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Fourth annual Franklin County beef cookoff reveals top student cooks

In the fourth annual Franklin County Student Beef Cookoff, held Feb. 25 at Willow Oak Lodge in Spruce Pine, Family and Consumer Sciences students from across the county got cooking – and the best among them claimed cash, prizes and the right to advance to the state competition.

A joint program, the cookoff is presented by the Franklin County Cattlemen’s Association and the Franklin County Extension.

Fifteen students participated this year, representing Russellville High School, Phil Campbell High School, Belgreen High School and Red Bay High School.

Student chefs were responsible for developing their recipes and preparing them ahead of time. Judging criteria included taste, appearance, ingredient list and incorporation of beef.

In the junior division, first place went to Ciara McCarley, a Phil Campbell freshman, for her French onion burgers. Izabella Parodi placed second for Zesty Italian Barbecue Meatballs, and Ashlon Vincent placed third for her beef barley soup.

In the senior division, first place went to Ivan Luna, of Belgreen, for his carne asada, and second place went to Red Bay’s Sarah Williams for Cheesy Beefy Cornbread Casserole. Third place was awarded to RHS’ Makenzie Nelson for her taco bake dish.

“We had another great turnout,” said Franklin County Cattlemen President Michael Pounders. “I love seeing the enthusiasm of our local students, and I look forward to them being able to compete at the state level April 9 at Jeff State Community College. The Cattlemen will sponsor the ones going to state, and we’re very proud of all they are accomplishing.”

First-place winners received $50, second-place winners received $40, and third-place winners received $30. In addition, winners received gift bags, certificates and plaques.

“This event has a long history,” explained RHS FACS teacher Cindy Coan. “I remember participating when I was a student, and it’s an important and positive learning experience. I’m very proud of all our students. It’s all led, developed and prepared by the students on their own.”

“The beef cookoff was a wonderful experience for all of my students,” agreed PCHS FACS teacher Aleaha Harris. “They worked really hard on choosing and preparing their dishes, and they represented our school well.”

Judges for the competition included Lucy Edwards, regional extension agent for horticulture; Shirley Jimenez, ethnic nutrition educator for the Franklin County Extension; and Austin Blankenship, 4-H Foundation regional extension agent for Franklin County.

“I was surprised how good everything tasted,” noted Jimenez. “They all did a great job. We had a tie and had to re-sample in order to make a decision.”

Blankenship said it was wonderful “to see our students participating in sponsored contests through local organizations and getting to make use of the skills they are learning in school.”

Coffey agreed. “This was a great way for participants to showcase their cooking skills, learn new techniques, see what others are doing in the area of  beef cookery and hopefully further their education when it comes to food preparation and cooking,” she added.

“I’m so very proud of the students that participated,” said Red Bay High School FACS teacher Sherry Hutcheson. “They stepped up to the challenge and performed admirably. I was unable to go with them due to a last-minute need to drive students to the state HOSA convention and competition, and I want to thank Dr. (Jacqueline) Parsons for taking the girls to compete in the cookoff in my place.”

Pounders thanked sponsors CB&S Bank and Community Spirit Bank, venue Willow Oak Lodge and coordinator Cole Coffey for all their contributions toward the event.


French Onion Burgers
Ciara McCarley, first place


  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 packet Lipton Onion Soup and Dip Mix
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. low sodium Dale’s seasoning
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. In a bowl, mix together ground beef, water, Dale’s seasoning and Lipton Onion Soup mix packet.
  2. Pat out six hamburger patties and place to the side.
  3. Place two to three hamburger patties in a stovetop skillet.
  4. The skillet should be set on medium heat.
  5. Flip each burger every three to four minutes to prevent burning.
  6. Cook until well done.
  7. While cooking the burgers, get a separate skillet and sauté the white onion. The skillet should be set on low heat.
  8. When the patties and onion are done cooking, serve with the onions on top of the hamburger patty.

Zesty Italian Barbecue Meatballs
Izabella Parodi, second place


  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 2 eggs, beaten

For the sauce:

  • 1 1/2 cup bottled barbecue sauce
  • 3/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water, as needed
  • 1 tsp. liquid smoke


  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the meatball ingredients. Form into walnut-sized balls.
  2. Bake the meatballs in a shallow baking dish at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned.
  3. Drain off any fat.
  4. Transfer meatballs to a slow cooker.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, combine all sauce ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  6. Pour over the meatballs in the slow cooker.
  7. Cover. Cook on low for four hours or high for two hours. Stir once in the middle of cooking to baste the meatballs with the sauce.
  8. Remove the meatballs from the sauce to serve.

Beef Barley Soup
Ashlon Vincent, third place


  • 2 Tb. oil
  • 2 Ib. beef, cut in cubes
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1 Tb. salt, adjust to taste
  • 1 tsp. pepper, adjust to taste


  1. In a preheated pot, brown beef with oil.
  2. Add onion, carrot and mushrooms to the beef and sauté until veggies turn slightly golden.
  3. Add salt, pepper, bay leaves and garlic to the mix.
  4. Pour in the beef broth and allow everything to simmer on medium heat for 45 minutes with the lid on.
  5. Add barley and cook for 20 more minutes or until it’s fully cooked. Serve right away.


Carne Asada Tacos
Ivan Luna, first place


  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 Tb. butter
  • 1 1/2 lbs. skirt steak, cut into half-inch pieces
  • 20 mini corn tortillas, warmed
  • 3/4 cup diced onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 limes, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup salsa verde


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Add steak, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until steak has browned and reached desired doneness.
  3. Serve steak in tortillas, topped with onion, cilantro, lime and salsa verde.

Cheesy Beefy Cornbread Casserole
Sarah Williams, second place


  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz. jar salsa
  • Two 6.5 oz. packets Martha White Yellow Cornbread Mix, divided use
  • 1 1/3 cups water, divided use
  • 14.75 oz. cream-style corn, divided use
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican-style cheese
  • 16 slices pickled jalapeños
  • Optional toppings: sour cream, pico de gallo and salsa


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. In a large pan, brown ground beef with onions and garlic. Drain excess grease.
  4. Put back in pan and stir in salsa.
  5. Prepare one packet of Martha White Yellow Cornbread mix with 2/3 cup water. Stir well then add half the can of cream-style corn.
  6. Mix well then pour evenly into prepared baking dish.
  7. Spread ground beef mixture on top of cornbread mixture.
  8. Prepare second packet of Martha White Yellow Cornbread mix with 2/3 cup water. Stir well then add the other half can of cream-style corn. Mix well then pour evenly on top of ground beef mixture.
  9. Top with shredded cheese.
  10. Evenly place pickled jalapeño slices on top.
  11. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 15 minutes.
  12. Remove foil and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  13. Slice and serve with sour cream, pico de gallo or salsa.

Taco Bake
Makenzie Nelson, third place


  • 2/3 cup of prepared Ranch dressing (any brand, not the dry mix)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 12 tortillas
  • Ricos Gourmet Nacho Cheese (canned)
  • 2 cups Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • 2 packs Taco Bell mild taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro


  1. Take your 2 pounds of ground beef and cook until brown.
  2. After your meat has finished cooking, set aside in a strainer to drain out any grease.
  3. While meat is draining, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. After meat has drained, add meat and taco seasoning into a skillet.
  5. Warm nacho cheese in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl.
  6. Mix sour cream and Ranch together. Add water if you want a thinner mixture.
  7. Take a round pan and start by laying down a tortilla in the pan.
  8. Next add a layer of melted nacho cheese and a layer of shredded cheese.
  9. Spread a layer of meat on top of the cheeses and add another tortilla.
  10. Layer Ranch and sour cream mixture on top of the new tortilla.
  11. Add another layer of shredded cheese on top, along with the taco meat, ending with taco meat and cheese.
  12. Repeat the process until you have no ingredients left.
  13. Put in the oven for 5-10 minutes.
  14. Take out of the oven and garnish with sour cream and chopped cilantro.