A Cleveland area crowd of barbeque lovers picked their favorite and a local team was chosen as the “People’s Choice” Saturday at the first-ever sanctioned professional BBQ event held in Bradley County.
The local Little Pig Smokers team of Ray Kerr took the “People’s Choice” honors at the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s competition held at Tri-State Exhibition Center as part of the 9th annual Foothills Country Fair.
The Grand Champion team, as judged by a panel of trained barbeque tasters, was the Warren County Pork Choppers, a talented bunch of pitmasters who have captured five championships already this year, according to team member Donnie Bray.
Bray and teammate Steve Upton hail from Bowling Green, Ky., and friends and family of the two — many of whom were on hand for the weekend festivities — were elated to hear the duo announced as the big winner.
Reserve Champion, which is the first runnerup, was the team of Jiggy Piggy. Team members Steve Blake and Bob Fite have competed throughout the Southeast for six years and are based in Decatur, Ala.
Louie Alford, president of the Foothills Country Fair, said the annual event has been another favorite among community residents and he commended the BBQ pitmasters for their talents and for participating in the Bradley County event.
“We had some great barbeque here today,” Alford said.
Sixty-one professional teams and more than 20 “backyard” pitmasters participated for cash and trophies.
Mack Hess, Tri-State Exhibition Center director, said crowd participants who paid the $5 tasters’ fee enjoyed varieties of barbecue all day.
“We have eaten so much we are stuffed!” he exclaimed.
As part of the aromatic and palate-pleasing competition, pitmasters — who came prepared with their own unique recipes, some that have been perfected over years and some that have been handed down over their families’ generations — were tasked to smoke and grill four categories of barbecue that included chicken, brisket, ribs and pork.
A trained panel of judges licensed through the Kansas City Barbeque Society then gauged each entry on appearance, presentation, taste and other criteria.
“This was high tech and very interesting,” Hess said.
When it all came down to the final morsels, only four-hundredths (4/100) of a point separated the Grand Champion (first place) and Reserve Champion (second place).
“The judges’ scores are entered into a computer and they are calculated that way,” Hess said.
Hess was a judge for Friday evening’s Sausage and Sauce event. He said it was hard to believe how many ways sausage could be prepared.
The Foothills Country Fair concludes today with lawnmower racing, Big Wheel races for ages 3 to 11, live entertainment and a variety of additional activities. Gates today will open at noon. The fair will wrap up at 6 p.m.
For those who have not purchased a four-day pin for $10, today’s one-day price is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12. Children under 6 are admitted free. Active military personnel are also admitted free with proper identification.
Parking at the Tri-State Exhibition Center is free.