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The Not-So-Secret recipe: Shreve chicken barbecue helps community projects

Marty Hershberger and his cooking crew can barbecue 500 halves of chicken at a time in the charcoal pit at the Shreve Business and Community Association’s chicken barbecue at the Wayne County Fair. The chicken is purchased from Gerber Poultry in Kidron and stored in refrigerated trucks provided by Beaver Meats in Smithville.

Laurie Sidle

An idea hatched more than 40 years ago has cooked up sweet success at the Wayne County Fair for the Shreve Business and Community Association.

During the fair’s six-day run, the Association’s chicken barbecue nets about $20,000 for the group to invest in the community, barbecue chairman Marty Hershberger said.

Profits benefit Shreve’s Migration Sensation, Homecoming, Support Our Troops and streetscape projects, along with the Wounded Warrior Project and purchases at the Wayne County Junior Fair Livestock sales.

“I think it’s just a great thing, the village is coming together for a common cause,” said Chris Stewart, Shreve Presbyterian Church pastor, one of about 300 volunteers who make the fair’s barbecue operation run smoothly.

He said the Association recently sent a check for the church to help with its project to fill 50 bags with school supplies for Shreve Elementary students. “We’re a small congregation,” he said. “It says something about the Association that it supports the church’s missions.”

The chicken barbecue offers a menu of chicken halves and quarters along with full meals of chicken, green beans, applesauce, roll and butter and drink. At times, the line to the building stretches into more than an hour wait.

“People like the way our chicken tastes,” Hershberger said, “and they like our green beans.” None of the recipes is secret, he said, but the cooking methods have been honed over the years to make the food offered a consistent, well-liked product.

He attributes the chicken’s popular taste to the combination of the charcoal over which it’s grilled and the sauce — a mixture of water, butter, vinegar, salt and Worcestershire sauce — sprayed on chicken halves while they cook.

When the barbecue first started, workers could only cook 150 halves at a time, he said. Improvements to the chicken barbecue building and an expanded charcoal pit increased cooking capability to 200 halves at a time, he said. “but we couldn’t keep up.”

Currently, the cooking crew of eight people — 16 a day over two shifts — can barbecue 500 halves at a time. The halves are stored in coolers to keep them hot, moist and tender. So tender, in fact, that no knives are offered with the silverware.

By Monday evening, the Association had sold 5,400 chicken halves, down a little from last year because of the rainy weather Saturday, Hershberger said. By fair’s end, the Association normally serves about 10,000 chicken halves, 125 roasters full of green beans and 300 gallons of applesauce. It uses 600 gallons of sauce.

Due to his involvement with the Association’s chicken barbecue, he has built his own charcoal pit and turned chicken barbecuing into a part-time hobby.

From the middle of April to the middle of October, he spends almost every weekend cooking chicken for fundraisers and parties, he said.

At the fair, volunteers are scheduled in four-hour shifts. Longtime volunteers Gary and Elaine Troyer said working at the barbecue is a great way to meet and greet people.

“It’s so much fun,” said Joyce Wirt, who has volunteered on and off for 20 years.

Don Wilcox of Rittman looks forward to visiting the fair each year and makes sure he stops for the Shreve Business and Community Association’s chicken.

What does he like about it?

“Everything,” he said “I’ve never been disappointed.”

Published: September 13, 2014
New Article ID: 2014709139992