On a an overcast, October day a crowd of 600 people gather in the little town of Webster Springs. Twenty cooks and 20 Burgoos.
Helping judge the best of these Burgoos is Tim Urbanic, chef and owner of Cafe Cimino.
“You got to love Burgoo. I really love the rattlesnake. And the snapping turtle. They're such heritage foods,” he said.
The crowd gets to choose a people's choice Burgoo too. Angie Cowger and Elissa Clayton are about to vote for their favorites.
“One tasted like a skyline chili, like it had a nutmeg and some cinnamon and some different spices that you wouldn't expect to find in a stew," said Angie.
Snapping Turtle Burgoo:
Johnny McCourt's snapping turtle Burgoo also has a lot of people this year talking. “It's just a basic turtle stew. It probably cooked seven hours. It takes a long time to cook the turtle tender.We cook it till it's falling off the bone. Then take it off there and kind of shred it.”
Johnny McCourt and his cousin don't win the Burgoo Cook-off this year, but they say they will try again next year, and they're going to stick with local, wild game ingredients. That approach to making Burgoo, is authentic, and it takes grit. Johnny says they caught the snapping turtle themselves. It was about fifteen pounds.
Making a Burgoo that makes people return for seconds- that's an art. Each cook is competing against 19 other people, and getting it right can take days of work. It also takes years to master the art of the perfect Burgoo, says Carolyn Blakemore, from Fairmont. She's been competing at this festival for years, and many people at this festival call her "Mrs. Burgoo".
“Every time you make it, it's a little different. Now I like mine thick. And I have three different meats. I have beef and veal and pork and with spicy seasonings. I just make it to my taste and hope that the judges enjoy it. I like to do cooking and baking contests. So I travel when I can and enter different contests, and sometimes I win.”
88-year old Carolyn has been teaching her granddaughter, Gabrielle Anderson, to carry on the tradition. Gabrielle is competing in this year's Burgoo cook-off. They travel together to cooking competitions throughout West Virginia.
“I think one of the best parts of the Webster Springs competition is that it really draws everybody not only from the state but the surrounding states, PA, KY, Ohio. The last three years, I've known pie bakers that have come from PA and Ohio, just for the apple pie part of the competition.
20 apple pies.
The steam is rolling off them in the chilly air. Carolyn Blakemore's pie has little yellow, caramelized flecks of local Golden Delicious apples from Marion County sprinkled on the top of her pie. It's a beautiful sight.
Betsy Morris is one of the judges for the pie contest. "The apples have to be fresh. They can be frozen, but they have to be not a canned, store-bought. And so they're very good. They're scrumptious, and the ones that are warm, oh my my... on this cold day they taste wonderful.”
Once judged, the pies are all auctioned off to raise money for the town of Webster Springs, which organizes this event.
By mid afternoon, Carolyn Blakemore finds our that she's won third prize for her Burgoo, and third prize as well for her apple pie. The Burgoo grand prize this year goes to Tammy Moffatt, who had a friend bring her back elk and buffalo from a hunting trip out west.
This Burgoo was also a popular one: