When temperatures start heating up in Wilkes County, you can be sure of one thing....it’s time for a chickenque. At our house, we enjoy cooking barbecued chicken on the grill several times during the summer months, especially Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day.

My husband, Drew, is our “pit master,” and over the years he has worked out his own technique for cooking chicken, using my homemade sauce.

Chickenques are the favorite fundraising method of churches, civic groups and organizations around the county. On any given Friday and Saturday, from spring to fall, chickenques can be found at Memorial Park in North Wilkesboro and at other locations around the county.

Each week, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot lists several chickenques in the community events section. We frequently have calls from the public wanting to know when and where chickenques are going to be held.

 This week, chickenques are being held at Memorial Park on Friday, sponsored by the Wilkes Country Fraternal Order of Police, and on Saturday  sponsored by Harvest Time Fellowship. Congo Pentecostal Holiness Church off Highway 421 West, the Boomer Community Center, off Highway 18 South, and the Mulberry-Fairplains Ruritan Club are all having chickenques on Saturday,

Many organizations have their own pits for cooking, while others use Memorial Park’s chicken cooking pit. The Town of North Wilkesboro Recreation Department holds a barbecue chicken meeting in January to decide when organizations can use their pit.

The going rate for a plate of barbecued chicken is $8, however some organizations, like the Mountain View and Mulberry-Fairplains Ruritan clubs, charge $7.

Most plates include a half of a chicken, baked beans, cole slaw, roll and cake. Mountain View Ruritan Club adds a small cup of extra sauce with their plates and the Moravian Falls Optimist Club has a bake sale along with their monthly chickenque. Union United Methodist Church substitutes green beans for the cole slaw. One of the cooks for Stony Hill Baptist Church in Purlear told me recently he makes homemade baked beans complete with bacon, for their chickenques.

It’s quite a task to get a chicken half cooked just right. Pit master Gerald Lankford, who cooks for the North Wilkesboro Rotary Club, says the secret is cooking the chicken half on the rack for about an hour before basting on the sauce, and then turning and basting the chicken frequently until it is done (165 degrees).

Secret sauce

Everyone has their own idea of the perfect sauce for a chickenque, but all of them are vinegar-based. My recipe, which my brother, Chuck, gave me many years ago, uses melted margarine, however, the original recipe replaces the butter with oil, which keeps longer.  

Wilkes Hardware sells bottles of the original version, made by Max Bumgarner, son of the late Clate Bumgarner, who perfected the Wilkes County sauce. Bumgarner uses several special ingredients for his sauce, which he doesn’t divulge.

Chuck said I should emphasize barbecued chicken must be cooked until it is no longer pink inside to avoid the risk of salmonella. A follow-up column will relate the history of chickenques in Wilkes County.

Barbecued Chicken sauce

2 cups white vinegar,

3 sticks margarine

3 T salt

3 T black pepper

1 T ground red pepper (not flakes)

1 T lemon juice

Melt butter and add all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

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