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Experience This: Here's what it's like to attend a Buffalo meat raffle

At a meat raffle, you get more than a chance at steaks and sausage.

You get a chance to step back to the Paleo era.

Surely this entertainment dates to prehistoric times.

Folks gather in a hall, quaff ale, and spend cash on raffle tickets in hopes of winning steaks, pork loins and sausage.

Meat raffles originated, so scholars say, in Britain's pubs. Over the last few years, they have burgeoned in a certain few burgs in America, Buffalo naturally being one of them.

You can find meat raffles on websites like WNYmeatraffles.com and meatraffles.com, in church bulletins and on Facebook.

What is it like to go to one? Let's bring along a friend — and, optimistically, a cooler — and find out.

Celebrations abound at meat raffles. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The experience

The Polish Cadets of Buffalo's second annual "Grillin' and Chillin'" meat raffle seemed like a good bet to my friend Eddy and me. The $7 admission was $5 in advance and covered draft beer, pop, and a chance to win the door prize, a big gas grill.

We arrived five minutes late, and already it was in full swing. Huge, tattooed men in sleeveless tops held up the prizes so we could see what we were getting. Folks had brought snacks and were feasting. The next table over looked like a buffet.

A shout rang out: "Last call on tickets for this round."

Lots of meat raffles, I hear, spin big wheels to determine the winners. The Polish Cadets, instead, put all the tickets into an impressive drum.

Eddy won three pounds of Sahlen's right off the bat. I hung back. My German-American parents grew up in the Great Depression and hard-wired me not to gamble. For some reason I have a weakness for basket raffles, and I'd already invested $20 into the one I found here. But there my comfort zone ended.

The people waving dollar bills, the "runners" running around selling tickets — it was all a bit overwhelming. But you had to be in it to win it, as an announcer bellowed. I had to give it a go.

"Pace yourself," advised James "Corky" Johnson, vice president of the Polish Cadets, when I asked his advice. "See how many rounds there are."

Michelle Crombie buys tickets during a meat raffle to benefit the Maryvale cheerleading program. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

I studied my sheet. Three raffles down, 17 to go. I approached the smiling bartender and got a beer. Coached by Eddy, I waved a single in the air. A runner approached.

"I'll take three tickets," I said. Tickets were three for a buck.

That prize, a choice of Italian or Polish sausage, passed me by. Investing a buck in the next raffle, a choice of kielbasa or pierogi, also got me nowhere. Someone else won the four-pack of New York strip steaks, though I aggressively put $2 into that one.

That was OK. I was having fun. I liked the energy, the long tables packed with happy, loud people, from toddlers to great-grandparents. Plus, I love the Polish Cadets. I got another beer and raised another $1 bill.

"This is my raffle," I announced to whoever would listen. "I feel lucky."

Lo and behold, I won.

Seconds later, I was parading down the aisle like a wench out of "Beowulf," holding aloft an eight-pound pork loin. Surely the ancestors who had been frowning down on my gambling were beaming down on me now.

The grand prize, the gas grill, went to a gal from the neighborhood. I asked her if she had ever been to a meat raffle before. She said yes, but only one, at Assumption Church around the corner.

Methods vary for selecting winners at meat raffles. Here, Dan Flick picks a ticket. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Last thing we saw, she and her friends were wheeling the grill up Amherst Street in that direction. What fun.

"It's a good time," Johnson said. "I've been at meat raffles where I spent $100 and didn't win anything. But it's fun. It's a good time."

The essentials

Meat raffles

Cost: Admission tickets are generally $5 to $7. Raffle entry is separate.

Tip: Get admission tickets in advance. Bring cash. Pack snacks. Go with a big group. The bigger the group, the greater the chance one of you will win something. Your group could even hold a cookout afterward, sharing the winnings.

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