With lip-smackin' barbecue, exciting prep softball and small town camaraderie in one place on one night, life is good in Payson.
All three will highlight the Fourth Annual PHS Softball Deep Pit Beef Dinner set for April 27 near the concession stand at Lady Longhorn diamond.
The meals, which will include barbecued beef, beans and roll, will be served from 4 to 7 p.m. Tickets, available from any Lady Longhorn softball player or at the field the day of the event, are $5. A junior varsity softball game against archrival Show Low will begin at 3:30 p.m. The varsity clash tips off at 7 p.m. There is no admission for the games.
Charlene Hunt, who will host the benefit along with her husband Albert, has issued an invitation to the community.
"Enjoy a plate of the Hunt family deep pit beef while watching the games," she said. "But come early. Last year we dang near ran out of beef."
Coldwell Banker Bishop Realty has donated the beef for the meal, valued at about $600.
Hunt anticipates the turnout this spring could be larger than previous benefits, mostly because word has spread about the tradition of the meal and games.
"Much of the community comes out," she said. "They look forward to it."
The meal will center on the dip pit beef prepared by Albert Hunt.
Over the years, Hunt -- also a school board member -- has built a reputation as being one of the finest cowboy cooks in Arizona.
To prepare the beef, he uses a pit at the Hunt family home on Airport Road. He normally burns about a cord of oak cooking the meat. The hard oak produces better coals than other types of wood, he said.
After the oak has burned for about eight hours and turns white-hot, Hunt covers the coals with large rocks, then the wrapped meat is set atop the rocks and the pit is covered with an iron lid. About six inches of soil is then shoveled on the lid.
After simmering underground for about 12 hours, the meat emerges juicy and fork-tender.
Hunt and friends will take the smoked beef to the softball field where it will be served up to the hundreds of hungry patrons and sports fans.
As good as the meal is, fans will want to hang around long enough to watch the crucial showdown against the Cougars.
The clash will be the Lady Horns final East region game of the regular season and the outcome will help decide the team's postseason fate.
If the Lady Horns can finish among the top four in the final East standings, they would earn a berth into the 3A state tournament set to begin May 5 at Rose Mofford Field in Phoenix.
This year, the East is paired against the South region in the opening round of the tournament.
East No. 4 plays the South champion. East No. 3 takes on South No. 2 and the East titleholder plays South No. 4 in the first round pairings.
The tournament continues May 6 and May 12. The championship will be decided a 1 p.m. May 13 on Field 1 at Rose Mofford.