Saturday, June 6, 2015

Traveling to the Bull City

Durham, NC, is not that far from my home. When I learned about the Bull City Barbecue Classic Cookoff, I was interested in participating for several reasons. Being at the event would give me the opportunity to experience an event that is still developing, work with several highly regarded barbecue experts, evaluate the value that a sanctioning organization provides, and develop more completely my judging skills.

Cooking teams set up on the grounds of the Durham County Stadium.

First, the event is still in its infancy. It started in 2012 with five cooking teams and three judges. Led by Renee Brown, the contest organizer, the cookoff has attracted more cooking teams in each subsequent year. This year 20 teams signed up to compete (and 19 did). For judges, Renee had put out a call in her network and recruited 19, a few who had been judges for her last year. Even as the cookoff has grown, it still limits teams to cooking two meats (pork ribs and barbecue), unlike other competitions that typically also include chicken and beef brisket.

Smokin' Joe's BBQ was one of the 19 teams competing for contest awards.

Bob Garner, BBQ expert,
judges one of the ribs.
Next, I recognized several names in the “barbecue world” or media who had committed to judge and whom I would enjoy getting to know. One was Bob Garner, author of several books about North Carolina barbecue and traditional cooking, who is also a well-known pitmaster and connoisseur of N.C. barbecue. Another was Graham Wilson, who organizes the Peak City Pig Fest annually in Apex, NC, and in four short years has taken that event from being a dream to becoming one of the top N.C. contests sanctioned by Kansas City Barbeque Society. In addition, Anthony Wilson, news anchor and reporter for WTVD, the ABC TV affiliate in central N.C., was returning as a judge in Durham.

Anthony Wilson (right) returned to the cookoff again this year as a judge.

Another intriguing aspect of the Bull City Cookoff is that it is not sanctioned by any professional barbecue society such as KCBS, although Brown eventually hopes to make the transition to a sanctioned contest. Because all events that I have attended have been KCBS-sanctioned, being in Durham gave me the opportunity to see how judges perform who haven’t completed a uniform training program or don’t share a set of formally published rules. Although the judges did well, I easily recognized the value that a sanctioning organization provides.

Coookoff judges take their responsibilities very seriously.

Because the cookoff is not sanctioned, it attracted a wide variety of cooking teams. Some were had never competed before, and their equipment was quite basic. Others had very expensive setups, vans, and trailers; they also displayed trophies to show off their past successes. As the public entered, some teams were well-prepared to sell their barbecue and sauces, while other teams looked on and observed how they could improve their operation the next time that they competed.

Smoking Dave's shows off racecar,
trophies, and new trailer.
People Choice's trophy went again
to Smoking Dave's, also the winner
in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

The cookoff also helped develop my table captain skills. Several days before the event, Brown had asked if I would explain the procedures to the judges at the start of the competition and serve as table captain as the samples were distributed to judges for evaluation. Although a table captain at a KCBS-sanctioned event serves only six judges, two volunteers helped me stay on schedule.

A cooking team keeps the grill hot with barbecue to sell to the public.

The Bull City event achieved the purpose of a cookoff: encourage teams to compete and promote barbecue as a culinary technique and sport. I look forward to watching as the cookoff continues to grow and eventually transitions to a formally sanctioned contest.

The line formed early for people interested in attending the cookoff;
admission was $5 per person.

1 comment:

  1. Ray: Only a few blocks from my high school home. Wish I could have been there. Thanks for helping the event. Larry M.