The Keg and Barrel will host its 7th Annual Gumbo and Chili Cookoff Feb. 4.
One of the biggest days of business for this local hotspot – located at 1315 Hardy St. – is its annual Gumbo and Chili Cookoff. This year, the event falls on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. Keg and Barrel owner John Neal said that he and his staff expect a large turnout of competitors and patrons.
Neal said the event started in 2010 when he spoke with two University of Southern Mississippi psychology professors and fellow Texans Bradley Greene and Randy Arnau.
“They brought up the idea of having a chili competition at the Keg, and we started making plans for our first competition in 2011,” Neal said. “It really just spawned from there.”
Neal said about 20 teams entered the competition the first year.
“This year we’re expecting 40 to 45 teams,” Neal said. “It gets bigger every year.”
Neal said three years ago he decided to add another dimension to the competition: a gumbo category that would re-energize and bring more flavor to the competition.
Keg and Barrel manager Diana Pennington said the event is a great day to come to the Keg.
“It’s fun,” Pennington said. “You get to walk around and try different chilis and gumbos. We even have competitors and judges from other restaurants in town.”
Butch Bailey, local Timber Beast and “Star Wars” fan, has competed in the cookoff every year.
“Our team’s name is the ‘Scruffy Looking Nerf Herders,’” Bailey said. “We have a TV set up and play ‘Star Wars’ in the background at our booth. It’s all about having fun.”
Owner of Hub City Beers and beer aficionado Alexander Ignatiev said that the chili cookoff is a great community event.
“It’s always good to see a lot of the same teams as well as new teams joining each year,” Ignatiev said. “Some teams remain consistent while bringing new things to the table, like unique meats, i.e. wild game.”
Ignatiev said he believes any collective can make chili, but he sees gumbo as a singular expression that cannot be made by a committee.
The chili competition is broken into two divisions: traditional and non-traditional. Rules state that the chili can have as many or as few ingredients as desired but specify that one of the ingredients must be craft beer. However much beer is used in the chili is strictly up to the competitor. All food must be cooked on site.
Trophies handmade by Mumbling Brothers will be awarded to first, second and third place in each category. There is also a category for People’s Choice.
DJ Branning, a liquor representative for Jim Beam, has won numerous awards at the cookoff over the years.
“It’s not all about winning, but a good way to draw attention to your booth is to show off all the trophies you’ve won in the past,” Branning said. “This is one of the premier events that people look forward to in the City of Hattiesburg.”
Tickets for the event are $20 (includes one beer ticket) or $30 (includes two beer tickets and an event t-shirt). Registration fees are $16 for two-person teams (includes two event shirts) or $32 for four person teams (includes four event shirts). There are no additional registration fees to enter multiple categories. Teams looking to enter must register by Jan. 30.
For more information on rules or how to enter the cookoff, visit www. kegandbarrel.com or the Keg and Barrel Facebook page.