Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Third Contest in Lakeland, Florida

Going to Lakeland, Florida, for a third consecutive year to judge at a barbecue cookoff must mean that I think the location, contest, and competition are top-notch. They are. The Lakeland Pigfest is a superior event that attracts a huge number of cooking teams and an overflowing crowd at a scenic site.

The crowds show up in droves on both Friday and Saturday.

For the first time in its 21 years, the Pigfest was held away from its usual location, Joker Merchant Stadium, the winter home of the Detroit Tigers because it was being renovated. This year the event was held on the Sun ‘N’ Fun campus at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Although the scenic atmosphere of the stadium was missed, the temporary home has more space for cooking teams and vendors, and the huge crowd could move easily and enjoy the largest event in Florida sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

Musical groups play continuously on the main stage.

I again was assigned as a judge in the “pro” division, which means judging teams that are a cut above. The ribs were so superior that one judge commented, “These are as good as it gets. Each one is perfect.” The briskets that we judged were also excellent. With prize money of $20,000, the Pigfest always attracts outstanding teams.

Judges assemble in the hanger in advance of the first meat turn-in.

In the “pro” division, 60 teams competed. Another 57 participated in the less competitive division known as “backyard,” although this division does include many excellent teams. For such a huge field of teams, Pigfest organizers assembled 22 tables of certified judges (7 at each table). All judging was conducted in an enormous hangar, which seemed cavernous when we entered but soon seemed just right once the 150 judges and volunteers inside were engaged with their duties.

The turn-in table is ready to receive the first meat category, chicken.

Immediately before the “adult” contest, the Pigfest conducts a “Kids Q,” a competition to nurture an interest in preparing barbecue for kids in two age groups: 11 to 15, and 10 and under. The children are provided grills by the Pigfest and then are responsible for the preparation, cooking, and presentation of their entries, although a parent or guardian is present during their cooking process. Watching the young cooks parade in with their entries is one of the highlights of being a judge at the festival, and I enjoyed serving also as a judge for this contest.

Cooking teams are well prepared and stocked with wood.

Being at the Pigfest in 2017 was a rewarding experience and as much fun as the festivals in 2015 and 2016. Because the Pigfest has now generated more than $2 million in charitable donations for local charities, it’s a significant part of the spirit in the Lakeland community.

Cookers at the Pigfest literally come in all shapes and sizes.

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