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Butner Chicken Pickin’ clucks on in 25th year

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BUTNER — While Memorial Day weekend is seen as the unofficial start of summer and many non-beach towns empty out, it’s the weekend after in southern Granville County that signals to many locals the start of hot weather and outdoor activities.

The Butner Chicken Pickin’, a staple of the town since 1994, saw many residents and even some visitors descend Saturday on Butner’s Gazebo Park for a day of fellowship, fun, and most of all, good eating.

“This is by far the biggest event we put on all year,” said Erma Hudgins of the Butner Community Association. “The hard planning started in January, working on getting vendors in, logistics, etc. I think what makes things a little easier is that we’ve had constant members with experience that know their jobs and can do them well.”

For this year’s event, the organizers recognized the history of the Butner Chicken Pickin’ not only through exhibits of Butner Chicken Pickin’s past, but recognizing the original organizers of the event which included member Marilyn Cheek, who has been active since the beginning. Her daughter-in-law, Judy Cheek, carries on the work of the Butner Community Association as its current chairperson.

One surprise for Hudgins, who is the Butner Community Association’s head of marketing with her husband Cecil, was the recent recognition by travel website, which listed the event under “Summer Things to Do in North Carolina.”

“That website recognition came out of the blue,” Hudgins said.

During Saturday’s festivities, several vendors, both longtime and new, fired up their massive grills for serving not just chicken, but pork, ribs and any other meat that could be barbecued.

“There really is no secret to cooking barbecue,” said Chuck Mitchell of Mitchell’s Hog Wild BBQ.

Mitchell, who has been a mainstay at the Butner Chicken Pickin’ since the late-1990s, took first place in the event’s cook-off competition.

“I can tell you we make our own sauce, but other than that, I really couldn’t say how our barbecue is any different from others,” Mitchell said. “The one thing you do have to remember is to always watch (the food cooking) closely.”

For some, they came for the barbecue but stayed for the car show, which featured all sorts of vehicles ranging from classic hot rods to more modern, modified fare.

“The car show is my favorite part,” said Harry Gillis, a Durham resident visiting the area. “I’m a car guy myself and it’s good to see what people can do with modern technology like turn a regular truck into a mini-monster truck with folding doors.”

Going forward, organizers say the Butner Chicken Pickin’ could use something more than cars and barbecue, and that’s an influx of helping hands.

“If there’s one thing we’re thinking about this year and next year, it’s more volunteers,” Hudgins said.