The birthplace of Johnny Cash, Sam Walton, Gen. Douglas McArthur, Bill Clinton and Scott Joplin and home to the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart and, of course, the Razorbacks, now brings you the World Champion Squirrel Cook-Off.
Billed as “the one and only true World Championship Squirrel Cook Off (WCSC),” this invitational will be held in the town of Bentonville. At least 100 teams will get 2 1/2 hours to create one side dish and one entrée for the contest. Will it be a squirrel fricassee or a squirrel frittata or just plain squirrel fritters? Last year’s winner? Squirrel sliders. The contest states that judges are “true squirrel eaters,” meaning they ought to know a good squirrel from a bad one. Last year’s judges even sampled a dish made from minted squirrel brains in cream cheese, baked in puff pastry.
The story goes that cook-off chief Joe Wilson has been hosting these types of cook-offs among friends for the past 5 years. During the past 2 years, the cook-off has grown to attract nearly 3,000 guests and almost as many “tasters.” Proceeds go to local children’s shelters, and the town of Bentonville welcomes the tourism.
Last year, the Travel Channel sent the host of “Bizarre Foods America,” Andrew Zimmern, to the event. According to Wilson, Zimmern was impressed, very impressed, with what could be done with squirrel.
“Squirrel was a staple of food for many people in this country, especially during the Depression. If squirrel wasn’t on the dinner table, there wasn’t protein on the table,” said Wilson, who also is the founder of Squirrels Unlimited (SqU). He said after last year’s festival, news about it appeared at The Huffington Post and CNN.
“We’ve had some mixed publicity, but for every 2 to 3 whackos, there are thousands of supporters,” added Wilson.
Born in a coffee shop, SqU boasts 10,000 unpaid memberships and 1,100 paid memberships, according to Wilson. Members receive a newsletter, along with other promotional offers, and an opportunity to purchase exclusive SqU sportswear and merchandise. It's mission statement is bold: "SqU is dedicated to the recognition and promotion of the squirrel as one of mankind’s gifts from our creator which, by its presence, does enhance our pleasure on earth, satisfies some of our various hungers and typifies the value and importance of qualities worthy of our imitation …such as hard work, tenacity and a sense of humor."
So far, 50 teams from across the country have entered the contest. There’s still time to sign up. The fee is $75, and first prize is $500. There are trophies and tee shirts in the mix, too. Learn more about how to enter the WCSC.
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Brian Lovett, Realtree's news blogger, has been an outdoors reporter, writer, magazine editor and book author for 27 years. Spring turkey hunting and autumn waterfowling take up most of his outside time, but he also enjoys fishing, deer hunting and upland-bird hunting. Lovett lives in Oshkosh, Wis., with his wife, Jenny, and their retriever.