Saturday, July 22, 2017

Returning to Galax

Smoke on the Mountain in Galax, Va., is an annual favorite for cooking teams and judges. Set in the center of a small city (population only 7,000), the cookout has a venue envied by many other contests.

The last time that I was a judge for Smoke on the Mountain was in 2015. The community support for the event and the hordes of enthusiastic barbecue fans who attend continue to impress me.

Teams keep wood burning to have hot coals for when needed.

Local citizens and visitors spend a good part of the weekend walking among the cooking teams, enjoying the live music on street stages, looking over items being sold by arts and crafts vendors, and checking out sales at several antique stores.

The marquee of the historic theater in Galax promotes the barbecue cookoff.

Before the judges were required to take their seats, I joined the downtown scene and visited several vendors and stores. The most surprising find for me was to see a squash pie for sale. Although my focus for the day was barbecue, I couldn’t resist taking home a squash pie made by a 95-year-old lady who was one of the street vendors.

Judges relax before the first entries arrive for them to judge.

The judges again met on the second floor of the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, which conducts classes in contemporary art and traditional music. Located in the historic National Bank Building, it has a gift store that features creative items made by local artists. I was particularly struck by artwork using a theme of the galax leaf. The prominence of the low-growing evergreen shrub, native to the southern Appalachian Mountains, is how Galax got its name in 1906.

The watercolor "Small Galax Leaf" by local artist Paula Melton is on display at the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.

The cookoff occurs in Galax a month before it hosts the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, the world’s largest and oldest fiddlers’ convention. The city is known as the World Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music, a traditional American music that gave rise to bluegrass, country, rock and other styles. With its Smoke on the Mountain contest, Galax also continues to build on its reputation for excellent barbecue. In the cookoff, cooking teams compete in separate contests sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and Memphis Barbecue Network.

A team prepares one of its entries for judging.

Smoke on the Mountain continues to be one of my favorite contests. The cool temperatures in mid-July are an added enticement to attend. Judging barbecue and enjoying the street scene are great ways to spend a Saturday in a lively small city.

Trophies for earlier cookoffs in Galax take center place among others at a competitor's site.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Judging the Best Barbecue

[Note: This post, prepared originally for OutreachNC magazine, is hosted on the magazine’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.]

Being a judge at a barbecue cookoff is the best way to spend a weekend. Imagine tasting the best barbecue prepared by dedicated and enthusiastic pitmasters.

Judging at barbecue contests connects me to cooking traditions of our state, which boasts a rich history, sometimes united but often divided between western and eastern regions.

Barbecue fans in our area argue seriously about how to cook (wood vs. gas, whole hog vs. shoulder) – as well as the sauce (vinegar-pepper only or with ketchup added) and meat (pork only or also chicken and beef brisket). I don’t enter such arguments. I simply enjoy the style of each region and contest and try to stay true to the traditions and standards.

On the morning of a cookoff, the cooking sites are absolutely quiet – hardly a sound is heard -- as the cooks concentrate on their final preparations. When photographer Katherine Clark accompanied me at one whole hog contest, the sun was slowly rising as the judging began at 8 a.m.

Continue reading with an online version of the July 2017 issue of OutreachNC ...