Saturday, January 30, 2016

Returning to Lakeland, Florida

The Lakeland Pigfest has been held for 20 years.

When the opportunity to return to Lakeland, Florida, for a barbecue contest became available, I jumped at the chance. Being in Florida in January to enjoy warm temperatures and combining the travel with judging barbecue is a great combination.

Pig In or Pig Out competed in the pro division of Pigfest.

Although Lakeland is a nine-hour drive from my home, the destination makes the journey more than worthwhile. I decided to stay a week more than last year in Florida after I was notified by contest organizers that I would be a judge. The extra time gave me and my family time to explore the panhandle of the state, visit Gulf Coast beaches, and spend several days at Walt Disney World – and miss a snow and ice storm in my home area.

Judges mingle before the competition begins.

Another change this year is that I was able to judge in the “pro” division, which is for the highly competitive teams (last year I judged in the “backyard” division of the Lakeland Pigfest). Participating as a judge in the “pro” division was phenomenal. The meats were exceptional, particularly the briskets.

Fired & Wired was one of the teams competing in the backyard division.

The Pigfest is one of only four events in January sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Two are in foreign countries (Italy and Australia). If a cooking team wants to compete in January in the United States, it has to choose the Pigfest or a BBQ throwdown in Denver. Quite a few choose the Pigfest, which has been the host to more than 200 teams from 17 states since it began in 1997.

The Smoke Shack team had the tallest signs but placed low (57 out of 58 teams) in the pro division.

The pro event attracted 58 cooking teams from all over the country, and the backyard competition attracted an equally large number of teams -- requiring the organizers to field a huge number of certified judges: six judges and a table captain are needed for each increment of six cooking teams. 

The perfect way -- homemade ice cream -- to end a day of judging barbecue.
The 2016 Pigfest was the 20th annual occurrence. All the past experiences have given the organizers an excellent foundation for planning and conducting the next event. It remains one of the top events that I’ve been able to attend as a judge. The nine-hour drive is a small concession to make to start a new year in Florida with a premier contest.

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