With the Spring Chicken Festival coming up this weekend, here is a sneak peek into a few options you will have the chance to try out with the purchase of a cluck card.
You’ll get 10 samples for just $6 — here’s a peek into three teams on the packed roster of 21 cook teams participating this year.
Even if you don’t try these three, you’re sure to find something at the festival, held this year at Longwood Park. Maybe the trick is to just grab some friends, find the shortest line and a nice spot in the grass once you’ve had your fill.
2019 Spring Chicken Festival
What: 21-team chicken cooking competition
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 27
Where: Longwood Park, 20 Pearl Nix Parkway, Gainesville
How much: Free to attend, $6 for a cluck card allowing 10 samples
More info: www.gainesville.org/spring-chicken-festival
Sweet mustard, hot chicken
New on the scene this year is The Inked Pig. The restaurant recently opened and has found its knack for smoking all kinds of meats — including Easter hams — and its owners are bringing their expertise to the Spring Chicken Festival.
You can expect to try smoked wings slathered in their house-made Carolina mustard sauce.
“We're pretty pumped about it,” said Andrew Elliott, co-owner at the restaurant. “We're excited to see what we can bring, how people react to the flavor profiles that we're putting out.”
The mustard-based barbecue sauce is made with yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, sugar, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and other spices.
“All the chicken wings that we do will be in a sweet tea brine,” said Jimmy Ellis, co-owner at the restaurant. “It’s the way we do them at the restaurant. We're going to marinate them in a sweet tea marinade for a little while and then smoke them.”
They’ll be making two more sauces, but those will be reserved for the judges. There will be a Nashville hot chicken sauce that is similar to what you’d find in Nashville, but has a little bit of a sweeter heat.
The other flavor will be a citrus chile dry rub.
“With that one, we're going to take some of the citrus fruits, and we're going to grate those, then dehydrate them and then add that into our chili seasoning,” Elliott said. “You'll get that real bright citrus flavor and then you'll also get a little bit of heat coming through the chili.”
With it being their first time in the competition, The Inked Pig is hoping to bring home a few trophies. They’re confident, though, because they feel at home in the competition doing what they do every day.
“Barbecue is what we do,” Elliott said. “And it gets our name out there and lets people know what we're bringing to Gainesville.”
Polynesian a la Chick-fil-A
Ninja Pig BBQ is going all out for the Spring Chicken Festival with 10 different flavors and options for you to try this weekend.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Gary Moore, a member of the Ninja Pig team. “And it's once a year, so it gives us a chance to flex our culinary skills.”
Maybe the most interesting flavor for their wings will be the ninjanesian sauce. It mimics Chick-fil-A’s Polynesian sauce and is made by the Ninja Pig team. Moore said it has a lot of different spices combined with a sweetener — corn syrup, in this case. It’s a little different from Chick-fil-A’s in that it will have some heat to it.
“We spent about a week doing research and development, trying to get it right,” Moore said, laughing. “It certainly has the Chick-fil-A base to it where you can tell it's the Polynesian sauce, but it will have the ninjanesian kick to it.”
Apart from that, they will offer a chipotle orange marmalade sauce, teriyaki sauce and garlic buffalo ranch sauce.
Moore said they’ll also have a smoked chicken breast that will be coated in a barbecue seasoning, smoked, cut into strips and served with either a blackberry barbecue sauce, sweet heat sauce, South Carolina mustard sauce or North Carolina vinegar sauce.
One of the most popular options each year is what they call chicken footballs.
They flatten a chicken breast, fill it with cream cheese and sauteed jalapenos and then wrap it in bacon and put it on the smoker.
But this year, Moore thinks there will be another favorite.
“We're also going to grind some chicken there on the scene,” Moore said. “We're going to make a Southern cheddar chicken sausage and it will be like you'd expect the flavoring of breakfast sausage, except we're adding cheddar and we're using chicken instead of pork. So we'll grind it, put it in a casing and then smoke it.”
As the reigning champions at the Spring Chicken Festival, Ninja Pig BBQ is looking forward to defending its title.
“We're looking forward to the competition and serving all the people that come out,” Moore said.
A mysterious competitor emerges
The second-year team likes to keep things under wraps ahead of the competition. There’s not much Wes Hall, president of Skyline Contracting, would share about what he and his team of eight others will be cooking up at the festival.
One thing is for sure, “We’re going to be cooking chicken and we’re going to be using smokers to cook it,” he said, laughing.
Last year, Hall missed the grand champion title by less than a point. He did take other trophies home and he’s hoping to take even more home this year.
“For public samplings, we're doing predominantly wings and tenders,” Hall said. “Everything is going to be grilled or smoked. We don't do any fried.”
That’s because he likes to stick to the traditional barbecue competition methods.
Although he’d like to compete at more festivals throughout the year, he’s happy with staying close to home and serving the thousands of people that stop by the Spring Chicken Festival.
“It's hard to find a time to do more when we're just doing it to have fun,” Hall said. “But we love doing it. It's a good event.”