Chili & BBQ Cook-off moved to Hatbox Field

Shawn Selman of Bedouin Bandits checks chicken wings inside his smoker before the 2019 Exchange Club Chili and BBQ Cook-off. The cook-off returns this weekend at a new location, by the Hatbox Activity Center.

Expect a lot more space for food and fun at this year's Chili & BBQ Cook-off, sponsored by the Exchange Club of Muskogee.

Festivities will be Friday and Saturday at Hatbox Field, a new location after being a downtown fixture for 35 years. 

Cook-off chairman Robert Smith said a scheduling conflict in April 2020 prompted them to relocate the 2020 cook-off, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic continued, cook-off planners sought a place where people can be safe and socially distanced.

"They have electrical panels and water hookups at the RV parking area and it just made sense for us to make a big change," Smith said. "It's much bigger, with a quarter-mile long runway, a 150-foot-wide space. Each cook has more than double the cook space than they had at the Civic Center."

The new location comes with an old tradition, the return of the Friday Night Cook's Party, starting at 6 p.m.

"Let's celebrate the return of the cook-off, because it got canceled last year, and throw it back to the old school Cook's Party, where we had a free concert on Friday," Smith said. "You don't have to buy any tickets, no VIPs — free concert."

At 6:45 p.m. Friday, Muskogee Mayor Marlon Coleman, former Mayor John Tyler Hammons and other contestants are expected to compete in the Blazin' Wings Challenge. They sample wings with hot, hot sauce, Smith said. The challenge will be followed by concerts with Blake Turner and the Bo Phillips Band.

Chili & BBQ Cook-off moved to Hatbox Field

Steve Croftcheck, left, and Laurel Havens slice catfish inside the Lance Ambu tent for the Exchange Club of Muskogee Chili & BBQ Cook-off.

Gates open at 9:30 a.m. Saturday for the cook-off. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 4-12 and free for those under 3. Admission includes a taster kit, cook-off ballots, access to the Kids' Zone and to the Beer Garden, which will have live music.

Smith said people can sample chili, barbecue ribs, brisket, chicken, hot links, and baked beans.

"We have an open category in which we will bring jambalaya, they bring catfish," Smith said. They bring a bunch of different things to that category. Bologna. There will be so much variety of food. They will get a smorgasbord of options to eat all day long for your entry."

Smith said 75 cook teams had signed up by Tuesday afternoon, which is a little lower than in the past.

This will mark the first year the cook-off will host merchandise vendors selling crafts or other goods, he said. 

The Kids' Zone also has ramped up with 20 carnival-type games.

Chili & BBQ Cook-off moved to Hatbox Field

Derek Whitford, left, and Nakia Goad sample barbecue at the 35th annual Exchange Club of Muskogee’s Chili and BBQ Cook-Off in 2019.

"We have both free-to-play and pay-to-play activities where every kid will go home with a prize guaranteed," Smith said. "We will have a kids' chilling and grilling barbecue competition. You can still sign up for $25. Kids cook two hamburgers, and when they finish, they get that grill and they possibly win money and a trophy."

Students and faculty from Zomac Music will perform throughout the day at the Kids' Zone, he said. 

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., people can pause, grab a beverage and listen to live music at the Buffalo Wild Wings Beer Garden.

A corn hole tournament, benefiting MONARCH Inc., begins with 9 a.m. registration and 10 a.m. competition. Team cost is $50.

The area also will have cooling zones where people can escape the heat. 

Cook-off proceeds benefit the children's charities, including CASA, Kids' Space, Fostering Hope, Education Foundation of Muskogee and the Exchange Club's Shoe and Coat Fund.

If you go

WHAT: Friday Night Cook's Party.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday.

WHERE: Hatbox Field, 600 S. 40th St.

ADMISSION: Free.

SCHEDULE: 

• BWW Blazin' Wings Challenge, 6:45 p.m.

• Blake Turner concert, 7:30 p.m.

• Bo Phillips Band concert, 8:45 p.m.

WHAT: Exchange Club of Muskogee Chili and BBQ Cook-off.

WHEN: Gates open 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: Hatbox Field, 600 S. 40th. 

ADMISSION: $10, adults; $5, ages 4-12;  free, 3 years or younger, includes Taster Kit. 

SCHEDULE:

• Gates open, 9:30 a.m.

• Food serving begins, approximately, 10:30 a.m.

• Winners announced, 4 p.m.

BEER GARDEN MUSIC SCHEDULE

• Ahna Jennings, 10-11 a.m.

• Aaron Willyard Music, 11 a.m.-noon.

• Adam Miller Live, noon-1p.m.

• RV&H Productions, 1-3 p.m.

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