Grits Festival draws thousands for a roll in the muck

Alyssa Murkin/Staff Gabrielle McCoskey, 9, strips off her gritty shirt to get hosed down after participating in the 27th annual World Grits Festival's Rollin' In The Grits competition Saturday. She tied for first place in the 5- to 9-year-old division.

What's the meaning of G-R-I-T-S?

“Girls Raised in The South,” said 9-year-old Gabrielle McCoskey, still beaming from a head-first dive into an inflatable swimming pool full of the slimy mush.

The World Grits Festival draws more than 40,000 people to St. George each year largely because of the small-town charm in its signature event, the “Rolling in the Grits” contest.

Competitors vie for prizes by wallowing in the beloved corny goo and getting as much of the stuff to stick to their bodies as they can.

Sporting a Quaker Grits T-shirt, jeans underneath a pair of sweatpants duct taped at the hems, suspenders and pink rain boots, Gabrielle managed to drench herself with 14 pounds of grits, tying for first place in her age group.

“It just felt really squishy,” said Gabrielle, a three-year veteran of the event.

Phillip Ranck has prepared the batch of grits for the contest since 1999.

“I look forward to it every year and just keep on going with it,” Ranck said.

Instead of a spoon stirring dry grits into a pot full of hot water on the stovetop, imagine a wooden oar rowing in an inflatable pool filled by a water hose. Otherwise, making the mixture is much the same, Ranck said.

The key is getting the mush to the perfect consistency. Ranck said you'll know it's ready when the oar stands as straight as an arrow in the pool with no help from anyone.

Ranck said what's left of the batch after the contest goes to an area pig farm for good eating.

The World Grits Festival continues today with carnival rides, a wheelbarrow race, corn bag toss contest and other events.

The “Rolling in the Grits” contest for people 15 and older begins at 1 p.m.

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Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908.