The World Championship Steak Cook-off is the original steak competition, according to Jason Ray, event chairman.
Category: Cover Story

Magnolia Blossom Festival

The World Championship Steak Cook-off trophy filled with charcoal.

The festival is free to attend. Steak cook-off tickets can be purchased in advance for $30 by visiting

A limited number of tickets will be available for sale the morning of May 18. Parking is available for free in lots around central Magnolia. For more information, visit the aforementioned website, or call the Magnolia-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce at
(870) 234-4352.

World Championship Steak Cook-off sizzles at Magnolia Blossom Festival

The World Championship Steak Cook-off brings competitors from across the nation.


There’s a lot at “steak” in Magnolia this month, when thousands of hungry folks will watch dozens of teams compete to see who prepares the best steak. The World Championship Steak Cook-off is part of the annual Magnolia Blossom Festival, which takes place this year on May 17 and 18 on the city’s downtown square.

The event began as the Sidewalk Art Show way back in 1950, growing over the years until becoming the Magnolia Blossom Festival in 1989. The following year, O.A. “Buddy” Franks — a Magnolia resident and businessman — had an idea for a new event for the festival, and what is now known as the World Championship Steak Cook-off was born.

Every year since, contenders from across the nation have come to test their mettle and steel — or cast-irons and grills — against each other for the chance to have their steaks declared the best in the world.

“This is the original steak cook-off that we know of,” event chairman Jason Ray shares. “It has been copied by many over the years, but never done as well or as friendly as what we do!”

Ray says in addition to all the activities the festival has to offer, it’s a great opportunity to get advice on grilling the perfect steak.

“All of these cookers are great people and love to talk. They love to show off their grills,” he says. “They won’t all give you their secrets but are quick to tell you why they have the best steak.”

Where’s the beef?

Competitors can use seasonings of their choice on the 1 pound rib-eye steaks.
Steak Cook-off contestants strive for a perfectly cooked medium steak.

For competitors, there’s an expectation to “meat.” Not only is each team expected to turn in a steak for the overall competition, they’re also expected to serve attendees who purchase a steak cook-off ticket. Each team is given 40 to 50 rib-eye steaks, each weighing 1 pound. The steaks can be seasoned as the competitors wish, but they cannot have any sort of identifying marks on them. Most teams will select two or three steaks for the final grilling, then the chief cook will choose one to send to the judges. The steak must be cooked to a perfect medium — no cool red centers, and no overdone rib-eyes allowed.

Each steak is judged for doneness, tenderness, taste, appearance and overall impression.

Saturday at 6 p.m. is when the feasting begins. “There are four serving lines on the square, and one drive-thru lineabout two blocks off the square,” Ray says. “This allows us to serve about 2,500 steaks in about 10-15 minutes.”

The Magnolia Blossom Festival started in 1950 as the Sidewalk Art Show. Today’s festival includes food and craft vendors, a car show, a 5K race and a pet show among other events.

Attendees take their cook-off tickets to the serving lines.  “They get a potato, salad, roll, drink,and fixings there,” Ray continues. “They then get to go to any cooker that still has steaks; some serving lines give a little dessert as well.  Lines open at 6 p.m., but a few people start lining up as early as 4.” Competitors have flags to indicate that there are still steaks to be had at their station, which keeps those in line from waiting in vain.

A rare event

There’s a lot more that goes on at the festival.

The Rods and Ribeyes Car and Truck Show is part of the festivities. Photo by Chance Allmon
Past winners of the Miss Magnolia Blossom Festival Pageant.

“On the Friday night of the festival, we have a free concert,” Magnolia-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rachel Jenkins says. “This year the headliner is Chapel Hart. We still incorporate the original Sidewalk Art Show, now moved inside Magnolia Arts, a local nonprofit. We also have the Rods and Ribeyes car show, which brings in a variety of cars from surrounding regions. There are food and craft vendors, a 5K race, a fishing tournament, a pageant and a pet show. This year, Arkansas Circus Arts will be joining us on May 18.”