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Annual cook-off celebrates the chicken
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Sixth Annual Spring Chicken Festival
What: Activities include the Official Chicken Cook-off, the Rubber ChickEkiden, the Chicken Feathers Quilt Show and kids activities
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roosevelt Square, downtown Gainesville
How much: Free; wristbands for chicken tastings, $8 adults, $5 kids
More info: 770-531-1102

Six hours, 32 teams and 4,300 pounds of raw chicken adds up to one heck of an afternoon — if you’re man or woman enough.

The sixth annual Spring Chicken Festival Chicken Cook-off heats up Saturday morning in the downtown square and the tension is high. Cooks and grill masters from all over the region have been tweaking recipes and cleaning their smokers in hopes of nabbing the coveted Chicken Cup.

“I at least want to come in third, but I really want to beat the fire department,” said Doug Shehan, who is competing this year for the third time under the team name Tough Dawg Grillers.

Shehan wants the cup to sit on his desk, prominently in the face of all who visit — namely the guys of the Gainesville Fire Department who took grand prize in last year’s event. The cup gets to stay with the winner until next year’s cook-off.

“I want to be able to say ‘See, that’s my name right there,’” Shehan said of the plaque at the base of the cup.

Fire department team members said they weren’t worried about Shehan. They’ve been perfecting their sauce for the past two months and, despite Shehan’s snooping, have managed to keep it under wraps.

Preston Barrett, one of the fire department cooks, said the guys at the firehouse are used to cooking a lot, and aside from defending their title, they hope to score the People’s Choice award this year.

But mostly, they just want to have fun, said Preston.

The cook-off is divided into categories with two divisions: professional level and backyard barbecuers. All the chicken for the event has been donated by MarJac, Fieldale Farms and Columbia Farms, and it’s a fundraiser for Keep Hall Beautiful.

The aroma just goes all over the city and brings people in, said Cindy Reed, executive director of Keep Hall Beautiful.

For a mere $8, festivalgoers can indulge in myriad chicken dishes from the staple wings to casseroles and soups.

The teams have to have all their ducks in a row before starting. Everything must be cooked on site, according to Reed.

Sean Brandenburg and his brother, Will, know all too well the pitfalls of coming unprepared.

“The first year when it was windy, we spent half the day holding on to the tent. The next year, we had buckets with cinder blocks.” said Brandenburg.

Brandenburg’s team, Chipolte Brothers/Budget Blinds, has been entering the event since its inception. They’ve been perfecting their secret wing sauce for the past year. The pressure can be immense.  

“To take the average backyard barbecuer and say ‘Here, we’re gonna let you cook 160 pounds of wings on your grill,’ it definitely takes a little more to be prepared for it,” Brandenburg said.

Shehan and his wife, Lois Anne, will be debuting their special addition — a 7-foot rooster smoker built entirely by Doug Shehan.
It’s all about showmanship, which is one of the basis for judging, according to Reed. The cook-off will follow the Kansas City

Barbecue Society rules and regulations and there will be 14 judges on hand. Everything from cooking conditions, appearance, taste and texture will be up for scrutiny. Winners will be announced at about 3:45 Saturday afternoon, said Reed.

The grand prize winner takes home $500, but everyone else can take home a full stomach. So bring an appetite.

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