How do you like your steak? If you like it on a plate with a side of great music, don't delay. That is the word from Tom Smith, chairman of the Sunshine State Steak Cook-Off. The cook-off, featuring a concert by noted area performer Casey Weston, is returning to Ave Maria for its third year on Saturday.
"Buy early!" urged Smith, a professor of biology at Ave Maria University. "I do not want people to come to the event and not get a steak because we sold out."
The last two years, the event did sell out, with more than 1,200 steak dinners sold, but more would-be diners left disappointed and hungry. This year, organizers plan to provide 2,000 steak dinners, in an attempt to satisfy the demand.
For $18, each ticket holder will receive a 16 oz. boneless rib eye steak, a baked potato, salad, roll and drink. The steaks will be cooked by the teams registered to compete in the cook-off, with each team grilling between 30 and 120 steaks on small home grills.
"Each team creates their own special spice blend, rub and or marinade, so you're getting the same steaks the judges will be tasting," Smith said.
For a level playing field, steaks and charcoal will be supplied. Each team's steaks will be entered in a double blind judging, with celebrity and professional judges evaluating the entries and making their choices. The steaks will be judged on appearance, degree of doneness (medium), tenderness, taste and overall impression.
One team will win the grand prize, the "Holy Smokes" Award, $1,000 in cash and a trophy, as well as bragging rights as the top steak wranglers in the Sunshine State, and be entered in the "Hall of Flame."
The event is a fundraiser for the Donahue Academy in Ave Maria, a private school with students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The celebration includes a Family Festival and goes all day, beginning at 11 a.m. with the Parade of Grills, youth games, and a silent auction. At noon, the Quest Band will give a live performance, and at 4:30 p.m., headliner Casey Weston takes the stage. Weston, one of the finalists on the inaugural season of "The Voice," sings Nashville classics and her own country-infused compositions.
Not all the fireworks will be on the stage. To round off the evening, cook-off attendees, and everyone else, are invited out to the Seminole Casino Immokalee for the Carnival in the Sky. This 20-minute fireworks exhibition, put on without charge to the audience, is advertised by the casino as "the biggest fireworks show in Florida.
The fireworks are scheduled to commence at 8:30 p.m., making it easy to finish off your steak dinner, listen to the music of Weston, and then head off up Immokalee Road to the casino and the fireworks.
The winner of the Sunshine State Steak Cook-off will be an automatic qualifier to the upcoming World Food Championships slated for Nov. 1-4 in Las Vegas, hosted by Adam Richman, star of the Travel Channel's "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America" and "Man v. Food: Nation."
In all, $300,000 in cash is up for grabs, which might add a little zest to this "steak tidbit" — it's not too late to register your team.
IF YOU GO
Sunshine State Steak Cook-off
When: 11 a.m. Family Festival and music starts, 5:30 p.m. steak dinners served, Saturday
Where: Ave Maria town center, Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria
Directions: Take I-75 to exit 111 (Immokalee Road). Turn east on Immokalee Road and proceed 10 miles to Oil Well Road. Turn onto Oil Well Road and continue 10 miles to Ave Maria Boulevard (on left), follow boulevard to town center
Cost: $18 each, includes 16 oz. boneless rib eye steak, a baked potato, salad, roll and drink
Tickets: Online at www.sssscookoff.com, at the Ave Maria University Bookstore, 5064 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria, or by calling 239-304-7032
Join the cook-off: Call 239-280-2536 or go to www.sssscookoff.com, to enter a team
Carnival in the Sky
What: A fireworks show
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Seminole Casino Immokalee, 506 S. First St., Immokalee