By: Andy McKeever On: 11:47AM / Monday June 27, 2011
This dancing chicken welcomed nearly 1,000 people to the annual Wing Fling competition.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Sometimes in life you have to make some sacrifices. On Saturday, this iBerkshires reporter sacrificed his taste buds to help judge the 20th annual Wing Fling.
The fundraiser for the YMCA drew about 1,000 people to the Berkshire Community College campus to meet with friends, listen to a live band and, most importantly, chow down on the best chicken wings in the county.
According to Pittsfield Family YMCA Executive Director Randy Kinnas, the event raises about $40,000 to for youth programs through entrance fees, silent auction and a few raffles.
"We have a $1.7 million budget so it's not a huge portion but it's significant," Kinnas said. "It really helps."
Saturday looked to be no different, when a huge line for the event spanned from BCC's field house all the way back to nearly West Street. And when the gates opened, the hungry crowd was off, filing through the lines of servers from an array of restaurants providing samples.
But for us at the judges tables - things went a little differently. Since Saturday, I have been asked what I thought of each restaurant's wings and my answer is simple - I do not know.
The long judges table was broken into each category and the 17 judges all chose a category to judge. I chose the hot category.
The YMCA numbered various bowls of wings and the judges – spanning for local politicians to people like me – ranked the top three by the numbers. I still do not know if the wings I voted for won.
The one wing whose origins I suspect I know may have come from Halpins Grub and Grog. (It definitely was hot.)
Halpins ranked third in the category and I believe third in mine as well. But it reeled in the people's choice for hottness. While I did like Halpins, I thought it was mostly the heat that made it stand out and we were reminded to judge on the best "flavor."
Bennigans won the hot category and the Skyline Country Club came in second. The judging really came down to a debate – not just with me but with the other judges in the category – between those two.
The one I voted for first I thought had the most full flavor. It was not about the wing, it was not about the sauce, it was the whole package. It was not super-hot but it had its kick and it tingled on the tongue in a few different ways. It was a great wing to eat all the way through.
My second-place vote went to a great sauce. That sauce was fantastic. It had a great flavor of barbecue, sweetness and then the kick at the end. However, just as I voted Halpins third for hotness due to our instructions to judge on flavor, I put this one in second. However, it really could have gone either way. Even after casting the vote I was second-guessing my decision for first and second.
In the other categories, there were some new winners. Best traditional wings went to Liberty Pizza; best original wings went to The Well; best barbecue ribs went to The Olde Forge and best original ribs went to Flavors.
While not all of the 23 restaurants took homes plaques, bragging rights and new patrons, I think they all deserve high praise for participating. They are the main attraction and they help raise money for the county's youth.
Kinnas said one of the biggest programs the YMCA is involved in is the child care voucher system. The state recently froze issuing new vouchers and the YMCA now subsidizes $120 of the $220 cost. The organization also is adding youth football and gymnastics programs. So for all the people who got fat on chicken wings and the restaurants that showed off their chefs, there is a real benefit to the community.
The YMCA also worked out some of the kinks from last year's event. Last year, all the food was gone in a hurry but this year, there was a limit on how many wings (12) a person could take at a time. But that does not mean you couldn't got back for seconds. A friend of mine ate 35 on Saturday.
So with the sun setting, people dancing and nearly 1,000 people enjoying spending time with one another, I would consider the 20th annual Wing Fling a flying success.