PANAMA CITY BEACH — Bite into some of the area’s best chicken wings Saturday, when the third annual Aaron Rich Invitational Chicken Wing Championship sets up next to Wicked Wheel.
“It’s turned into something bigger than imagined,” said Aaron Rich, two-time winner and founder of the event. “I love to go around to different places and try out wings, and this gives people an opportunity to try them all in one place.”
The event began as a party Aaron’s wife, Heather Radke Rich, put together for his birthday to celebrate his love of chicken wings.
“We had a bunch of friends over and cooked against each other,” said Aaron, who since has turned the competition into a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Bay County.
Last year’s competition with 22 entries raised $5,000, in spite of rain. This year’s fundraiser will feature 25 wing varieties from restaurant owners and private chefs. Contestants are required to cook 300 wings in the regular Buffalo Style or specialty Free-For-All Style categories.
“Some people fry them and some people grill them,” Aaron said. “At last year’s event, I sampled every single one and a few of my own.”
His blackened wings won first place in the Free-For-All Style.
“I’m a wet sauce guy,” Aaron admitted. “I do the blackened in a cast iron skillet and them put them on the grill and baste it with a sauce. It’s a recipe I’m constantly playing with and trying to make better.”
Aaron said he plans to sit out of the competition this year for a seat on the judges panel, along with Jimmy Patronis, Allan Branch, Mayor Gayle Oberst, Tom Lewis, Miguel Fuller and Carol Roberts. The panel will do a blind taste test before awarding first and second place trophies based on taste, originality and cooking in each category. The People’s Champ trophies will be determined by attendee voting at each booth.
“Everyone has their own style,” Aaron said. “The key to winning seems to be orginality. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a restaurant of individual, just seems to make a difference if it’s a wing that stands out.The thing about wings is they are so versatile. One guy is doing a green wing for St. Patrick’s Day with a pesto sauce.”
Participants will includeThe Wicked Wheel, Hooters, Hoggy Style, Outlaws BBQ, 2 Blondes BBQ, Lee J Kinner, Florida Wings, Dick’s Last Resort, Cody Biggs, Limes at Bay Point, Smoking Nuts, Bubba’s Pizza, Michael's-To-Go, Time-Out (second place winner in Buffalo Style), Patches Pub (second place winner in Free-For-All) and Sweet Racks, which took home the People’s Champ trophy last year for its Free-For-All.
Sweet Racks owners Ben Cherek and Naisy Dolar closed their restaurant doors on Thomas Drive in December to focus on serving their award-winning barbecue with Filipino flare at championships and festivals.
Also returning Saturday is Juan Benavidez of Knology, who took home two People’s Champ and first place trophies last year for his Buffalo Style wings.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Aaron said. “We prepare as much as we can, but you are serving wings as fast as you’re cooking them. When it gets to 5 o’clock, we may be out of wings.”
THIRD ANNUAL CHICKEN WING CHAMPIONSHIP
What: Cooking competition featuring 25 pros and amateurs serving chicken wings; vendors, live music from Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-Devilles and silent auction (fishing charters and golf packages)
When: Main event noon to 4 p.m., music and festivities until 6 p.m., Saturday
Where: In the lot next to The Wicked Wheel Bar & Grill, 10025 Hutchison Blvd., Panama City Beach
Admission: Advance tickets: $15 (includes 10 wings and general admission); $20 on day of the event. General Admission: $5; Wing Tickets (to buy wings individually): $1.50 each. All proceeds benefit Humane Society of Bay County
Details: Sean Brosnan at (850) 691-2725, firstname.lastname@example.org or AdoptMe.org; Facebook.com/events/414022978677643/
World Wing-Eating Championship
The second annual Hooters World Wing-Eating Championship will heat up at 3 p.m. March 30 at Hooters on 12709 Front Beach Road in Panama CityBeachwith 12 professional eaters, including world champion eater Joey Chestnut, as well as amateurs lining up behind the competition table for a 10-minute, all-you-can-eat contest. Details: IFOCE.com or Facebook.com/eatfast, Hooters.com or Facebook.com/Hooters.