer competition) await:

Pillsbury Bake-Off - The mother of all amateur recipe contests, the Pillsbury Bake-Off offers a grand prize of $1 million to the winner.

The twist to the Pillsbury Bake-Off is that contestants must use ingredients from a list of products made by Pillsbury. Beyond that, they aren't many regulations, and past winners have made a wide variety of dishes — from cookies to pies to paninis.

Taste of Home - A great place to practice your hand at smaller contests, Taste of Home offers monthly recipe competitions with prizes ranging from $500-$600. It's a great way to hone your cooking skills as you work your way up to their annual $25,000 prize recipe cook-off.

National Pie Championships - Sponsored by Crisco and the American Pie Council, this contest is open to both professional bakers and amateurs each year. Fruit/berry, custard, no sugar, and other pie categories allow contestants to get creative as they vie for the $5,000 grand prize for amateurs and $5,000 for professionals. Entry deadline: mid-March. Register at the National Pie Council online

More about cooking & baking contests around the Web:

Around the Web, find out more about how to enter and win cooking contests with updated listings, deadline dates, complete instructions and major prizes that await those with a competitive edge in the kitchen ...

RECIPE Contests - Scroll down the list of monthly, seasonal or annual baking & cooking contests offering complete rules and instructions, deadlines and prize information..

Recipe Contest List -Yummy Eats - Check out this year's cooking and baking contests calling for entries with top money and prize information, end dates, and eligibility details.

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