Hard to believe it has been a decade since the Hangout Oyster Cook-Off cracked open its first shell, but the festival will be at it again Nov. 3-4 on Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores. This event has become nationally recognized as the premier celebration of the pearl producer, with chefs of great merit coming from all over to assist as we honor the bivalve.

We’ve come to know this as a place to sample oyster dishes, rub elbows with Food Network celebs and take in as much craft beer as we do live music. You don’t mess with that formula, so this year will be pretty much more of the same, but with some new faces.

The kickoff: Friday, Nov. 3
Save yourself from jumping the starting gun. We lay off the oysters on this evening so we’ll be ravenous for them the next day. This night before the cook-off is focused on suds as The Hangout, 92ZEW and This Is Alabama present the Craft Beer Festival. Over 30 different breweries will be slinging more than 70 craft beers for sampling in your souvenir cup from 6-11 p.m.

Live music by Anderson East will get the party cranked. Don’t miss the new feature called Brew B Que. It’s a pitmaster lineup combining the forces of Wesley True, Derek Emerson, David Crews, Ty Thames, Jeremy Downey, James Canter and more serving up pulled pork, seven sauces and seven classic barbecue sides to go with your brews.

“Almost Baked Beans,” Potato Wedges, Angie’s Braised Greens, Fermented Coleslaw, “After Church Mac and Cheese,” Chipotle Sweet Potato Salad with Cilantro and South Texas Coastal Cactus and Shrimp Slaw will surely liven up the pork party with the many colorful sauce options.

Tickets are $40 for this boozy soiree, and you must be at least 21 to enter this area. Designated drivers will not be allowed alcohol of any kind.

The cook-off: Saturday Nov. 4
The cook-off is where they ramp up the fun. It’s a Saturday full of excess as the hottest chefs in the Southeast compete in three categories for the best oyster.

Beginning at 11 a.m. your $10 ticket gets you in. You then can purchase tasting tickets to exchange for oysters. By oysters I mean more than 35 restaurants will be serving upwards of 100 different oyster recipes. These are by some of the finest chefs in our area and surrounding markets. Some are James Beard finalists and semifinalists looking to claim the top prize.

Take advantage of being able to sample this much talent in one space, but keep an open mind. Sometimes the guys you’ve never heard of can make something that melts in your mouth. Use every tasting ticket you can get your hands on. They have no cash value after the festival ends at 6 p.m.

Not only will you be sampling some amazing creations, the contest will be flanked by other events. This year eight celebrity chefs will be hosting cooking demonstrations on the Sapporo Cooking Stage hosted by Martie Duncan of “Food Network Star.” The lineup includes award-winning Cory Bahr, “Food Network Star’s” Rusty Hamlin and Wesley True from Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Five-time James Beard Award semifinalist Chef Rob McDaniel, Adam Evans, Chris Lilly and Irv Miller will be joining Martie and the gang as well. It’s a great way to sharpen your culinary skills and see some of your favorites at the same time.

My favorite part of the Saturday festivities is the North American Oyster Showcase. This is the raw bar of your dreams with oysters from all over the United States as well as Canada and Mexico. There will be oyster farmers on hand to discuss and educate attendees about the different traits of oysters. Try an oyster from Washington next to a Murder Point or an East Coast variety. The difference is stunning.

You don’t have to stick to beer while you’re here. This year’s selection of craft cocktails has expanded. Expect a mixology bar from High West Whiskey, bloody mary bars from Tito’s,and an abundance of wine in the Champagne Lounge.

Our favorite country station, 95KSJ, presents the live music for Saturday with Rodney Atkins and Cam.

Perhaps you prefer to roll a little higher than the average bear this weekend. If so, VIP tickets are available for $150. This price lets you enjoy the cook-off in style. The perks are exclusive chef tastings, meet-and-greets with some of the chefs and admission to the “Chefs Only” private party Saturday night. The VIP package includes two tasting ticket booklets (totaling 30 tickets).

You will also find relaxed seating and a private bar in the VIP area presented by Hancock and Whitney Banks. These tickets are limited, of course. If everyone was a VIP, there would be no VIP.

The Music
Anderson East is making a big splash with his soulful voice on the Elektra/Low Country Sound label. With a new album, “Encore,” coming out Jan. 12, he will take the stage Friday night during the Craft Beer Festival. Catch this Athens, Alabama, boy now before he begins a grueling tour the first of the year.

East Tennessee native Rodney Atkins has been churning out the hits on Curb Records long before this festival began. “Take a Back Road” and “It’s America” are just a couple of tunes that have done him well. Catch him Saturday.

Country singer/songwriter Cam (Camaron Ochs) will deliver her pop-infused Northern California country style Saturday as well. Her debut EP, “Welcome to Cam Country,” brought her widespread acclaim and a Grammy nomination for the track “Burning House.”

See this week’s music feature for an interview with Cam by Lagniappe music editor Stephen Centanni.

The skinny
The 10th annual Hangout Oyster Cook-Off should be a big one. If you’ve never been, my advice is to take it easy. There are so many beers Friday and you can get swept up in the music. Keep a little in the tank to enjoy five or six hours of eating oysters on Saturday. Don’t neglect the North American Oyster Showcase. Stay hydrated. Most importantly, come back next year!

(Photos |Courtesy of The Hangout ) The North American Oyster Showcase is the raw bar of your dreams, with oysters from all over the United States as well as Canada and Mexico.