Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sip and Swine

All roads in Georgia lead to Atlanta, except when a barbecue cookoff is happening someplace else. On a sunny weekend, Lawrenceville was the destination for cooking teams, certified judges, and a very large crowd as it was the venue for the inaugural Sip and Swine BBQ Festival.

The Black Tie BBQ team has an appropriately designed cooker.

A suburb of Atlanta, Lawrenceville is about 30 miles northeast of downtown. Although it is the second oldest city in the metropolitan Atlanta area, much of the area seems to have been recently constructed, such as Coolray Field where Sip and Swine was held. It opened in 2009 and is the home of a minor league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The location is perfect for a barbecue festival because the parking areas of Coolray provide ample space for cooking teams, vendors, entertainers, and the crowd.

Judges sign in for the festival.

The festival attracted almost 90 cooking teams, a phenomenal turnout for an inaugural event, that were lured by $9,500 in prize money and the rivalry offered by an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. With the festival having so many cooking teams, 15 tables of judges were needed to evaluate and score the entries that they turned in. In the professional division, 60 teams competed in the usual categories of chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. The remaining teams formed a backyard division and competed in all categories except brisket.

The lineup for samples in the People's Choice begins early.

Although the main attraction of the festival was the cookoff and the chance to see the teams in action, the People’s Choice competition was a major hit. A long line of eager BBQ fans, who paid $10 for an assortment of samples and the opportunity to vote in the People’s Choice, formed well before the competition began. All proceeds were donated to a local children’s shelter. Otherwise, Sip and Swine was free.

Samples of barbecue are plated for the People's Choice.
An amazing lineup of local benefactors sponsored the festival and helped to guarantee its success. The crowd enjoyed music played by prominent local entertainers as vendors dispensed food, beer, and sweets. Because the vendors were continually serving long lines, they will be sure to return next year for an encore.

Officials label and place boxes of brisket in trays to take to judges.

Sip and Swine is destined to be an annual event because all the components – location, sponsors, cooking teams, People’s Choice competition, entertainment -- were successful. For at least one weekend each year, the roads in Georgia will be bringing travelers to Lawrenceville instead of Atlanta.

The Checkered Pig team takes top honors.