According to the Arkansas Department of Tourism, Stuttgart (Pop. 8,720) is known as “the duck and rice capital of the world.” So it makes sense, I guess, that on the weekend after Thanksgiving, those two nouns are enthusiastically combined when the annual Duck Gumbo Cookoff is held in the parking lot of a rice mill in the central Arkansas town.
The cookoff is part of the Wings Over the Prairie Festival, which also includes the Queen Mallard pageant (for humans, not ducks: we checked), a duck-related 5K, and at least a half-dozen different duck calling contests. But for more than 40 years, Duck Gumbo has been the real draw, and not just because of the spicy stew.
The Stuttgart Daily Leader reports that a precursor to the event called the Critter Supper was held in the 1970s, and the first Duck Gumbo was held in 1980. The tradition has continued for the past 40-plus years, minus the 2020 festival, which was canceled for totally obvious reasons. Every year, over 50 teams compete in the cookoff, and the rules are simple: each team has to prepare three quarts of gumbo, and at least 50% of the meat involved has to be duck. (There are no restrictions on what the other 50% can or cannot be.)
Duck Gumbo also has a tendency to be absolutely bonkers. When a reporter from Arkansas Online attended in 2016, she wrote that it was as “wild as it’s billed to be.” Other outlets have described it as somewhere between “a religious event and a frat party,” while attendees have just shrugged it off as “a redneck Mardi Gras.”
“People come here for a good time,” Curtis Ahrens, the chair of the Duck Gumbo Planning Committee, told ESPN. “If you’re gonna get pissed off because you get slapped on your ass, or your old lady gets slapped on the ass, then you’re probably not going to come back. Because you are going to get that ass slapped.”
But the attendees and the competitors also take the actual gumbo pretty seriously. There are several thousand attendees who crush an estimated 10,000 cans of beer during the single-day event. And there are typically more than two dozen teams on the waiting list to compete in the gumbo cooking competition, some of whom have been waiting for over a decade to get their call-up.
“Duck Gumbo is a bucket list item,” Ahrens said just before last year’s event. “Everyone needs to come to gumbo at least once.” Just don’t be surprised if you get that ass slapped.
Gumbo shows up in this week’s Mystery Video Fun Club. Take a look here: