What is Cracker Day?
After two years’ hiatus due to some creepy crawly virus, Cracker Day returns with a vengeance. Where else can you go to eat beef that’s been slow-grilled over Blackjack oak all night long, enjoy professional bull riding by the Rough
Riders and watch kids try to lay on a goat backwards for 7 seconds while running through the arena? Only Cracker Day in Bunnell, Florida. The entertainment includes bull ridin’, ribbon ropin’, steer saddlin’, chute doggin’, pig chasin’, boot racin’, and goat ridin’ for all ages. The announcer is the infamous George Deloach that knows how to blend humor with an educational flare to help the city slickers understand what’s going on in the arena. That’s just a taste of the tradition that we enjoyed during the 65th Annual Cracker Day at the fairgrounds in Flagler County on March 26th, 2022.
What’s on the Menu?
The event was dedicated to Randy Buckles this year as an appreciation for his long-standing commitment to leading the cooking team for this annual event. It’s a process that starts with harvesting blackjack oak from the sandy hills near the Princess Place Preserve. Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) is a native species that grows in native, dry, sandy soils across the eastern and central US. It’s a relatively small red oak with a narrow trunk (typically 3 to 5 inches in diameter) with a large, three-lobed, bristle-tipped leaf. The wood is very dense and produces a hot flame. For the Cracker Day event, logs are stacked in a 5’ by 5’ rack and the fire continually burns all night and into the next day. Coals generated from the slow burning fire are shoveled into the large pits housed at the Flagler County Fairgrounds. Bottom round cuts of beef are cooked slowly over fire in covered grill pits for 14 to 16 hours. A team of 20 people stay up all night, keeping the fire stoked, shoveling coals and turning the meat ‘til it’s just right. Randy started cooking for Cracker Day with his father Victor Buckles over 40 years ago and this timeless tradition has increased from 150 lbs of beef to 4000 lbs of beef prepared in 2022.
Is it Free?
According to Walton Cowart, this year’s event was one of the most well-attended and well-supported Cracker Day Events in the 65-year history. The price was increased from $10 to $20 this year, and Mike Boyd only heard two complaints about the price increase as he welcomed all the arriving guests. Honestly, with the loaded platters of beef, beans, slaw, bread and sauce as well as the old-fashion, wild-west entertainment, it’s a deal that can’t be found anywhere else. If you missed it this year, you may want to add it to your calendar for next year. It’s always the last Saturday of March so make sure you come join the fun next year. Thanks to the wonderful team of volunteers that come out every year to stoke the fire, turn the meat, slice the bottom rounds, prepare and distribute the dinners, sell the tickets, and assist with the livestock. It’s a family, friendly event that will hopefully continue another 65 years.
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture – An Equal Opportunity Institution.