SPRINGDALE, Ark. (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission) – In less than a month, northwest Arkansas will once again welcome a culinary competition of dishes including ingredients ranging from grits and greens to sauce piquant and savory spices, all celebrating the world’s most underrated source of protein — squirrels. After a three-year hiatus, the World Champion Squirrel Cook-Off will be held beginning 9 a.m. Sept. 23 at its new home, the J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center in Springdale.
Up to 40 three-person cooking teams will be firing up grills, smokers and other cooking implements beginning at 9 a.m. and will be presenting their dishes to a panel of judges beginning at noon. Awards will be announced at 3:30 p.m. to wrap up the cooking portion of the day. All cooking must be done on-site and all meat in entries must contain at least 80 percent squirrel, which will be verified before cooking begins. Complete rules and instructions to nab one of the few remaining cooking team spots are available at www.facebook.com/squirrelcookoff.
The cook-off has much more in store for visitors than watching someone stew a pot of squirrel and dumplings. Event organizer, Joe Wilson, is as close to an Ozarks-bred P.T. Barnum as you’ll find in modern America, and he’s cooking up quite a show for the event’s comeback.
“We’re going to bring back the world-champion squirrel-skinning contest, and I’ve heard from reigning world champion Clifton Jackson who said he’ll be there to defend his title,” Wilson said. “We’ll also have a world’s hottest squirrel hot wing-eating contest and the AGFC folks at the nature center are going to have a pellet rifle shootout and all sorts of squirrel-focused fun, including videos and crafts for the kids. You won’t be able to swing a squirrel in this place without finding something worth watching or doing.”
Bushytail won’t be the only thing on the menu, either. In addition to samples of squirrel eats that some teams will offer, Wilson is preparing to have a 9-foot alligator rotisserie for attendees to enjoy, as well as another first for the event. Five-time Memphis in May World Barbecue Contest champion Mark Lambert is bringing a 400-gallon pot to cook up the world’s largest batch of rabbit fricassee for attendees to enjoy.
“YouTube barbecue celebrity Malcolm Reed is one of the judges we’ve lined up for the cooking contest, as well as Brent Reaves from the MeatEater group’s popular Bear Grease podcast,” Wilson said. “We’ll also have live music playing throughout the day, and a celebration of all things outdoors. If you walk away hungry or bored, I don’t know if there’s any help for you.”