Don’t Mess With Bacon

Bacon, beer & bands: 10th Annual Bacon Bash cook off & fundraiser draws bacon-loving crowd to tiny Cranfills Gap, filling Main Street with participants young & old

CRANFILLS GAP – Who said fundraisers had to be humdrum, routine sit down dinners with a couple of speakers? Because in Cranfills Gap the Bacon Bash cookoff fundraiser is anything but stale and stuffy. The event is a collaboration between Pederson Natural Farms and the Horny Toad Bar & Grill.

With 1,750 people converging on "The Gap" for the Oct. 15 event, a ticket bought free beer, bands and all the bacon snacks they could muster. The immensely popular event fills Main Street with young and old, with or without their kids enjoying all the different entertainment – three different bands over the course of the evening, a bacon-inspired photo booth, a corn hole tournament, and merchandise with all the bacon slogans you can imagine. And besides bacon snacks, there’s a Bloody Mary bar, a hydration station, a mixed drink bar, Big Texas Breakfast bar, Pederson’s test kitchen to sample new products.

Oh, and not to forget the Bacon Eating contest in which 10 chosen try to eat half a pound of bacon the fastest. This year’s winner Ben Warren did his employer Pederson Natural Farms proud when he was the first to raise his hand indicating he had wolfed down the contents of his plate.

It’s a huge event, and the unique concept works – because who doesn’t want an excuse to eat all the bacon they can get their hands on? The combined ticket proceeds, live auction, card game and spontaneous donations from the extremely fun event raised around $100,000 to benefit some serious charities – Children with Type 1 diabetes and Niki Warms the Cold. This adds up to over $700,000 since the event’s inception in 2012.

For the 19 teams in the bacon cook off, there is some serious prize money to win and there’s stiff competition. Taking aroma, appearance, presentation, color, tenderness, taste, after taste and originality into account, on-site judges decide the top five entries that get to the final judging table with celebrity chefs – last year’s winner and Board of Director’s member Brandon Sommerfeld, Cowboy Chef and Masterchef contestant Mike Newton, food lover, and owner of Teddy’s Brewhouse in Brownwood Jeff Tucker, cooking show host and cookbook author Paige Murray, Restaurateur/Chef Jon Bonnell, President of Fort Worth’s Reatta Restaurant Mike MiCallef and Toscana’s executive chef Joey Guzman.

Because of the quality of the bacon dishes, many of the celebrity chefs are honored to be part of the Bacon Bash family and are repeat offenders. “Baconism” is 75 percent of the score, which means bacon is the absolute star of the dish, giving lots, and lots of bacon flavor. 

This year, Two Guys and Co. took home the $4,000 first prize for their bacon-wrapped Dinosaur eggs with bacon dipping sauce, creatively presented on a dinosaur pedestal plate with a peanut butter and whiskey-infused orange juice chaser. Besides the trophy – a chubby golden pig on a pedestal – the prize money, the team gets their name, bio, and recipe on the back of 40,000 packages of Pederson’s bacon distributed nationwide

“The creativity, how they applied the bacon in the recipe, the chaser complemented their dish well,” on-site judge for the past five years Stef Cobb said, giving this dish all 10’s. “I’m gonna tell you, they were over the top.”

Cobb’s second favorite, Achin’ Bacon’s bacon pecan fried pie with bourbon caramel ice cream with bacon sprinkles grabbed second place, and Best in Show. Best in Show judges David and Denise Cooke found them to be the showiest, most enthusiastic, bacon-loving team. They have competed many years and were thrilled to place the highest ever.

Third place went to first time competitors MaDD with their Piggie Poppers. The Baconeers came fourth and received People’s Choice with their bacon and Jameson cheesecake. Dyin’ Breed from Arkansas came fifth with their Drunken Donut with maple bourbon glaze and homemade butter pecan ice cream.

For all the other teams, the event was a fun way to support the causes. Each team gets 15 pounds of bacon from main sponsor Pederson Farms to make at least 500 samples for the public and judges. Regulars to the event know to come early, because some cookers sell out quickly.

First-timers Clifton Veterinary signed up with Albrechts Pharmacy in support of Carter Tunnell, a Clifton High School student with Type 1 Diabetes. The Pharmacy’s Meet the Pricks colorful Hawaii-themed cabana station served bacon sliders.

Even though the vet clinic’s bacon nachos with jalapenos and a Big Red shooter got them a lot of compliments and had visitors ask for more, they did not make it to the final table. “In our hearts we won, because it’s for a great cause,” Veterinarian Kaki Nicotre said.

A Dutch contingent of Anita, Frans, Lauren and Linda from the Stephenville area came with Josse and Aafke Damstra in support of their friend Andrew Huf who was an on-site judge at the event. All the friends are in some way or other are or were connected to the Dublin area dairies. Of course they came for the bacon, the music, being with friends, but primarily they came in support of the good cause.

Besides the bacon cook off, some teams entered in the sixth annual Ryan Jackson Memorial Pork Butt Competition. The sweet, savory and smoky cookers were judged by Hamilton’s “I like pork butts, I cannot lie” Lonestar Meat Co’s Kent Wenzel.

At the acoustic stage, the 5-N-Dimers filled the air with some sweet country music as the corn hole tournament went underway. Jacob Stelly and his band found the stage in the afternoon while Nashville’s American Country Rock band The Steel Woods entertained the crowd into the night after the very successful live auction.

A staple at the Bash is the heartwarming, colorful balloon release in name of Niki, Lexie, Cora and any others lost and lovingly remembered. Niki and Lexie are “the Why” for the wildly popular Bacon Bash fundraiser.

Niki Warms the Cold is a charity born in memory of Cranfills Gap native Niki Carlson shortly after her unexpected death. Niki dreamed of keeping coats and blankets in her car to hand out to folks in need. This dream became reality as the seed Niki planted with her family began to grow. Niki Warms the Cold distributes coats and blankets to those in need across the state of Texas. Each year, a portion of Bacon Bash Texas proceeds are donated to Niki Warms the Cold to help fund the purchase of additional coats and blankets. 

Niki’s cousin, Lexie Finstad, and Cranfills Gap native, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She was a nine year camper at a specialized diabetes camp in North Texas. The camp’s main focus was to educate children on their illness and to help instill healthy habits in campers, while connecting them with other children with diabetes. These specialized camps can make a huge impact in the life of a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

In 2015, Bacon Bash Texas started a scholarship fund to send children with Type 1 Diabetes to specialized diabetes camps. Scholarships will be fully funded by Bacon Bash Texas proceeds. Bacon Bash Texas also started a scholarship fund to provide financial assistance to children to receive a Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring System with event proceeds. This system allows remote monitoring of a Type 1 Diabetes patient’s glucose levels and alerts a parent when the child’s levels become dangerous.

“We threw a party and made a really big difference in kids’ lives,” the Bacon Bash website boasts. “Changing lives, one bacon slice at a time.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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