Butts in national spotlight
By By Janet Little Cooper
Most everyone in Atmore has heard of the competitive barbeque team Wild Bunch Butt Burners, some have even tasted their treats.
But after being featured this weekend on the nationally syndicated cable channel The Food Network, Atmore's secret is out.
Highnoon Productions in Denver, Colo., came to Atmore on March 9 to shadow the Wild Bunch as they prepared for the Fifth annual Mitchell Company Barbeque Championship held in Mobile March 10-12.
Readers of the National Barbeque News ranked the event, held at the Greater Gulf States Fairgrounds, as one of the best events in the nation. Because of this, The Food Network chose the nationally sanctioned barbecue event for a feature. The annual competition, which benefits the local chapter of United Cerebral Palsy, drew more than 80 teams of professional barbecuers, who gathered for a chance to win the top prize of $3000 and points toward the national championship to be held in Kansas City later this year
Butt burners John and Kathy Swift and Walt Butler have competed for five years in the competition, taking home top honors each year. This year's competition was no different. Kathy took first place in the seafood category with her recipe of Stuffed Tomatoes and first place in the best site decorations and numerous awards for their meats.
However, the trio was a little anxious about the weekend competition for the first time. Actually, it was not the competition that made them nervous. They know what it takes to cook prize-winning barbeque. Their anxiety came from the fact that Food Network was filming them every step of the way throughout the competition.
"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 competively."
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 Butt Burners were able to see themselves in action Saturday night as the Food Network aired the Alabama Barbeque special for the first time.
John and Kathy watched their national television debut from their beach house in Orange Beach with neighbors and friends. Walt watched the television premier of the Wild Bunch at home with his family.
"We were so nervous about seeing it for the first time," Kathy said. "We didn't know how it would turn out. They filmed so much and we had no idea what they would use and then how it would come across. I think it turned out really good. I was pleasantly surprised. It was kind of odd seeing our home and ourselves on national television knowing that thousands of other people was seeing it as well. It was a neat feeling."
The cameras captured the Swifts preparing for the competition in their Atmore home, even shooting footage of the couple traveling in their big rig to Mobile for the competition. The camera continued to roll as the team prepared the meat for cooking and captured their winning moments.
"During these competitions you begin to make friends with your competitors," Kathy said. "We all show up at some of the same competitions. We talked to Bad Byron, of ButtRub.com and the Grand Champion of the competition, after the show aired Saturday night. We were all pleased with it and thought it turned out really well."
Two televisions were going at the Butler residence Saturday night for the premier of the Alabama Barbeque.
"We had family over," Walt Butler said. "It was my step-sons birthday so we were all together. We had two televisions going. The race was on one television and the other was on the Food Network. We muted the race during the barbeque show though. I really enjoyed it. I think that it showed off John and Kathy's cooking ability and their commitment to their barbeque. I wish that they would have shown more of what was going on at the festival and at least mentioned that it was for cerebral palsy."
If you didn't catch the show Saturday night, there is no need to fret. It will air again this weekend July 8 at 3 p.m. and July 9 at 4 p.m. on The Food Network.