It’s surprising that a barbecue town such as Ayden never before had a barbecue festival. The town clearly enjoys a homegrown festival because it has hosted the Official Collard Festival of North Carolina since 1975. When Stephen Tripp, the town’s mayor, spoke to judges at their initial meeting, he said, ”We want to book summer with two festivals” as he explained why town leaders wanted a second festival as a companion to the collard festival.
|Teams set up in BBQ Village.|
Officials were very excited to be conducting their first barbecue cookoff and festival. “You’re making history with this inaugural event,” Tripp told the judges. He also said that he had given the same message to the cooking teams the night before.
|The Smokin' BBQ team prepares its chicken entries.|
Tripp told the judges that they would be “tasting the best barbecue ever judged because Ayden is known as the barbecue capital of the world.” In a nod to the two kings – Skylight Inn and Bum’s Restaurant – Tripp said, “We have the best barbecue in the world. When the cookers get permeated with that legacy, they’ll produce the best barbecue that the teams have ever made,” the mayor projected.
|A contestant prepares a tray for the People's Choice category.|
I have to agree with the mayor. For a first-ever event, the contest was well organized, and the cooking results were exceptional. Of the entries that I judged, the beef brisket in particular was superior, which is typically difficult for some teams to prepare. The other entries – chicken, ribs, and pork – were also better than expected. The teams must have been inspired by not only being in Ayden but also the opportunity to compete for a total prize amount of $10,000.
|Amanda Reed of Coastal Smoke looks happy with her cooking results.|
Because many judges were aware of the importance of Ayden in the history of N.C. barbecue, several traveled from out of state to be a part of the inaugural event. Cooking teams from Texas and Pennsylvania also joined in the competition that featured mostly N.C. teams. For the cookoff, 30 cooking teams registered, and 30 judges were required. Fortunately, I had submitted my application when the contest was first announced and assured my participation by being one of the early judges to apply.
|Music plays during the festival on the main stage at the center of the street scene.|
Even before the event was over, the organizers were so pleased with the event that they began planning for the “second annual” next year. The good news for me is that all the judges who participated will be invited to judge again before registration is made available to others. Because Ayden is one of my favorite small towns, I’m looking forward to being part of the festival again.
|Near the main stage, the trailer of Skylight Inn stays busy selling barbecue sandwiches.|