For most people, chicken is a fallback, a three-times-a-week dinner staple that never gets old, but never really gets exciting either. Not for the citizens of Batesburg-Leesville, though. In 1986, members of the Leesville Merchants Association “hatched” the concept of a town festival to celebrate one of South Carolina’s largest agribusinesses — poultry.
Nearly 30 years later, the South Carolina Poultry Festival is still going strong: Saturday’s lineup includes all the fair staples you love — think carnival rides, a beauty pageant music (The East Coast Party Band plays Saturday night) and all the fried food you can bear to put in your mouth —as well as a few extras, including a zip line, volleyball tournament, mechanical bull ride, a parade, street dances, fireworks and pig races.
But the piece de resistance is the No. 1 World’s Best Chicken Cooking Contest, which was organized this year by Byron Sheppard, an amateur cook who’s been known to win a competition or two. He shared with us the four keys to cooking good chicken.
1. Doneness. “It’s just got to be done. That’s a gimme,” he says.
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2. Texture. “Moist and juicy. It can’t be dry like the Sahara.”
3. Flavor. “It’s got to make you want to dig in.”
4. Appearance. “I don’t care if it’s dressed in camo pants. Underneath, it needs a golden brown, pretty glaze.”
And speaking of chickens in camo pants, if that’s your thing, there’s a place for that in the contest, too. “Best in Show will go to the best-dressed chicken,” says Sheppard. “In this one category, you can totally bomb in all the other areas but still walk away with the top award.”
The 2014 South Carolina Poultry Festival runs Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. in downtown Batesburg-Leesville. For more information, visit scpoultryfestival.com
Katie McElveen, Special to The State