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Photo courtesy of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

Bentonville’s annual World Champion Squirrel Cook Off draws press from across the country but it’s no gimmick. Gumbo, tamales, pizza, sushi, empanadas, tacos, burgers and other delicious dishes get the “limb chicken” treatment.

This year’s version runs 9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sept. 16, at the new 8th Street Market south of the square. It’s free and, besides squirrel concoctions, offers plenty of tasty treats, goods from a variety of vendors and live music.

Joe Wilson founded the event in 2012 and continues to be the driving force behind it. He has been featured on “CBS News Sunday Morning,” in The Wall Street Journal, on The Travel Channel, in Arkansas Wildlife and many other media outlets. He’s a strong supporter of natural, sustainable food such as squirrel, and hunting traditions.

Although it’s built for fun and squirrel humor runs rampant, the event has a few simple rules. Two- and three-person teams have two and a half hours to prepare their squirrel and a side dish for the judges. Everything – grilling, frying, smoking, roasting, poaching, whatever – has to be done on-site. All entries must contain 80 percent squirrel. Presentation, taste, tenderness and texture are important aspects of judging. That’s it in a nutshell.

Teams may sign up until Sept. 10 for $100, and it’s worth entering. The first-place team receives $1,000, second place earns $750 and third place goes home with $500. Teams come from across the country and include everyone from camp cooks to professional chefs.

The event has raised tens of thousands of dollars for various charities, especially Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, a national, non-profit group that supports people in the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue departments and emergency medical services.

To enter a team or find out more about the event, visit www.squirrelcookoff.com.

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