The Chickenator, The Mrs., and The Sauce
LAUGH & LEARN
CATHY LEE PHILLIPS
Dr. John Pemberton in 1886 brewed a sassy drink to alleviate headaches and calm nerves. Asa Candler of Atlanta purchased the formula and gave it a name. Today the whole world recognizes the Coca Cola brand. Tasty and beloved, the Coca Cola recipe remains perhaps the most highly-guarded trade secret in history. In 1930, Harland Sanders magically blended eleven herbs and spices and established his Kentucky Fried Chicken. The details still remain under lock and key.
In the 1960s, G. W. Coggin of Madras, Georgia, crafted a unique, mouthwatering vinegar-based barbeque sauce. Though multitudes have begged for the particulars, G.W.’s recipe remains completely Coggin, classified, and confidential.
G. W. worked for the Georgia Department of Agriculture Egg Division. His mingling of Apple Cider Vinegar with a kick of Tabasco Sauce and other secret ingredients was a sensation. Using his tasty sauce, he grilled thousands of chicken-halves for his lucky co-workers in the Department of Agriculture. The recipe’s reputation multiplied and G.W. was soon grilling for the Georgia State Employees annual picnic and, ultimately, the State of Georgia General Assembly. Countless others smacked their lips and thanked their lucky stars they were fortunate enough to enjoy chicken doused with this heavenly brew.
Upon G. W.’s death, the torch and recipe were passed to his daughter, Connie, and her husband, Marty Webb. Using the Coggin concoction, Connie and Marty began grilling chicken for church and school fundraisers throughout Coweta County and Newnan, Georgia.
Marty, Connie, and G.W.’s sauce became rather famous in these parts. Folks from miles around looked forward to buying tickets to any fundraiser featuring their chicken halves. Somewhere during this time, Marty was aptly dubbed … The Chickenator! Oddly, The Chickenator himself doesn’t know how the sauce is made. Connie is the keeper of her father’s recipe and mixes it while Marty prepares the outdoor grilling area. Through the years, several cooking and preparation procedures have been tweaked. Connie and Marty constantly evaluate their promotional, purchasing, and grilling procedures to maintain peak efficiency.
Two things will never change, however. The sauce, of course. And the menu. Whatever the venue, the meal is the same – a juicy chicken half, cole slaw, pickles, chips, and white bread. Since no self-respecting southern meal is complete without dessert, volunteers from the sponsoring organization typically provide an abundance of homemade pies, cakes, and brownies, allowing customers to purchase calories of their choice.
For Connie and Marty’s first fundraiser, they prepared five hundred chicken halves at Jones Chapel United Methodist Church in Madras. Tickets were five dollars each and the profit was close to one thousand dollars. The chicken, The Chickenator, The Mrs., and the sauce, developed a delicious reputation. Wherever they cooked, hungry crowds gathered.
Groups rushed to book The Chickenator and The Mrs. and the secret sauce. One organization – the Northgate High School Athletic Booster Club – invited Connie and Marty to grill their fabulous fowl for a fundraiser, beginning a 10-year tradition at the school. Their final year at Northgate, they grilled more than 2,400 chicken halves. Quite a phenomenal growth from the 500 halves prepared at their very first event. Why? The food was delicious, their planning was well-organized, and they recruited dedicated volunteers. They also made the work fun.
“Aggressive ticket sales generated profits,” Marty shares.
Two thousand tickets were printed two months prior to each event. Everyone associated with the occasion was asked to sell at least 10 tickets. Even while doing everything else, Marty and Connie usually sold the majority of tickets themselves. Eventually they provided each volunteer a list of folks to approach – hairdressers, mail carriers, co-workers, and basically anyone that crossed their paths. Who wouldn’t want a delicious, secret-sauce grilled chicken meal for a mere five dollars?
Connie remembers, “Volunteers delivered to businesses and some individuals. Outside sales were a great part of our success.”
She developed well-organized delivery routes so meals were usually still warm when they arrived on-site.
Businesses in Newnan and neighboring towns purchased 40 or 50 plates to feed their Saturday employees. Workers in car dealerships, business offices, banks, and miscellaneous stores loved the food and the convenience of personal delivery. Employees gathered in board rooms and cafeterias and grew to know each other better due to G.W.’s scrumptious sauce.
Their reputation was fiercely protected. Neither Connie nor Marty allowed shortcuts or inferior products. Deviate from the plan and you would have to answer to Connie … and no one wanted to answer to Connie!
If you followed their plan, you would have a meal so good that, according to Marty, “If you put a little on your head your tongue will beat your brains out trying to get at it!”
The day before cooking, a two-high concrete block pit was built. The size was determined by the number of halves to be cooked. The pit was lined with thick aluminum foil to help with wind control. The Chickenator started his fire around 2:00 Saturday morning, put grilling racks in place, and greased them with mops. Fresh chicken from Sutherland Eggs Farms at the Georgia State Farmer’s Market was carefully placed on the racks. Left halves and right halves went next to each other so that no space was wasted. Mops were also used to drench the chicken in sauce. In later years, they discovered that using a sprayer was a quicker and more effective method.
A sassy aroma filled the air as the birds sizzled above the coals. To turn the chicken so both sides could face the flames spare racks were placed atop the pieces. The halves, sandwiched between two racks, were turned over by volunteers trained by Marty the day before grilling. By 3:30 a.m. Connie was preparing the sauce, using as many as 20 gallons of vinegar when ticket sales were high.
Delicious chicken wasn’t the only benefit of the day. Forever friendships were born while people worked hard. Laughter and conversation punctuated the early morning hours. Money was raised to help deserving schools and churches. And a community grew stronger as strangers became friends over a simple piece of chicken flavored with G. W.’s secret sauce.
The ways of God are many and mysterious . . . and, on occasion, quite delicious!
By the way, as a connoisseur of said bird, I can assure you that I would plow down a nun if she stood between me and a piece of chicken grilled with G.W.’s sauce. I’m not proud of this, but I would do it. Yep, the chicken is that good!
© Copyright 2013 Cathy Lee Phillips