Thursday, July 5, 2018

Event: 2018 Big Kahuna Wing Festival Knoxville, TN

[FTC Disclosure] This post is not sponsored by anyone.  However in the spirit of full disclosure, we have been sponsored by CharBroil® and SABER® grills, in the past.

A few weekends ago, my youngest son, Trevor, cooked in his first cooking competition at the 6th annual Big Kahuna Wing Festival in World's Fair Park in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Photo Credit Big Kahuna Wing Festival Facebook Page.

  • The Big Kahuna Wing Festival is the brainchild of BKW Wings founder, Matt Beeler. 
  • The event pits 35 teams to serve over 8 tons of chicken wings to 8,000 festival attendees.  
  • Last year the event raised $80,000 for several area charities.
  • This year, the event is a qualifier for the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama.  So the winner takes their first step towards $110,000.
His cook team was composed entirely of 2018 graduates from his high school - 4 football teammates and his girlfriend Ally.  Alexis and I said we would go along as advisors and to make sure they didn't "kill anyone" with raw chicken.  But we let this be his gig and let him make all of the decisions.

Deep South Smokers gravity fed smoker
Trevor firing up the Deep South Smokers GC36 for practice at the house.

He did a couple of test batches.  Part of it was to test flavor profiles but it was mostly figuring out the timing for production.  We had to figure out how long it took to process wings, how much the cooker could hold at once, how long it took to cook them, what equipment was needed, etc.

Albukirky's Seasonings are fantastic for the grill or kitchen.
After taste testing with his friends, they decided on using Albukirky's Anchonero Hot Rub which is fantastic on wings.  One call to Kirk at Albukirky Seasonings took care of everything we needed.  They have customer service that rivals the quality of their amazing rubs, sauces, and jellies.

KS Customs in Knoxville made these shirts for his team.  Aren't they awesome?  They were printed on Nike Dry-Fit shirts which would be needed since it was going to be a HOT day.

It was about a half-million degrees while the guys loaded the trailer up.

Friday Night we dropped everything off at World's Fair Park because we had to be there and ready to fire at 6am the next morning.

Later that night, Trevor and Ally made signage to give their booth some personality.

Dawn came early the next morning.  In just a few hours this 10 x 20' outdoor kitchen would be cranking out wings as fast as possible.

Alexis and Trevor putting the final touches on booth #35.

The cooking plan was that we would smoke the wings on the Deep South GC36 to 175°f and then hold them in the Cambro UPC-300 hotboxes shown to the left.

Saber Elite Infrared grill
Then they were planning to fire off the cooked wings as needed in batches of 20-30 on my Saber Elite 1500 SSE.  They would not be sauced until this step.  They chose this gas powered infrared grill because they wanted to be able to change the temperature quickly and not have to worry about refueling.  They also used this for heating sauces as needed.

Charbroil Kamander kamado grill
The Charbroil Kamander was going to be their grill for cooking the batches of wings for the 5 contest categories to be submitted to the judges.  This kamado grill has ended up being our "on the road" kamado because it is so light and easily portable. 

Blue skies are always welcome at outdoor food festivals.

The team:  Nick, Mitchell, Samson, Ally, Trevor, and Ross.

Their team booth is on the far right.  I like how their decorations made their booth personal and not so "corporate sterile."

Ally and Trevor made a chalkboard for our menu.
The team walked around to check out their competition.

I have loved this restaurant's name, Fluster Clucks, ever since the first year of the event.  I wouldn't dare say it after a few beers, I almost mess up every time saying it when I'm completely sober!

Wings, wings, everywhere! 

There were 2 or 3 returning champions in the field.

As well as several area restaurants.

In just an hour, this place will be packed like a can of sardines.

The team getting ready for the pending crowds.  

Event organizer, Matt Beeler, checking on all of the last minute details.  This is a labor of love because the proceeds go to charity.  Matt could have easily made this a for-profit festival and it would have probably been as successful but he chose to help community charities instead.  He is what supporting local businesses is about.

Trevor loading another batch of wings into the smoker.

Many hands make fast work.  Time to flip and season the back side of the wings with the Albukirky's Anchonero Hot Rub.  The beauty of their plan was the wings were all cooked the same way up until the point they were sauced.  So this gave them flexibility with keeping the demand met f

A glance at the back side or "kitchens" of our row. It was interesting to see the various approaches that we all had for doing the same thing - turning out great wings.

Samson and Trevor getting another round of wings ready to load into the smoker.  I can't overstate how thankful we were that the Springer Mountain Farms wings came in already separated.  That saved us hours of work and we were short 2 team members.  Plus, competition BBQ teams know, Springer Mountain is one of the best.

Mitchell in the background removing smoking wings for the Cambros while Nick is already working on reloading the smoker.  It was fun watching these young men work together since they have functioned as a unit, playing football since they were kids.  The teamwork was evident.
The guys were diligent about food safety.  They kept everything refrigerated. They switched out gloves religiously. They cleaned surfaces as soon as we were done with raw chicken.  

Trevor, Mitchell, and Ross keeping wings coming.

Setting up the sauce station.  We had two main recipes - Thai Sticky Wings and Traditional-ish Buffalo.  But we also had sub-variations with a ghost pepper Thai sticky wing and a hotter buffalo sauce.

Traditional-ish Buffalo wings.

Trevor and Ally ready for the gates to open in 5 minutes.

Saber Elite 1500 SSE infrared grill
The Saber ran all day long, much harder than we planned to use it (more about that later).  This grill cooked about 1,500 wings in 6 hours.  It handled it and asked for more.  I already like this grill but I was still impressed.

Ross explaining the flavor options to guests.

Once the gates opened for the VIP ticket holders at 11am, we stayed busy for the rest of the day.

This was busier than any Eggfest we've ever cooked at.  We had a line of at least 15-20 people deep ALL DAY LONG.  
Then the stuff hit the fan....literally.  Early in the day, the blower fan for the big smoker melted down.  We were running the Deep South at 350-375°f which is scorching hot for that unit and I forgot to adjust the "open pit" pause feature on the Flame Boss.  So the fan stayed still on "open pit" and the heat kicking back melted the blades.  It wasn't the equipment's fault, it was operator error.  I didn't have a spare and we lost 100+ degrees before noticing.  It was a critical malfunction and could have been a moment that sunk a team.  

I was just about to take over but Trevor didn't wilt, he shined.  He told everyone that we were shutting things down, changing the game plan, and getting us back on our feet.  He fashioned a cardboard funnel using one of our cooling fans to force air into the pit to quickly get the temps back up.  

We lost time so instead of cooking wings for a full 90 minutes in the Deep South, he had the team cook wings as long as possible in the Deep South and then grill them directly on the Saber and Charbroil Kamander to shorten the cook times.  

The team busted their tails, never complained, and together they rebounded.  You could just see the years of hot football practices and overcoming adversity being applied in a real-world situation.  Alexis and I couldn't have been prouder of these young adults.

The lines just kept on coming and coming and coming.

There was live entertainment throughout the day.

But it was clear that the food was the main attraction.  

Cooks and attendees were passing out all over the festival due to the unusually high temperatures.  We didn't want that to happen to us so we rotated turns for working the grills.  Plus later in the afternoon, we took breaks one at a time in front of a fan with an ice pack on the back of the neck.

Thermapens are commercial grade equipment.
We had 2 Thermapens and they were used all day long.  The boys were meticulous about checking internal temperatures before serving wings.  When you have a grill roaring hot like this, those 2-3 second read times make all the difference in the world.

I'm almost disappointed that they didn't dress the Sunsphere up like a chicken wing drummie.  The Sunsphere is a centerpiece from the 1982 World's Fair.

Nick serving up the good-good.

We kept serving into the long shadows of the early evening, when many teams had given up for the day.  

Trevor was still smiling late in the day.

When the smoke had cleared and the awards were called, I didn't expect any "calls" because of the level of competition from the 34 other teams.  But we were proud of the team to get calls in 3 of the 5 categories!

Creative Spicy - 2nd Place
Fire Sauce - 2nd Place
Buffalo & TN State Championship - 6th Place