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Chuckwagon Cookoff adds Flavor to Saddle Up Event

Seven of the most unusual vehicles of the year will be in Pigeon Forge Feb. 19-22. They are authentic Old West chuckwagons in town for a cookoff.

The chuckwagon cookoff is part of Saddle Up!, a festival of cowboy poetry, western music and stomach-filling cowboy grub. The four-day festival is on American Cowboy Magazines list of the Top 101 Western Events.

The chuckwagon cookoff competitors are serious about their hobby. A fully equipped and authentic chuckwagon can cost in excess of $15,000, so the cooking teams are devoted to preparing top-notch chicken-fried steak, cornbread, biscuits, fruit cobblers and other dishes. They are judged on food, the wagons and the camp set-ups.

The teams are members of the American Chuck Wagon Associations Southeast Chapter, and they’ll mosey into Pigeon Forge from Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida. Their wagons carry names such as Broken Spoke, Grumpy’s Grub, Cow Camp, Ramblin Rose, Fairplay Cattle Co., Yellow Rose and Little Hard Labored Creek.

The chuckwagon cookoff is Feb. 21 (Saturday) 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Clabough’s Campground on Wears Valley Road. There’s no fee to inspect the chuckwagon camps and to observe the cooking. After the judges get their tastings, lunch will be available for $5; ticket sales begin at 11 a.m., and proceeds benefit Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Saddle Up! begins Feb. 19 (Thursday). Entertainers include musicians Wylie & the Wild West (the 2008 Cowboy/Western Swing Group of the Year), The Quebe Sisters Band, Juni Fisher, Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges, along with cowboy poets Paul Zarzyski, Kent Rollins and Jim Hawkins.

A highlight of the four-day weekend is the Cowboy Symphony, featuring Wylie & the Wild West and the Smoky Mountain Symphonic Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Russell Ramsay. The Cowboy Symphony is Feb. 19 at the Country Tonite Theatre.

Other activities include concerts (both free and ticketed), a non-denominational Cowboy Church service and a western swing dance.

Concert venues are the Country Tonite Theatre (1,500 seats), the Grand Majestic Theater (1,000 seats) and the Tennessee Shindig Theater (1,150 seats). The dance will be at Music Road Convention Center, and Cowboy Church will be at Stages West.

Other chuckwagon demonstrations and lunches are offered Feb. 19 (Thursday) and Feb. 20 (Friday) at the Tennessee Shindig Theater and Feb. 22 (Sunday) at Stages West.

Admission information: The Thursday afternoon concert is $15. A Friday/Saturday pass, excluding the Cowboy Symphony, is $50. Day passes for either Friday or Saturday are $30. Tickets for Cowboy Symphony are $20. All prices are plus tax. Ages 17 and younger are admitted free.

Advance ticket sales are through the Country Tonite Theater at 1-800-792-4308; in-person purchases begin Feb. 19 at the Grand Majestic Theater. Admission to the dance is $5 per person; ages 17 and younger are admitted free. Cowboy Church is free. Proceeds from the various chuckwagon lunches and the dance benefit Cal Farleys Boys Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Information courtesy of Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism