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Chicken cook-off heats up Gainesville afternoon
Ryan Lynch samples a piece of chicken. - photo by Tom Reed

"It’s events like this that make us want to live in Gainesville," said Robb Owens, a member of the North American Chicken Grillers Association International cook team.

Owens is a member of one of the many cook teams that competed at the fourth annual Spring Chicken Festival held Saturday in downtown Gainesville.

The festival drew 17 cook teams competing in three categories: chicken, chicken wings and specialty chicken. A sweet tea competition also was held, as well as a relay race sponsored by Lanier Running Club.

Cook teams at the festival included veteran teams such as Budget Blinds and the Christian Riders Association’s Gainesville chapter, Unchained Riders, as well as first-timers like Scott’s on the Square.

Second year veterans, Little-Davenport Funeral Home, won last year in the wing competition with their mojo wings, which they served again this year, along with lemon citrus pepper chicken.

"It’s just fun. It lets people see us in a different light," said Billy Hendrix, cook for the Little-Davenport team.

Fred Lunsford of the Christian Motorcyclists Association used a secret recipe for his marinated chicken and said he came out for the community.

"You never know who you’re going to end up talking to. It’s about good food, good fellowship and good community," Lunsford said.

Specialty chicken and cooking techniques varied among the groups who prepared poultry in a number of ways.

Ryan Thompson, Wes Macloskie and Owens of North American Chicken Grillers Association International used a Big Green Egg brand smoker and grill to prepare their tender wings. It was their first time at the event.

"This is the best experience we’ve ever had. Being in the poultry capital of the world, this is the biggest cook-off in the galaxy," Thompson said.

Another chicken chef at the event, Bear Sloan of Lazy Bear BBQ, prepared smoked barbecued chicken for the event.

Sloan hopes to open his own restaurant, but until then he’s spreading the word of his cooking through catering and competitions.

Sloan took third place this year in the sweet tea competition. First place went to Doug Shehan who said his secret was wildflower honey.

The band Jellyroll, whose band members grew up in Gainesville, performed at the festival. Fans of the band Dan and Debbie Hayden came last year and this year to see them perform.

"I like the chicken, but I come for the band," Dan Hayden said.

The annual festival is held by Keep Hall Beautiful, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Keep America Beautiful. The festival served as a fundraiser for the city’s Tree Replacement program

Cindy Reed, board member of Keep Hall Beautiful, teamed up with Rick Foote, the group’s executive director, to make the day’s events possible.

"The poultry industry is very supportive," said Reed who thanked Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., for donating chicken.

Reed is a first year member of Keep Hall Beautiful and was excited to see the turnout Saturday. "It’s been very, very busy, but very exciting. It’s amazing what you see when an event comes together," she said.