Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cookoff at a Harley-Davidson Dealership

Have you ever attended a barbecue cookoff at a Harley-Davidson dealership? Neither had I before being a judge at Biker Blues & BBQ in Salisbury, NC.
Judges line up to sign in for the contest.

The event’s full name -- Tilley Harley-Davidson’s Biker Blues BBQ Rally and BBQ Classic – clearly indicates that much more than barbecue is on the schedule. Motorcycles, specifically Harley-Davidsons, are everywhere: new ones on the showroom floor and lots of others brought to the rally that look so good that they could pass for new.

Many new motorcycles are on display on the showroom floor.

Although the event starts with music the night before any barbecue is judged, Saturday is the main day. The rally, a “poker run” that lasts more than five hours, begins well before the cooking teams turn in chicken, their first entries, for the contest. When I saw all the motorcycles parked before the rally began, I was surprised -- more than 100 riders were participating.

The motorcycle rally was a popular part of the weekend.

The cookoff, part of the Old North State Barbecue Series, drew 63 teams, making it one of the largest contests in the Southeast. The large number of teams was attracted by more than $15,000 in prize money. Sauced BBQ! Team from Denver, NC, took home $3,000 as the grand champion – a return to the top and a big improvement from the week before in Goldsboro, NC, when low brisket scores dropped the team to 19th out of 39 teams. (The team incidentally also won the cookoff in Lakeland, Florida, my first event this year, and was the reserve champion in Asheboro, NC, where I judged last month, so it usually is successful.)

Cooking team set up in the back parking area of the dealership.

The contest was flawless in execution, a challenge considering how many cooking teams participated. At the designated intervals for turn-in of the entries, the volunteers smoothly handled the containers to maintain the “blind judging” standards of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, which sanctioned the event.

The People's Choice competition gave the public a chance to vote for their favorite barbecue.

The blend of music, barbecue, and motorcycles attracts a sizable crowd in Salisbury. Begun in 2012, Biker Blues and BBQ is well established among judges and cooking teams as an event to attend. It will continue to be a favorite event each fall for everyone.

The huge Grand Champion trophy was taken home by the Sauced BBQ! Team.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Goldsboro, a City with a Celebrated Barbecue Heritage

Goldsboro, NC, is very proud of its barbecue heritage. It claims to be the home of “the best BBQ,” and its online visitor information brags about its prominence on the N.C. Historic Barbecue Trail. As a result, I’ve wanted to judge here since I was first certified.
Cooking teams set up in the grassy area near Cornerstone Commons in downtown Goldsboro.
However, as the county seat of Wayne County, Goldsboro is more important to me than for barbecue reasons because it’s also the home of my maternal ancestors. I’ve visited the county before to explore the rural areas north of the city where they lived. For this visit, nothing but barbecue was on my mind, and I enjoyed being a judge at the Beak Week Festival.

The stages for music during Beak Week includes several innovative approaches.

Although the festival was begun in 2014 to celebrate the county’s poultry industry, more than chicken is evaluated during the barbecue contest. Ribs, pork, and brisket are also cookoff categories to comply with the requirements of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, which sanctions the event.

Food and crafts vendors along Center Street are ready for the crowd on early Saturday morning.

Poultry is clearly important to the county, and a wing-eating contest, a bird-themed costume fun run, a “fowl play” softball game, and a week-long scavenger hunt for chicken and turkey cutouts in the downtown area add to the festival’s emphasis on poultry. However, the $20,000 in prize money is the main attraction for about 40 cooking teams to compete in the barbecue cookoff.

Judges meet in the gym of the Goldsboro Police Department.

Goldsboro’s reputation for hosting a superb barbecue contest grows each year. Even though the cookoff is part of a poultry festival, the crowd of more than 10,000 knows that barbecue encompasses much more than poultry, although in Wayne County, it’s an indispensable part.

Several photo opportunities are available during Beak Week, which celebrates the local poultry industry.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pigs and Pedals Again

Judges are directed to their area.
Pigs and Pedals in Asheboro, NC, is a favorite contest of mine, and I enjoyed returning for a third time. The cookoff is well organized, and cooking teams are very competitive. Because Asheboro is in the center of the state and is easy to get to, several judges return each year.

Cooking teams set up on the center of downtown Asheboro.

Judging with friends and judges that I’ve met in past events makes the contest even more enjoyable. The contest offered $12,000 in prize money, and 49 cooking teams competed. The barbecue entries were superior, and many entries earned high scores.

Judges relax before their meeting begins.

New for this year was a kids cooking contest. The inaugural Kids Q competition was divided into two age categories: 6 to 10, and 11 to 15. The younger group grilled hamburger, and the older one cooked steaks. The kids got a taste of real competition because the judging criteria -- taste, tenderness, and appearance -- complied with the standards of Kansas City Barbeque Society.

The Kids Q competition area is ready for the junior competitors.

The barbecue cookoff was also held in conjunction with the annual car show of the Zooland Region (so named because of Asheboro’s close proximity to the N.C. Zoo) of the Antique Automobile Association of America. Although the People’s Choice competition of the barbecue contest was very popular, the car show was clearly a crowd favorite, and many people lingered among the old vehicles parked along several blocks of downtown Asheboro.

The antique car show was very popular.

Asheboro has definitely established itself as the place to be in early August for great barbecue, superior cooking teams, and experienced judges. Pigs and Pedals will continue to be an event where I want to judge.

A table full of trophies is ready for the awards ceremony.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Returning to Galax

Smoke on the Mountain in Galax, Va., is an annual favorite for cooking teams and judges. Set in the center of a small city (population only 7,000), the cookout has a venue envied by many other contests.

The last time that I was a judge for Smoke on the Mountain was in 2015. The community support for the event and the hordes of enthusiastic barbecue fans who attend continue to impress me.

Teams keep wood burning to have hot coals for when needed.

Local citizens and visitors spend a good part of the weekend walking among the cooking teams, enjoying the live music on street stages, looking over items being sold by arts and crafts vendors, and checking out sales at several antique stores.

The marquee of the historic theater in Galax promotes the barbecue cookoff.

Before the judges were required to take their seats, I joined the downtown scene and visited several vendors and stores. The most surprising find for me was to see a squash pie for sale. Although my focus for the day was barbecue, I couldn’t resist taking home a squash pie made by a 95-year-old lady who was one of the street vendors.

Judges relax before the first entries arrive for them to judge.

The judges again met on the second floor of the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, which conducts classes in contemporary art and traditional music. Located in the historic National Bank Building, it has a gift store that features creative items made by local artists. I was particularly struck by artwork using a theme of the galax leaf. The prominence of the low-growing evergreen shrub, native to the southern Appalachian Mountains, is how Galax got its name in 1906.

The watercolor "Small Galax Leaf" by local artist Paula Melton is on display at the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.

The cookoff occurs in Galax a month before it hosts the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, the world’s largest and oldest fiddlers’ convention. The city is known as the World Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music, a traditional American music that gave rise to bluegrass, country, rock and other styles. With its Smoke on the Mountain contest, Galax also continues to build on its reputation for excellent barbecue. In the cookoff, cooking teams compete in separate contests sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and Memphis Barbecue Network.

A team prepares one of its entries for judging.

Smoke on the Mountain continues to be one of my favorite contests. The cool temperatures in mid-July are an added enticement to attend. Judging barbecue and enjoying the street scene are great ways to spend a Saturday in a lively small city.

Trophies for earlier cookoffs in Galax take center place among others at a competitor's site.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Judging the Best Barbecue

[Note: This post, prepared originally for OutreachNC magazine, is hosted on the magazine’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

Being a judge at a barbecue cookoff is the best way to spend a weekend. Imagine tasting the best barbecue prepared by dedicated and enthusiastic pitmasters.

Judging at barbecue contests connects me to cooking traditions of our state, which boasts a rich history, sometimes united but often divided between western and eastern regions.

Barbecue fans in our area argue seriously about how to cook (wood vs. gas, whole hog vs. shoulder) – as well as the sauce (vinegar-pepper only or with ketchup added) and meat (pork only or also chicken and beef brisket). I don’t enter such arguments. I simply enjoy the style of each region and contest and try to stay true to the traditions and standards.

On the morning of a cookoff, the cooking sites are absolutely quiet – hardly a sound is heard -- as the cooks concentrate on their final preparations. When photographer Katherine Clark accompanied me at one whole hog contest, the sun was slowly rising as the judging began at 8 a.m.

Continue reading with an online version of the July 2017 issue of OutreachNC ...

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Improving Community Spirit

Covington is the third-least populous city in Virginia, and its population has been declining gradually since 1960 when it was more than 11,000. Because it’s now fewer than 6,000, any festival helps to improve community spirit.

Cooking teams set up on West Main Street in downtown Covington.

The economy of Covington is overwhelmingly dominated by one employer, WestRock, a corrugated packaging company. The second largest U.S. packaging company, WestRock employs about 1,300 workers. It traces its roots in Covington to 1890, when a predecessor company began operating in the city and Covington was enjoying a huge economic boom.

The large parking area behind West Main Street businesses was the scene of most festival activities.

Although the boom days are over, Covington still retains the charm of a small city in what once was the vast Appalachian wilderness that started changing in 1745 when the first settlers arrived and began claiming land. The downtown area, which includes several locally owned small businesses, was built decades ago in its prime. It looks like a movie set from the 1940s and is a historic district recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, which also lists three properties in the city as historic.

Judging took place in the council chambers of City Hall.

To draw attention to downtown businesses, the city has been sponsoring a barbecue cookoff sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society since 2014. The city’s director of finance and human resources is the event’s primary organizer and each year attracts more cooking teams and boosts interest in the event. This year, 32 teams competed for a total of $8,000 in prize money.

Billy Jim's BBQ, the team that finished the cookoff with the lowest point total, nevertheless had the most distinctive cooker.

Known as the Covington Cork & Pork Festival, the event combines a growing interest in wine tasting with the long-standing popularity of barbecue. Craft beer and wine vendors provide the “cork” component of the festival. In addition to the barbecue competition, the festival includes music performances, dance programs, children activities, and other entertainment.

Some teams set up in the parking area adjacent to City Hall.

In recognition of its dominant role in the community, WestRock is the primary supporter of the festival, and other businesses contribute as sponsors. Proceeds from the festival benefit the work of Olde Town Covington and are invested locally to support tourism and non-profit programs.

David Bryant, contest organizer and city finance director, speaks to the judges at their meeting.

With the Covington Cork & Pork Festival, city leaders have found an excellent way to continue the renovation, revitalization and improvement of their downtown area. Enjoyment of barbecue is promoting community spirit here as it does elsewhere.

Judges take the oath, administered before every contest, to be fair and impartial.

Primary streets in downtown Covington are closed for the festival.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Revitalizing a Small Downtown

A small city sometimes needs a boost to maintain its downtown business district. In the “Upstate” area of South Carolina, the city of Woodruff is striving to maintain a healthy local economy. Because it’s in the shadows of the larger cities of Spartanburg and Greenville, Woodruff’s leaders look for new ways to attract customers to its businesses.

Cooking teams begin to set up in the park behind the former high school building.
Since 2015, each spring the city has conducted a barbecue cookoff known as Piggin’ in the Park to bring visitors – cooking teams, judges, family friends, and others – to the downtown area. Organized by Alyson Leslie, Woodruff’s community and economic development director, the event is one of several new city programs to help support local business owners.

McKinney Park is almost filled by cooking teams, vendors, and festival activities.

Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the cookoff has continued to grow each year. This year the number of cooking teams more than doubled to 44 from the 20 that competed last year. Organizers hope the event grows eventually to 55 teams, the size that McKinney Park, where the event is held, can accommodate.

Smoking Butt Heads placed in the top 10 in the ribs category.

Only a block from Main Street that bisects the business district, the park is the perfect venue for a festival and has ample space for cooking teams, children activities, food vendors, entertainment, and other activities. It was created recently out of the athletic fields of the city’s adjacent historic high school, built in 1925 and on the National Register of Historic Places, that now serves as City Hall.

Judges check in before the competition begins.

Piggin’ in the Park is one of six events of the Palmetto BBQ Series in South Carolina that offers additional prizes and results in crowning a state champion -- the team with the highest score in four of six events. Although several teams competing in the cookoff were from out of state, many were from South Carolina with the goal of gaining points to win the state championship.

New owners are moving into vacant buildings, such as this one that once was a service station and later a florist.

Leslie estimates that at least 16,000 cars come daily through the city on Main Street. Because Woodruff’s population is just slightly over 4,000, that’s a lot of potential customers for the city’s businesses. With events like Piggin’ in the Park bringing visitors into the area, the city – whose motto is “Where Time Is Well Spent” – should continue to be successful in revitalizing its downtown.

Business owners on Main Street in Woodruff are renovating and recruiting new business.

Theo's Snack Shack, which sells snow cones on Main Street, hopes for more visitors to Woodruff.