The Outsliders? Tha Wu Tang Pans? Can anyone upset the Heavy Stones champs?

You've never seen cast iron quite like this.

The Outsliders? Tha Wu Tang Pans? Can anyone upset the Heavy Stones champs?
Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

"We've already broken three tonight."

It began, as these things often do, over beer.

Wintertime, 2012. The Olympics were on. Three old friends – Scott Shaw, John Coffelt and Tom Montague – were itching for, well, some wintertime fun.

Competition is baked into their relationship. Tennis. Human foosball. Kickball. Their motto?

"Any time, any game," said Montague. "The more ridiculous, the better."

In the early days of quarantine and COVID, they learned bridge. Played over zoom.

"Not entirely accurate," said Montague. "We may have played, but we didn't exactly know how."

So, watching the Olympics, one event caught their eye.

"Curling," he said.

You know that sweet spot of possibility that bubbles up after the second beer, when the world seems limitless and any idea is a good one?

What if, Montague began, we could somehow start curling here? Shaw and Coffelt heartily agreed.

The next day, a few Google searches later ...

"Curling stones cost an average of $3,000," said Coffelt.

"Each one carved from a special Scottish cliff," continued Montague.

Not wanting to pay some $25,000 for UK stones, the guys shelved the idea, where it sat fermenting for years, until the Scenic City Supper Club – Montague's a member — took a tour of Lodge's Cast Iron foundry in South Pittsburg.

That night, Montague felt that curling idea reawaken and dust itself off. Looking around at all this cast iron, hmm, maybe, just maybe ... is it possible ... we could curl with ...

He huddled up with his mates.

"Skillets," said Montague.


"Cast iron."

But where would we get ... oh, yeah. Of course.

"Lodge," he said.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

In 2018, during Main x 24, Montague, Shaw, Coffelt and Tom Mastin carried an armload of cast iron Lodge skillets – imperfect seconds, that Lodge wouldn't sell – down to the relocated ice rink at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

Someone tossed out a cast iron bacon press – for reasons we'll soon explain – and sporting history was made in the Scenic City.

It became quite possibly the first skillet curling competition of record in the modern world.

Their demo that day turned into a formal tournament. It made the papers; soon, they got a call from folks in Bowling Green asking for help setting up their own skillet curling league.

"So we wrote up the rules and shared them," said Montague.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

The rules? Scoring? All in good time. First, know this:

Soon after that first cast iron hit the icy ground, the trio knew:

We can use this to build community.

And do some good for other folks.

"A fundraiser for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank," Tom said.

The second year, brewers got involved. Naked River Brewing, Five Wits, Chattanooga Brewing and Copper River Brewing in Cleveland all sponsored teams.

Food as a Verb thanks Main Street Meats, our sustaining partner, for its generous support.

Main Street Meats is a modern neighborhood butcher shop and restaurant in Chattanooga’s Southside deeply committed to animal care, local farms and land stewardship that promises an experience “as farm-to-table as it gets.”

The third year? Phil Harris – a member of the Food Bank board – saw the potential. Costumes, parties, t-shirts, all part of what Montague calls a "weekend spectacle."

It worked. Teams grew: from 12 to 16 to 24.

And this year?

"32," said Harris.

This week, Harris will officially preside over the sixth annual Skillet Curling Championship: a double-elimination tournament that benefits the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

There's beer, food trucks and plenty of trash-talking. A bracket selection party this morning at Naked River. Rick Rushing on guitar. The first round starts Thursday night at First Horizon Pavilion's Ice on the Landing, where teams have been practicing for weeks while much of the city shivers and sleeps.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

The final founds – free and open to the public – begin Saturday and Sunday morning at 9.

It is wintertime in the South middle-age athletics at its best.

"Remember to stretch," said Coffelt.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

First year, they raised $2500. Then, $5000. Then, it tripled.

"This year, the goal is $35,000," said Harris.

It's like bowling on ice. Or if Wisconsin and bocce ball started dating. Or if Lodge relocated to Minnesota. You get the picture.

We stopped by on a recent mid-week practice night. A half dozen teams had ice-time. One glance, and you witnessed the wide berth of skillet curling style:

Some chunked, like tossing a ham.

Others slid, like bowling.

One man even used his foot, like shoo-ing the skillet across the ice with his boot.

Yes, there's strategy. There's also beer. Sometimes, the latter undoes the former.

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"There was some learning those early years," Montague recalls, "that the Zamboni didn't love beer spilled on the ice."

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Watching 10-inch cast iron skillets fly over the ice is a delightful pick-you-up to the hard edge of winter, a sort of perfect circle of athletics, community and generosity. Lodge generously donated 100 skillets for this year's tournament, Harris said.

Cast iron is tough.

Sometimes, the ice is tougher.

"We've already broken three tonight," said Harris.

Lodge cast iron skillets, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Here are the rules: teams of four take strategic positions around the rink, forming a circle as someone tosses the bacon press out into the center. Members of each team alternate throws, one by one tossing, curling, pitching, kicking, heave-ho-ing a skillet in the direction of the bacon press.

Eight skillets are tossed in one round.

"You get points by having more skillets closer to the press than the other team," explained Harris.

Yes, there are brooms.

No, they don't really do much.

"Just for show," said Harris. "Sometimes, we use them to mark off and measure who's closest."

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

The round is decided when the first team reaches 11 – or, as this sometimes takes a while – whoever's ahead after eight rounds.

Montague – wearing slip-on spikes over his shoes – graciously offered basic insider's terminology.

A turtle: one skillet happens to flip – purposefully or not – over onto its back.

A chicken fight: two skillets land one on top of another, pan into pan.

What’s it called when you slip on your ass and the skillet breaks and your hands go numb?

“That’s just called skillet curling," he said.

The first year, Montague, Coffelt, Shaw and Mastin entered as the Main Street Meats-sponsored Fuzzy Yellow Balls. (Tennis buddies, remember?)

That morphed into Greasing the Skids.

This year, they're entering as The Penguin Chops – let's be clear: Main Street Meats is not in the penguin meat business – competing against teams like:

Natural Born Curlers. The Outsliders. Tha Wu Tang Pans. Rock, Paper, Skillets. The Breakfast Club.

"Use a smooth stroke, like bowling. Vary your touch," said Harris. "If the ice is slick, then it's a finesse game."

"Ice can play totally different in the middle than on edges," he continued, which brings us to the unanimous consensus of what makes a good skillet curler.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Roots," said Montague. "Upper midwest."

In other words: you either know ice or you don't.

Copper River Brewing's Heavy Stones – its members reportedly born and raised in northern climates – are the tournament's team-to-beat, having won four of five titles.

You grew up in the north, knowing what ice can do, Harris said, or you didn't.

Nearby curlers nod, sipping from their can of beer.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

All of this is done in the service of good, cold fun and raising money and attention for one of our city's most urgently needed nonprofits: the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

The team that raises the most money also gets a trophy from Lodge.

This Sunday, Food as a Verb takes you inside the Food Bank, which is providing more resources to more people than ever before in its history.

So, skillet curlers, thank you.

In closing, we offer two predictions for those betting at home:

Once again, this year's tournament – which will indeed raise more than $35,000 – goes to Heavy Stones.

And, next year, the Food as a Verb team is going to kick ass – and also slip and fall on ours, too.

Skillet curling, First Horizon Pavilion, Chattanooga, Tenn.

All photography by Sarah Unger.

All design by Alex DeHart.

All words by David Cook. This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

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