The teams at the Barbecue on the River festival are one big family. They steal each other’s mascots; they play other practical jokes. It’s really all about having fun and raising money for charity. That is until Saturday morning comes around.
“We are all pals,” Shane Cornwell of the Smokin’ Hose Grillin’ Team said. “We hang out outside of the competition. We talk all weekend during the competition. But come Saturday morning, when we are getting things ready to be judged, things get very, very quiet.”
Saturday is judging day at the 17th Annual Barbecue on the River. While teams often help each other throughout the week, or share secrets during the off season, the competitive nature in each group comes in full force.
This year, the name of the game seems to be overcoming the four-time defending champions, J-Mack Cookers. J-Mack’s signature sweet sauce and perfectly cooked meat has won them four grand champion trophies, but they still treat the competition seriously.
“Every year, we come out to that competition ready to win,” J-Mack team leader John Ford said. “We don’t sit back on our haunches and let things come to us. We work to put out the best-tasting barbecue there is.”
Although J-Mack is the four-time defending champion, last year’s reserve champion, Smokin’ Hose, has spent the year tinkering with its techniques in the quest for the grand champion crown.
“Coming in second only makes you want it more,” Cornwell said. “We changed minor things, so it’s still got that burn that we are famous for, but we messed with temperatures and timing. I am really excited to see how it is going to work out.”
Judging at the competition is done blindly, with each judge sampling from a numbered plate. Judges then give a score, which can never be a whole number.
“We have had champions decided by a few tenths of a point,” David Boggs, festival director, said. “It’s really all about who is hot that day.”