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Burger Showdown to decide best one in Tampa area

The Third Annual Burger Showdown will be a Friday night fight this year, with organizers hoping to persuade downtown workers, weary after a long week of toil, to stick around a little longer for some food and fun.

Hungry ticketholders will be allowed unlimited burger samplings at the May 2 event that pits local chefs against each other in a variety of contests that will force them to come out with their buns blazing.

Maiken Stefany, an event coordinator for EventFest Inc., said the third annual Burger Showdown event moves from Saturday to Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. and she encourages people to swing by Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park after work for the delicious festivities.

She is expecting about 1,500 people for the event, with proceeds going to support the Culinary Operations Academy.

“The event will have live music all throughout the night by a great local band called Easy Posse,” she said. “They play great country hits, with a fiddler and all in the mix.”

Stefany said the third year also will feature a new addition — samplings from the SweetWater Brewery.

Food categories include “Best Burger,” which is decided by a panel of judges, and the People's Choice Award, voted on by attendees. Other categories include “Best Use of Bacon,” as well as “Where's the Beef?” for non-beef burgers and “Bring the Heat” for spicy burgers.

“I think some of my favorite burgers have actually turned out to be competition winners in years past,” she said. “EATS American Grill makes a burger that has tons of bacon in it so it has a great rich flavor. Danny's All American Diner makes a burger called the Nolan Ryan Burger that is topped with ham and a delicious BBQ sauce.”

This year's Celebrity Judges Panel includes radio hosts Corey Dylan and Ian Beckles as well as Steve Otto, a columnist with The Tampa Tribune. A Culinary Judges Panel made up of local culinary instructors and food managers throughout the area will also evaluate the competition.

Chef Erik Youngs, the lead instructor of the Culinary Operations Academy at Chamberlain High School, will return as a judge. He has participated as a lead judge since the event's inception in 2012.

“What I love most about a burger is the first bite,” said Youngs, who doesn't skip any meals in preparation for the duty. “After surveying the burger for the perfect point of attack, fulfilling the anticipation with the first bite that includes the combination of flavors that can only be characterized as an American staple — how can it get any better? How can it get better than that first bite?”

Youngs, who lives in Town 'N Country, said he likes to pretend it's tough to be a judge, but he loves what he has to do.

“The judges are provided with a full burger from each of the competitors, and it is hard not to eat every one,” he said. “At the beginning, its especially difficult because they are always amazing. How could you not want to eat them all? But as the event continues you have to remember this is not the latest Food Network or Travel Channel eating challenge show and we are here to determine the Best Burger in Tampa. So you have to pace yourself, taste everyone, and score them appropriately.”

Youngs said his culinary students also volunteer every year at the event.

“Burger Showdown is one of the most talked about events of the year for our Academy students,” he said. “They are exposed to so much in one night — from the restaurateurs to the crowds of people. The students really get a chance to hone the skills we have hopefully instilled in them during their time in the Academy.”

Tickets for burger sampling are $15. Tickets for the Sweetwater craft beer sampling are an additional $15. All tickets can be purchased online by clicking here.

Covered parking is available at the adjacent Poe Garage. Regular parking is $1.20 per hour. Special event parking, regulated by the City of Tampa, may differ in some instances.

If it rains, the event will be moved under the Gasparilla Plaza, which is adjacent to Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N. Ashley Drive.

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