-- By the time the clock strikes 7 p.m.on April 12, approximately 25,000 chicken wings will have beenconsumed on the premises of Big Spring International Park in less than fourhours. A pretty impressive clip. Just as impressive, Battle of the Buffalo, a cooking completion organized by the University of Alabama in Huntsville chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, is aiming to raise,000 for the Russel Hill Cancer Foundation, a Huntsville non-profitorganization committed to improving the health of cancer patients by supportingcancer research, education and patient assistance.
New Orleans Lunch Box won Best Wing at last year's Battleof the Buffalo. A restaurant located inside the BP gas station on the corner ofHolmes Avenue and Jordan Lane, New Orleans Lunch Box will be back to defend itstitle at the 2014 contest. New Orleans Lunch Box owner Roland Lowrey III uses anold rotisserie smoker and hickory wood to produce his chicken wings.
"I use seven different spices," Lowery, 62, says, "marinatethem overnight and we cook them slow the day of the event and we use jumbowings which are nice and juicy. They actually pull right off the bone, andthere ain't no tough business with it."
Lowery can cook 900 wings at a time in his smoker and willprobably cook around 3,500 for Battle of the Buffalo, getting started at around5 a.m. that morning. The event begins at 3 p.m. Judging for Best Wing begins at 4:30 p.m., with an awards ceremony to beheld at 5:40.
The Best Wing plaque Lowery won at the 2013 Battle of theBuffalo now hangs on a New Orleans Lunch Box wall. He's proud of the honor. But the amount of funds raised and thecause are a bigger deal, Lowery says. "That's the most important part of thecompetition for us. It's not our wings or winning."
So what do chicken wings have to do with cancer?
The UAH ATO's founded Battle of the Buffalo in 2009 inmemory of Paul "Fish" Salmon, a fraternity brother who passed away two years earlier due to leukemia.ATO active member David Oberle, a 22-year-old senior fromGuntersville majoring in computer engineering, explains the origins."Therewere a bunch of brothers and they went out and got just a ton of chicken wingsand they were eating them at the house and they were just kind of talking, 'Yeahremember we would go with Paul to Beauregard's or something like that,'" Oberlesays. "We liked to see who had the best wings in town because that's justsomething college guys like to do, and we were like, 'This was really fun.'
"They brought it to chapter and said, 'Heywouldn't it be really cool if we put this event on in memory of Paul and then we take all the money we raise money and give to the place hereceived treatment at it.' And everybody thought this was a great idea."
So has the general public.
Last year, about 2,500 people attendedBattle of the Buffalo when it was held at the Big Spring Park Grotto. For itssixth incarnation, or "round six" as the event's website calls it, the Battlewill be held on the other side of Church Street at Big Spring Park's primary locations. (The side where the Huntsville Museum of Art is located.)
"They only allow three or four big events per year and we'reone of the big events so we're super pumped about that," Oberle says. AndBattle of the Buffalo is growing fast. Last year's attendance doubled theprevious year's, which was up about 30 percent from the year before that.Prior locations have included the Joe Davis Stadium parking lot and the UAH parking deck and Shelby Center for Science and Technology lobby.
'Animal House' thisis not
Tickets, pre-sale online at and day-of the competition, for Battle of the Buffalo are good for 20 wings andthree drinks. Those three drinks can include Pepsi products and bottled waterbut no booze. That's right, alcohol is prohibited at this fraternity event.Surely, John Belushi's "Bluto" Blutarsky character from the 1978 comedyfilm "Animal House" would be dismayed.
"Most people when we say this is a fraternity philanthropicevent, they kind of turn their noses up and say, 'Oh, it's a frat thing,'"Oberle says. "But people don't really understand. Fraternity life isn't whatyou see in the movies. We have a really good chapter here.
"We decided to go with it being non-alcoholic because, one,it saves us a lot of money because we are a fraternity the insurance is just insane,and two, because it really encourages families to come out. There's really nota whole lot of events in Huntsville, like a festival or a large carnival type thing,where alcohol is prohibited. And I think a lot of people appreciate that."
Battle of the Buffalo also boasts live music, including a 4:30 p.m. set from Nashville country music/southern rock act Jami Grooms and theCatfish Johnson Band, as well as the all-day Susan Eva Arts Crafts Fairand giant inflatables-equipped Paul Salmon Kids Zone.
Recipes for success
The UAH ATOs, which have an active membership of around 50, raised,000 for the Russel Hill Cancer Foundation via Battle of the Buffalo. They'vepartnered with Downtown Huntsville Inc. and the Huntsville Park and Rec Departmentto put on the 2014 event, "but as far as logistics of the event, getting restaurants,getting sponsorships, marketing, that's done all by ATOs who are currentlyactive in chapter," Oberle says.
Other restaurants vying for 2014 Battle of the Buffalobragging rights include 3rd Base Grill (1792 Hwy. 72 E.), Beauregard's (511Jordan Lane), Buffalo Wild Wings (2750 Carl T. Jones Drive), Cricket'sBurgers Wings (3810 Sullivan St., Madison), Famous Joe's Pizzeria (12120County Line Road, Madison), Hooters (4730 University Drive), Shane's RibShack (4800 Whitesburg Drive), Sud's Bar Grill (9076 Madison Blvd.,Madison) and the food truck Food Fighters Bustaurant (check for updated locations).
An eight-person panel -which includes UAH President Robert Altenkirch, Huntsville City Administrator John Hamilton, Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong and Paul Salmon's father -will judge Battle of the Buffalo wing entries based on aroma, taste, texture, moistness and presentation.
Tim's Cajun Kitchen, located at 1114 Jordan Lane, won BestWing for three years straight, at Battle of the Buffalos 2010, 2011 and 2012,and will compete again this year. When he opened his Louisiana-themed restaurant22 years ago, owner Tim Faul wanted to do wings that were "totally different"and that didn't "copy anybody else's stuff," so he built a special smokehousethat uses a "cold smoke" technique to prep his seasoned wings for about 10hours before dropping them in the fryer to briefly crisp before tossing in a house-made sauce.
"We have a lot ofpeople that contact us to help and donate stuff, but being a business we tryand pick and choose things that benefit people the most,' Faul, 42, says. "Ournumber one charity we assist is children. Second is cancer. It's a ruthlessdisease."
Click through the above photo gallery to view images from the 2013 Battle of the Buffalo.