Saturday, September 13, 2014

Eastern Tennessee: Great Place for a Barbecue Contest

Part of what makes judging at barbecue contests enjoyable is the opportunity to take side trips in a new area. When I learned about a contest in eastern Tennessee, I wanted to participate because this area has several places to explore early American history and culture while sampling great barbecue. 

Big Green Egg, a corporate sponsor of
the Grills Gone Wild BBQ series, was
on scene to give advice about grills.
The contest was held in Greeneville, named for Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene. Several towns in the United States are named for him, but only the one in Tennessee still retains the historic spelling (with the silent e in Greene). The event was held on the campus of Tusculum College, the oldest college in the state. Its traditional campus with old historic brick buildings along tree-lined streets blend graciously with new additions such as the modern athletic complex. In the concourse of the minor league baseball park, the judges evaluated the entries out of sight of the cooking teams who had set up in the parking lot.

The contest was part of the BBQ series organized by Grills Gone Wild and was the first time it had been held in Greeneville. Most cooking teams were from eastern Tennessee (Kingsport, Johnson City, and Knoxville were represented). However, the judges were from a wider area – neighboring states of Virginia and Alabama as well as Tennessee.

Most teams were from Eastern Tennessee.
Organizers gave a cooler bag to
each judge.
The teams were competing for $6,000 in prize money, and all were eager to turn in their entries. Several teams were new to competing in an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Some chicken entries showed either creativity by the teams or lack of experience in competing at these events. One chicken entry even had an orange or citrus taste that surprised other judges. The ribs entries seemed to be all uniformly excellent. In fact, one judge commented that one entry was the best that he had ever tasted.

The State of Franklin, never admitted to
the Union by Congress, did have a
governor and other officials.
By being in Greeneville, I learned more about the failed State of Franklin. Several counties in the late 1700s seceded from North Carolina and tried to create an independent state, but Congress refused to admit it into the Union. Greeneville had been a capital of Franklin while it existed.

Less than 25 miles away is Jonesborough, the first town formed in the area that is now Tennessee. Jonesborough had also been a capital of Franklin and was a center of abolitionist movement in the South before the American Civil War. The self-proclaimed “Storytelling Capital of the World,” it is now home to the International Storytelling Center that holds a major festival each October.

Barbecue and history are a good combination. Eastern Tennessee has long been recognized for its history; now that it’s also a venue for barbecue competitions, more people will appreciate this combination.

The event offered several activities for children, including monster truck rides.

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