New barbecue date attracted comments

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A couple of the participants in he Lewisburg Rotary Club's barbecue contest during the Goats, Music and More Festival this month gave the service club high marks for the event and they commented on its plan to hold a contest in June.

"The weekend we heard them talking about is not a good weekend from a barbecue standpoint," said Barry Johnson, one of the cooks on the Swiggin' Pig team that won the cook-off here. "There's an event in Memphis with about four times the amount of prize money."

Johnson and his father are committed to attending 26 events a year, so decisions must be made by the contestants, "and to be very frank ... the prize money has an impact on whether a team enters a contest (although money) is not the be all to end all," he said.

Some residents spoke about the amount of space set aside for the barbecue cook-off.

"I absolutely did not feel cramped, compared to some places," Johnson said. "I understand that for the competition to grow, they'll need more room."

He would support the local Rotarians' plan to reschedule their barbecue, but sees a conflict with the event in Memphis.

He was asked about whether the contest would be affected if there were no festival conducted with the contest.

"The biggest misconception is that people can go to a barbecue contest and eat barbecue," Johnson replied. "They can't for health department and liability reasons.

"So from the public's perspective, it's important for them to have something else to do," he said.

Rocky Danner, a master barbecue judge who teaches how to judge barbecue and has traveled to several foreign countries in conjunction with barbecue events, started by saying, "I think the Rotarians are a great group...

"I was very impressed with the contest" in Lewisburg during the Oct. 7-10 festival and the club's management is consistent with other events run by the organization elsewhere.

"The best fish fry I've been to was on a Friday night by the Rotarians," Danner said.

As for the question -- Why change the date of the barbecue contest? -- Danner noted a crowd estimate at 15,000 and concerns about room for contestants.

"Barbecue is a family event," he continued. "We're getting more ladies in it. The biggest is in Memphis, and a lady won it during Memphis in May. She won the whole hog division... and it's a cultural exchange.

"They do need more room, but why not go across the bridge?" He asked about the pedestrian bridge over Rock Creek to city property that had been the Murray horse farm pasture.

Utilities are not yet available on that side of the creek.

"Most of the BBQ contests have a festival atmosphere," Danner continued. "People at a BBQ will go to a festival."

It's probably true of people traveling with a barbecue team, but Johnson said cooks work toward the goal of winning the contest money.

"I love the festival being there," Danner said. "I hate to see the two separate there, but it's going to be hard for this barbecue to grow, if they don't have more room.

"Most contests have 70-80 contestants," he said. "In Huntsville there were 60-70 professionals and 80 back-yard teams."

He reported the contest here had 42 teams, including 14 who cooked goat.

Danner agreed the situation is a problem of success.

"I can't tell you why they're separating, but if I was running it, I'd want more room to separate the teams."

Bigger contests at festivals raise economic factors for the competitors.

"The bigger the contest, the more people paying the entry fee, and sponsors look at the numbers (of people attending for advertising reasons.) The more sponsors, the more prize money can be paid. It's just economics."