Saturday, July 26, 2014

Smokin’ in the Valley

Maggie Valley, NC, is the perfect location for a barbecue festival in the summer. In July, a good event in the South depends on sunny and warm weather, and Maggie Valley in the mountains offers days that are warm but not too hot with lots of sunshine.

Cooking teams set up the night before in the festival grounds of Maggie Valley
In July the maximum temperature is 82 degrees. At night the thermometer reading usually drops below 60, so cool temperatures in the evenings also offset the daily highs. In addition, the risk of rain is low. July is the driest month in the summer with only 3.7 inches of rain. With these conditions, the organizers of Smokin’ in the Valley, which proclaims itself as the Western North Carolina BBQ championship, couldn’t ask for more favorable conditions.

Smokin' in the Valley proclaims the Western N.C. BBQ Champion.
Smokin’ in the Valley is an event that local residents look forward to attending each year, even though Maggie Valley has a full summer schedule of exceptional events that annually draws repeat visitors. The motels, lodges, and inns fill up quickly, and I had to call several places before I found one with a room available (fortunately a reservation had just been cancelled).

Food vendors do a brisk business along the path to the music stage.
The most attractive part of Smokin’ in the Valley is not the weather but the crowd enthusiasm. The line to get a tray of samples by the cooking teams is long, but everyone waits patiently. Can you imagine standing in line for up to an hour to vote in the People’s Choice category?

The reward for standing in line to vote in the People's Choice category is
a tray of tasty samples prepared by cooking teams.
The event is held on the festival grounds (where parking is easy) of Maggie Valley next to charming Jonathan Creek, a regular destination for trout fishing because it is part of the Mountain Heritage Trout Waters Program. When Smokin’ in the Valley occurs, the grounds become a singular destination to browse through mountain arts and crafts and enjoy food from vendors (my favorites were cornbread salad and root beer float) that complement the barbecue sold in the People’s Choice contest. People arrive early and linger for hours to enjoy the music.

Mountain music performs throughout the day on the festival grounds.
Many entries that I judged were excellent, an indication that many cooking teams had been competing for years. Several earned high scores for appearance. For taste and tenderness, most beef brisket entries were excellent. Even judges who are die-hard pork aficionados considered the beef briskets as good as any other barbecue in the contest.

The judges tent is quiet before noon when the first meats arrive.
Maggie Valley is popular for more than barbecue. Several judges that I talked to were also dedicated motorcyclists, who had applied for this event to combine their interests in judging barbecue with riding mountain roads. The highways in this part of North Carolina are known not only for their scenery but also for their twisting turns and changing elevations. This area has several scenic journeys, including one with 318 twists and turns in 18 miles (known as “The Dragon”). In addition, some judges took time to visit the popular collection of vintage motorcycles on display at the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley.

Backyard grillers can buy bags of wood -- pecan, hickory, cherry, and apple -- in the arts and crafts area.
A valley in the mountains is an excellent place to hold a barbecue festival in the summer. The trophies and prize money that Smokin’ in the Valley offers contestants is only part of the attraction for competing in this event.

Trophies for the reserve (left) and grand champions await the winners.

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