LABELLE — Whole alligators were pulled from their brine-filled coolers and plopped onto the barbecue in Barron Park on Saturday, Jan. 16, during Hendry County’s inaugural Gator Fest. Barron Park was packed, as many came to watch the teams of chefs in their cook offs. Some wrapped their gators in bacon, others coated them with specially formulated dry rubs, but all were there to be the first time Gator Fest champions.
There were three categories in which competitors could enter: Alligator ribs, alligator dish, and the main event whole BBQ alligator.
During the event, a variety of booths were set up throughout the park, selling everything from handmade soaps and candles to garden decorations. Food trucks lined the perimeter, serving up deep fried gator nuggets, pirogies, gourmet hotdogs, and of course, sweet tea. Live alligators were there for photo ops, too.
“This was a great idea. With all that’s been going on, it’s nice to see something new and different,” said Sarah Brennan, a local resident who had never tried alligator before attending Gator Fest. “I like it, it’s kind of like a cross between chicken and pork. I could eat it again. I sure hope this festival becomes a new yearly tradition.”
J.D. Roberts entered some gator mac and cheese, gator stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon, and a tasty gator sausage. While Dave’s Bangin’ BBQ made a different version of “hot bangin’” gator mac and cheese. Bush Boys BBQ created an alligator ceviche with blueberry balsamic reduction.
After a long day of preparing their alligator entries, the teams waited anxiously for the judges’ announcements. With full bellies, and wiping the barbecue sauce from their faces, the judges had made their decisions.
For the Best Alligator Dish competition the runner up was Dave’s Banging BBQ; first place went to J.D. Roberts.
For Best Alligator Ribs, the runner up was J.D. Roberts, with Outkast BBQ claiming first place.
J.D. Roberts cleaned up by also winning the People’s Choice Award.
The whole alligator competition was a close call with Sebring Tannery named runner up, and the 2021 Gator Fest Championship going to Bush Boys BBQ.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone for making it such a success and I can’t wait for next year,” said the event organizer, Holly Hansen, of Hansen Alligators.