Ox Roast relies on volunteers

Ox Roast (3)How do you prepare and serve 500 hundred pounds of beef and 700 ears of corn?

With a lot of help from your friends.

The Whitehall United Methodist Church held its annual Ox Roast on Saturday afternoon and a couple hundred people turned out to sample the famous charbroiled beef that has made the event a staple of the summer season for 43 years.

A small but dedicated group of nearly two dozen volunteers prepared, cooked, and served the meal.

Members of the congregation, Boy Scout Troop 83, local honor students, and community members pooled their collective energy to make the event a success.

“We’ve been busy all morning,” said Sharon Sauer, who was overseeing her second Ox Roast as pastor of church. “This is a very hard-working congregation.”

The church was a buzz of activity Saturday morning hours before the first diner sat down with a hungry stomach and fork in hand.

Mike Keane, who has volunteered at each of the past seven Ox Roast dinners, was one of the first to arrive, pulling into the church, located off of Greenmount Cemetery Lane, around 6:30 a.m.

He was soon joined by Bob Gendron, another longtime volunteer and Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 83, and the two immediately began the task of firing up the grill pit, carefully adding chunks of hickory and other hardwoods to the flames.

With temperatures in the low 80s and a gentle breeze, cooking conditions were ideal.

Each piece of meat was slow-cooked over a bed of coals.

“It takes three-and-a-half to four hours per roast,” Keane said.

Using a pitch fork, each roast was flipped over a few times to ensure it cooks evenly. A nearby hose was used to keep the flames from reaching too high and additional pieces of wood were added periodically as needed. 

Once the internal temperature of the meat reached 140 degrees, it was removed from the grill, placed in a cooler, and brought directly into the kitchen where it was sliced using a commercial meat cutter. From there it was placed on plates and off to eager dinners.

But beef wasn’t not the only thing that ended up on those plates. There was the corn, which was picked up Friday afternoon and needs to be shucked.

Beginning at 8 a.m., four or five volunteers took up position on the north side of the church and began removing the husks and silk from 700 ears of corn.

Inside, Francis Willis toiled over the stove, preparing the meal’s other side dishes.

“I’m doing the gravy and the mashed potatoes. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Willis said.

Sally Stevens, Stephanie Gosselin and Ruth Scribner filled water coolers and helped get the dining room in order, while other volunteers set out more than a hundred slices of pie, some of which were homemade and others which were purchased in the days leading up the event.

Back outside, other volunteers helped set up the flea market while local Boy Scouts helped unload items for the afternoon’s auction. Adam Koeble, a recent graduate of Whitehall High School, was literally running around, helping coordinate the activity.

“We’re really dependent on the Scouts and the Honor Society kids,” said Elaine Jones, who created a list of chores three pages long that needed to be completed.

Although the first meals were sent out of the kitchen before noon, work began days earlier.

“We started cleaning last Sunday after church,” said Maxine Willis. “It seems like there’s never enough hours in the day to get everything done.”

The event, which is the church’s largest fundraiser, typically takes months to plan. In the months and weeks leading up the event, organizers order food, collect flea market items, and solicit donations from local businesses for the auction.

“It can be tough but we always manage to get everything done,” said Elaine Jones.

Before the day was through, organizers were already preparing for next year, hanging up signs that read: 44th Annual Ox Roast, July 26, 2014.

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