Horse racing has its Triple Crown and football has the Super Bowl. The Big 4 is the place to be for competitive cooks.

Since the county fair, cooking contests are a vast improvement. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans participate in cooking contests. The Big 4 include the Pillsbury Bake-Off; the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest; the National Beef Cook-Off; and the National Chicken Cooking Contest. Each of these contests gives away at least $50,000 in grand prizes.

The major contests are open to people who have experience in contests but first-timers can also enter. Jennifer White, Ohio, placed fifth in the 2007 National Chicken Cooking Contest and won $1,000. It was her first cook-off with barbecued chicken on sweet potatoes biscuits.

Some contests require that contestants use products or accept recipes that fall within certain categories. The National Chicken Cooking Contestwww.chickencookingcontest.comThe other is, however, wide open. National Chicken doesn’t have any specific categories. It only needs one ingredient: chicken. The rest is up to the cooks.

No grilled entries are allowed, but cooks may still roast, pan roast, stir fry, sauté, fry, curry or stew their chicken, leaving many options open. Recent winners include: “Yucatan Chicken with Peach-Avocado Salsa”To “Thai-Inspired Stuffed Chicken Breast and Slaw.”

The contestants must prepare their dish twice within three hours. That leaves ample time to make most other recipes.

The prize money also looks attractive. Each state will select a contestant to win $100 and the chance to participate in regional judging. Each of the nine regional winners will each receive $1,000, a trip to National Cook-Off and the chance to compete for the $50,000 grand prize.

Participants can submit entries via the Internet at www.eatchicken.comSend your information by mail to National Chicken Cooking Contest, PO Box 27997 Washington, DC 20038. Mail it to: National Chicken Cooking Contest, P.O. Box 27997, Washington, D.C.20038; or fax it to (202) 293-4005.

One word of caution: All entries must be original. Recipes are scrutinized to ensure they have not been copied from magazines or cookbooks. This is because money and prestige are at stake.