On Saturday, February 17, Kent Island’s Cult Classic Brewing Company hosted the Annual Crawfish Boil & Muskrat Leg Eating World Championship, and a new king was crowned.
Going against such heavy competition as the defending champion Daniel “Chunky’ Hesson, “the man known only as Dink, the Last Redneck in St. Michaels,” “Wild” Will Linthicum, Chesapeake Bay-based celebrities Jay Fleming and Luke McFadden, and Molly Steen, a Cult Classic employee who represented the host county with all the dignified aplomb the occasion called for, the challenger Mike “Dirty Legs” Detmer pulled off an upset by the very smallest of bites.
Third place was taken by formidable first-time competitor Cody Fenzel. Before informing the second-place finisher, the original and two-time former champion Chuckie “DJ Chuckie Love” Hayward, by what margin he’d been defeated, event organizer Keith Graffius made sure Hayward really wanted to know.
When the results were tallied, computed, and verified, Dirty Legs Detmer had won by 1/10th of an ounce.
Evolving from the muskrat skinning competition at Dorchester County’s annual National Outdoor Show to the Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Stew Fest in 2012, the first Muskrat Leg Eating World Championship was held in 2018 with only three participants. According to Keith Graffius this celebration of the Eastern Shore’s favorite rodent was conceived as an acknowledgment of our region’s heritage and culture while reminding us that “In the hyped up world we live in, it’s okay to let go sometimes, to not be too serious, to have fun and go eat muskrat on a Saturday afternoon. Plus,” he said the day after the contest, “it’s good to give back by setting up this family-friendly event and then donating back into the community.” Proceeds from Saturday will be shared with various local organizations such as the Queen Annes County Watermen’s Association and a scholarship named for two-time muskrat-eating champion Ralph “Peg Leg” Bramble.
Like the muskrat eating, the crawfish component of the yearly party also stems from tradition. Since the 1950’s, Dorchester County has been sending a delegation to the Fur and Wildlife Festival in Louisiana’s Cameron Parish and a group of Louisianians have always returned the honor of the visit during the Outdoor Show. Keith said the crawfish honor the friendship that’s grown over time between people from the Shore and those from a place that’s so similar to here in so many regards. The food for both the competition and for sale to the public, including muskrat barbecue, stew, and quesadillas, was provided by Palm Beach Willies Restaurant on Taylors Island.
“It’s a perfect partnership of the weird and wonderful things we love about where we live and the crazy creativity of our neighbors,” said Cult Classic Main Man Rohry Flood.
Regarding their first time hosts, Keith said, “Cult Classic is next level. It’s a great location, and I love working with Rohry and the group there. I like how they go into everything with a little bit of an off-center outlook. I thought we’d be a great fit. Plus, they always have such a community-minded approach to what they do.”
The day’s proceedings started at noon with Bloody Marys and DJ “Hitman” Eddie Hitt’s karaoke. Then the D.C. Blues icon Jimmy Cole, a longtime friend of the muskrat-crawfish festival, took the stage with his stacked deck of Delmarva All-Stars. Cole’s band included musicians who have individually played with everybody from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa and they charmed the crowd with their virtuosity, flair, and self-proclaimed style of “100-proof American Blended Music.”
Retired radio DJ and host Troy Hill emceed the muskrat chow-down that followed. Keith said, “We always need somebody who can engage the audience while the band is taking down and before the athletes take the stage, who can introduce the competitors and announce the winner. Troy’s a pro and an old friend and we got to hang out with other old friends we hadn’t seen much in recent years.” He laughed. “It was kind of a good excuse for a reunion.”
When the main event started, contestants had two minutes to eat all the muskrat legs they could possibly manage. It’s a competition measured in fractions of an ounce, and the time goes quick.
Unless perhaps if you’re one of the competitors.
Muskrat is an acquired taste. Pungent in both smell and flavor, there’s not much meat on these funky little marsh dwellers, and what is there is hard to extract from their small brittle bones. Some folks love the rustic piquancy they bring to the table, but their epicurean appeal isn’t for everybody.
Afterwards, as the thrill of competition ebbed from the brewery’s premises, Cult Classic’s Rohry gave the event high marks. “The Festival was a whirlwind from start to finish,” he said. “From the karaoke kickoff through Jimmy Cole and his legendary crew taking the stage to show the world what amazing music feels like. You couldn’t wipe a smile off those faces in the crowd if you tried. The Muskrat Leg Eating World Championship was one of the most memorable moments we’ve had on our stage as well. It had all the fervor of a good-old-fashioned Monday Night Raw, complete with Stone Cold’s entrance song among all the fanfare. Also, I got to take a selfie with the champ, “Dirty Legs”, so life is complete.”
After his victory, Detmer released a statement: “I’m honored to be the Muskrat Leg Eating Champion of the World!” he wrote. “I’m proud to join the long lineage of muskrat eaters that have held the title before – the late, great Ralph Bramble, the Babe Ruth of the contest; Chuckie Luv, an absolute force of nature and a morsel away from an unprecedented threepeat; and Chunky Hesson, who has the heart of a champion in the youthful body of a stone-cold winner. Between Chuckie and Chunky, and all of the other strong competitors who put a hurtin’ on the legs tonight, I faced fierce competition. To be honest, it would have been stressful if it wasn’t so much fun!”
But the king recognizes that occupying the throne can sit him in a precarious position. “I can’t rest on any laurels, though. I know,” he conceded, “some ravenous lions already have a target painted on my back for next year!”
Brent Lewis is a native Chesapeake Bay Eastern Shoreman. He has published two nonfiction books about the region, “Remembering Kent Island: Stories from the Chesapeake” and a “History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department.” His most recent book, “Stardust By The Bushel: Hollywood On The Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore”won a 2023 Independent Publishers award. His first novel, Bloody Point 1976, won an Honorable Mention Award at the 2015 Hollywood Book Festival. He and his wife Peggy live in Centreville, Maryland.