Wild Bunch goes national

Published 11:18 pm Monday, March 13, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
The Wild Bunch Butt Burners know what it takes to cook some of the best barbeque in the states. But for the first time they are a little anxious about their weekend competition at the 5th annual Mitchell Company Barbeque Championship held in Mobile.
Actually, the competition doesn't worry the trio at all; their anxiety comes from the fact that the popular cable channel, Food Network is going to be filming them every step of the way throughout the competition.
The event, held at the Greater Gulf States Fairgrounds, was ranked as one of the best events in the nation by readers of the National Barbeque News. Because of the ranking, the nationally sanctioned barbecue event was chosen by the Food Network for a feature. The annual competition which benefits the local chapter of United Cerebral Palsy draws more than 80 teams of professional barbecue cookers. They gather for a chance to win the top prize of $3,000 and points toward the national championship to be held in Kansas City, Mo., later this year.
A crew from Highnoon Productions in Denver, Colo., arrived in Atmore on Thursday to shadow the wild bunch as they prepared for the weekend competition.
Butt burners, John and Kathy Swift and Walt Butler showed producer Tricia Starcevich what it takes behind the scenes to prepare for competition.
The Swift's home soon turned into a make-shift television studio as camera and sound operators, Steve Barnhisel and Lee Frank moved furniture around to make room for studio lights and cameras.
The show is scheduled to air in June on the Food Network and will not only feature the Wild Bunch Butt Burners but will also feature other teams at the competition.
Cameras rolled as the team packed their meat in ice and loaded the cooker and camper before heading out to Mobile.
"I just think that it is ironic that they (Food Network) are featuring this particular competition," Kathy Swift said. "Hog Wild was our very first competition five years ago. John had always cooked for charity events, but never competitively."
John learned how to grill while attending college. According to him, he had to learn how to grill if he wanted something to eat.
John's love for grilling combined with his wife's love of cooking was the perfect match. Then came Walt Butler. Butler's wife, Elsie worked for the Swift's and Butler's brother, Carl was trying to organize the UCP fundraiser in Mobile.
The three combined their talents and love for cooking and charity work to help the first UCP event get off the ground.
The display of awards the team has accumulated since that time is proof that they make the perfect team.
"We have won first place in every category at some point," Swift said. "We have won Reserve Grand Champion and have hit the Top 10 in almost every competition we have been in. Out of more than 3,000 teams in the Nation, we ranked 9th in ribs, 10th in pork, 12th in brisket and 23rd overall with the Kansas City Barbecue Society."
The award winning team will not divulge their secret, but will be more than happy to give a taste. They will be cooking their famous chicken, ribs, pork and brisket on April 14 to raise money for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

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