Story By Hilary Brady
On Saturday, January 30 Brunswick County residents will come out of winter hibernation to fill their tummies with warm and wonderful eats at Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-off. From 10 am to 4 pm, Rourk Woods in Shallotte will be teeming with people and steaming with stew.
In case you are not familiar with this classic stew, think delicious and think thick. The perfect meal that has warmed bellies since the early 1800s, Brunswick stew is a traditional dish from the southeastern United States — the actual place of origin is debatable between BrunswickCounty in southern Virginia and the Town of Brunswick in Georgia. It can feature meats from chicken, beef or pork to wild game like rabbit or squirrel. Most recipes resemble a tomato-based vegetable soup with meat and, depending on the chef ’s inspiration, a combination of lima beans, corn, potatoes, okra and other vegetables. The most recognizable trait of Brunswick stew is its thick consistency.
When BrunswickCounty celebrates this lip-smacking stew, they do it right. In addition to hundreds of gallons of scrumptious stew, guests enjoy other eats like barbecue, ribs, chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries, to name just a few. And when your stomach is stuffed, you can peruse the North Carolina crafts and fresh produce booths. Soaps and candles, baskets, pottery, jewelry and pet accessories from the area’s most unique craftsmen will be available for purchase.
Classic rock radio station 103.7 The Bone will provide music from 10 am to noon, and local rock/alternative artist Jaded Mayberry will rock the crowd from noon until 4 pm. Adults can enjoy the sounds while sipping popular domestics from the beer garden, while the kids jump to the jams in the bounce house. And what’s a great festival without complimentary cotton candy and popcorn for the little ones?
“The best thing about this Cook-off is that it’s not just for stew lovers,” explains Megan Masser, Events Director for the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s for all ages and all appetites. There’s something fun and something yummy for everyone. All of us at the chamber are very proud of this event, and excited to continue what we think will become a long-term Brunswick County tradition.”
Admission to the event is free, but guests must purchase a ticket in order to both sample the stews and enter to win some very unique raffle prizes. A $5 ticket allows guests to choose six stews to taste out of the five categories: Restaurants, Media, Businesses, Nonprofits and Individuals. Guests should arrive early, as the stew is sure to be gobbled up quickly. Attendees will be encouraged to indulge in the eats, and then vote for their favorite stew master.
The official event judges will taste from 10 to 11 am, with tasting and voting opening to public at 11 am. Although public voting closes at 2 pm, the food will remain available until the last bit of stew is slurped. At 3 pm, a variety of awards will be presented. First place winners will be selected for each category, as well as an overall Best Brunswick Stew award. Winners will be awarded a cash prize and a plaque. A People’s Choice award for Best Stew and Best Booth Presentation will also be announced and presented with unique trophies and, of course, bragging rights.
At 2009’s inaugural Stew Cook-off, more than 2,000 people sampled stews from 22 contestants. The most common stews featured chicken, pork or beef, or all three.
“I was the first to sign up last year and the first to sign up again this year,” explains an enthusiastic Barbara Bush of WHQR, winner of both the Best Brunswick Stew judge’s overall award and best in the Media category. “My husband and I are from the country, so we know how to make an authentic Brunswick stew. Throw in several meats, butter beans, corn, tomatoes, potatoes and a few other special ingredients and you have a great traditional flavor. The kids particularly loved it, since there’s no weird stuff in there,” she explains. The 2009 event was full of surprises. “The contestants really got into the spirit,” says Masser. “We had people dressed up in overalls, kids stirring stew with spoons bigger than their bodies, food served from iron cauldrons, and booths decked out in true Southern style. Everyone had a lot of fun, but there was a definite competitive streak present among the contestants. They all wanted the coveted title of Best Brunswick Stew.”
Event parking is free and available inside the Rourk Woods Development, which is located at 4700 Sugarberry Drive in Shallotte. Guests from the Wilmington area should follow U.S. Highway 17 South for approximately 28 miles, turning left onto Highway 17 Business/Main Street, and then left onto Highway 179/Village Road. Rourk Woods is on the right-hand side after a little more than a mile. Those attending from the Myrtle Beach area will follow Highway 17 North into North Carolina, turning right onto Highway 17 Business, then a right onto Sellers Street, and right again onto Highway 179/Village Road, with Rourk Woods on the right-hand side.
As with most fun festivals, no outside food or drink is permitted — the stew is all you’ll want anyhow. The Cookoff will go on as scheduled whether the weather is wet or dry. The chamber asks that you please leave your pets at home.
For more information about the Brunswick Stew Cook-off, or to participate as a contestant, call (910) 754-6644.