As the Boy Scouts of Troop 140 prepare roasted rabbit on a Coleman stove, a smog of barbecue pit smoke covers the North Texas State Fairgrounds. This is no survival campout. It’s the annual Wild Beast Feast, where cooks russle up rabbit, duck, buffalo, elk, prairie chicken and, yes, alligator for those with adventurous appetites each September.
The festival, now in its third year, pits teams of chefs against each other in creating top-secret recipes with a variety of wild game. Outside at the fairgrounds, cowhide-covered trash cans and leopard print tablecloths evoke the Wild Beast décor while a local band and a live auction entertain tasters. Last year, more than 500 hungry fairgoers attended the event benefiting the Greater Denton Arts Council, which promotes the artistic, cultural and educational life of Denton. The only rules? To kick back and to have a good time. (Just don’t bring your beast right off the hunting ground. It has to be processed properly. )
Troop 140 is the two-time winner of the coveted “Best of the Beast” title. In fact, the troop’s Flying Bat Patrol and Hawk Patrol are the only ones ever to win the award. Last year, the Hawk Patrol won with alligator appetizers and buffalo sliders, beating out 20 other teams. To nail the award, the boys (yes, the boys) fixed a mixed fruit pastry with raspberries, strawberries and kiwi topped with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert. “The first year we cooked an Irish sweet rabbit, which was very tasty,” says scoutmaster Richard Hayes. The Flying Bat Patrol, which won that year, smoked its rabbit with apples and secret spices until the meat fell off the bone. For dessert, they made cherry pie in a Dutch oven.
How does Troop 140 do it? Remember the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared? They start by collecting a dozen or more beast-like recipes. Then, at their annual cooking campout each year, the boys compete for the Golden Skillet award, which gives the winner the right to enter their favorite dish in the Beast Feast. The patrols test different recipes using different cooking sources, such as a Coleman stove, a backpacking stove and an open fire. Once the top recipes are chosen, they run a taste test. “Their excitement is off the scale,” says their scoutmaster. “They are serious about what they’re doing, not over-serious, but it’s important to them and they want to represent the troop well.” The competition makes the annual cooking campout more fun, too.
Despite the gamey offerings, the Beast Feast rules require that the game served cannot be fresh off the hunting ground; it must be processed by reliable sources. In the past, Merritt Buffalo Ranch has provided buffalo, Dan‘s Meat Market the rabbit, and Frilly’s Seafood Bayou Kitchen the alligator meat. There’s plenty of tame offerings too, ranging from Outback’s steak and mushrooms to Cracker Barrel’s prairie chicken and dumplings. “This is such a fun, family-oriented event for everyone,” says Margaret Chalfant, executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council. “The firemen even come out and grill hot dogs for the less adventurous appetites.”
During the beastly tastings, an auctioneer solicits bids for items such as a safari trip for two to Africa (described as “roughing it in a five-star hotel”) or a dove hunt in Argentina, with proceeds going to the arts council. Sponsors for the Beast Feast include Access 1st Capital Bank, The Denton Record-Chronicle, Miller of Denton, CBS Mechanical Services, DeBerry’s Funeral Home, Denton Regional Medical Center, Elk River Investments, WheelerPress and Walmart.
The winners of the “Best of Beast” title receive Wild Beast Feast aprons and belt buckles as well as the opportunity to host the event’s mascot, a 3-foot-tall plush armadillo named “Dude,” for a year.
The scouts of Troop 140 get an added bonus: It helps them earn their cooking merit badge. They are looking forward to another victory this year. Their dish? A tightly held secret until Beast Feast day.