Wing-Off + Wolf Chef + Two Interns = Saucy Saturday

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On Saturday, we sent BW editorial interns Rachel and Stephen out to the Annual Hollingshead Wing-Off in Meridian on Saturday.

So, like we do with our food reviews, here is each intern's take on the event:

I’ve never been one to jump to conclusions based on first impressions, but as I entered deeper into the labyrinth of a housing development while trying to locate the Annual Hollingshead Brothers Wing-Off on Saturday, I began to feel skeptical as to what I would find. However, all fears subsided as I pulled into Renaissance Park and saw dozens of tents and hundreds of smiling people and breathed in the wonderful smell of barbecue lingering in the air.

The event started nine years ago when brothers Curtis, Brett and Jason Hollingshead wanted to see who had the best chicken wing recipe. They opened up the competition to fellow wing chefs, they opened up the eating to the public and the event has grown each year—this year, the Wing-Off drew more than 50 chefs.

I sampled a range of food: traditional spicy wings and homemade bleu cheese, sweet and sour pork, Asian-inspired wings, curry-flavored wings, slow-roasted pork ribs, mountains of homemade coleslaw and even bacon brownies.

Out of the countless wings I sampled, Paul Hazen, who owns the B.B. Wolfe barbecue sauce company, cooked up one of my favorites. When presenting his wings to the tasting judges Hazen, hoping to draw interest from the crowd, dressed up as a wolf, complete with a chef’s hat and apron.

After admitting to a liking of spicy food, Hazen pulled a sizzling wing off the smoking grill and blanketed the poultry with a heaping serving of his special habanero ketchup. I nibbled tenuously, expecting to immediately be hit with a lot of heat, but it was very tame … at the beginning. It took about 30 seconds for my mouth to start burning, and without water or milk on hand, my eyes watered as the wings slowly tore at my taste buds.

I’ve been to a few barbecue festivals in Missouri—supposedly Barbecue Central U.S.A— but Saturday’s event was far more friendly and less stressful than the crowded, expensive festivals in the Show Me State. I had become so used to forking over $12 for shredded pork sandwiches that getting all-you-can-eat free wings was a welcome surprise.

Don’t let the unassuming location or lack of hype surrounding the event fool you, this event isn't to be missed, especially with next year’s theme of “Grills Gone Wild”.

Winners for Saturday’s Wing-Off were as follows:

Most Original Wings: Jason Hollingshead, "PBC's" wings
Hottest Wings: Jim Martin, "Habanero Heaven" wings
Best Overall Wings: Justin Simms, "Dragon's Fire" wings
People's Choice: Paul "B.B. Wolfe" Hazen, "Kickin' Chicken" recipe

—Rachel Krause

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Upon arrival at Saturday’s wing off, I was a bit of a wing-noob. I've sampled wings before; mostly as appetizers or while watching a football game. But I had no clue what those little pieces of chicken are really capable of.

I scarfed green curry wings, honey glazed wings, whiskey-lime wings and a ton of different traditional wing recipes. I was astonished by the variety of flavors, tastes, tangs and spices that can be contained within one small wing. I ended up sampling so many different free wings, that I could barely walk the rest of the weekend.

The Annual Hollingshead Wing-Off is a large wing cooking competition, held in the thick of the Meridian suburbs—a fitting environment for such an all-American event. The sky was blue, the grass was extra green and the area was packed with people wandering around with sauce-caked muzzles.

This year, there were more than 50 competitors from all around the country: Oregon, Washington, Louisiana, even Texas. There was a spiciest wing competition, tastiest wing competition and a competition for non-winged foods like bacon brownies, which were a big hit. They were even advertised as “the most American thing ever.” To me, they only tasted alright.

At the B.B. Wolfe (a.k.a. Paul Hazen) stand, the cook, dressed in a wolf costume asked me if I liked spicy wings. With a hint of arrogance, I told him "Pssh. Sure. I love spicy food." This prompted him to smother a piece of chicken in a deep red sauce and hand it to me. I willingly ate it, then proceeded to desperately guzzle water from my camelback while the wolf looked on, laughing. Needless to say, it was one of the spiciest portions of food I've ever had the disadvantage of consuming. But I pressed on, and kept eating wings until I could eat no more.

At the end of the day, I had a happy stomach, a newfound appreciation for winged foods and an even bigger appreciation for large wing-themed cook-offs.

—Stephen Foster

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