FLORENCE — “Low and slow” seemed to be the mantra around the Smoke on the Water barbecue contest Saturday at McFarland Park.
Low refers to low heat and slow means taking your time to properly smoke the meat.
Other than that, cooks weren’t giving away many secrets to smoking award-winning chicken, ribs or pulled pork.
The cook-off, an official Kansas City Barbecue Society event, was presented by the Florence and Greater Shoals Rotary clubs as a fundraiser for Shoals Scholar Dollars.
Organizer Jeff McDaniel was happy with the attendance. There were supposed to be only 500 tickets sold to sample the meat, but Daniels said a few more than that were sold. People still were seeking tickets long after they sold out.
“This is fabulous,” McDaniel said. “It was everything we’d hoped for and more.”
Randy Pettus, executive director of Shoals Scholar Dollars, said organizers were hoping for 20-25 cook teams. McDaniel said 39 entered, but three had to drop out, leaving 36 to cook and fill the grove with the smell of smoking meats.
McDaniel said there were local teams, teams from Mississippi and as far south as Wetumpka in south Alabama and as far north as Nashville. He said there were judges from Oklahoma and Georgia. There also were competing teams from the University of North Alabama and Northwest Shoals Community College and a few local restaurants.
Cook teams prepared meat for the judges to sample and grade, and extra pork butts for the public to sample. A $10 ticket allowed the public to sample the barbecue. Kansas City Barbecue Society judges are trained to judge a contestants barbecue by its taste, its tenderness and the cook team’s presentation.
“There are a lot of rules for the cook teams, what they can and can’t and what they can cook on,” McDaniel said.
Kevin Richardson, aka “The Flamin’ Kajun,” drove up from Denham Springs, Louisiana, to compete and to visit his brother-in-law, Rick Ybarbo, who lives in Central.
Richardson said he’s been grilling competitively since 2010 and tries to enter a cook-off each month. Like most of the teams, he smoked ribs, pulled pork and chicken. He started grilling at 11:30 p.m. Friday and cooked up to the minute the entries had to be turned over to the judges.
“I smoke over indirect heat, low and slow,” he said.
His best finish was second place, and Richardson vowed to keep grilling until he comes in first. On Saturday, he received an eighth-place award for smoked chicken.
Many of the teams had fun names such as the Flaming Kajun, The Smokin’ Chief, BBB Bad to Da Bone, Jack of All Que, Think Outside the Box and Sweet Cheeks BBQ.
Many had custom-made smokers, but none could top Mike Martin’s converted Budweiser delivery trailer, which he hauled from Lexington, Tennessee, with a red big rig tractor.
The trailer had six smoking pits built into the bays where cases of beer normally would be stored for delivery. Two other bays were used for supplies.
Martin said he never cooks for money. Instead, he likes to help churches raise money.
“I built it to help people,” he said. “The Lord blessed me with it.”
Martin came down to help his brother, Nick Martin, and Team Big River Broadcasting, which took home a 10th-place overall finish and a 10th-place finish in pulled pork.
Jeff Williams, of Nashville, brought his smoker down to help out the Singin’ River Smokers, which is the crew from the Singin’ River Brewing Co. in Florence.
He’s been smoking meat for a while and uses a combination of fruit woods, such as cherry and apple, supplemented with oak and maple.
He said the event was well organized for a first-year cook-off.
“When you have weather like this, it makes it phenomenal,” Williams said.
The grand champion of the event was Pit Row BBQ, of Tuscumbia, which is headed by Rusty and Jennifer Weaver. They also took home first place in pulled pork and chicken and second place in ribs.
Like everyone else, Weaver said the secret was low and slow, and a secret sauce.
“It’s mainly in the sauce,” he said.
The Weavers have been cooking competitively for four or five years.
Pettus said a local barbecue judge, Myron Berry, first brought him the idea, which he passed on to the Rotary Clubs. Pettus said Berry, along with McDaniel, Adams, Randall Matthews, Christie Bowman and Bryan Wallace, headed the committee that put the event together.
“Those guys get every bit of the credit,” Pettus said.
Pettus said they didn’t set a goal for the fundraiser. Scholar Dollars benefited from each $10 ticket sold. He said it’s the first official Kansas City Barbecue Society event held in the Shoals.
“We were just trying to put on a good festival this year without worrying so much about the money,” McDaniel said. “The money will probably come next year and the year after that.”
Pettus said Shoals Scholar Dollars still is trying to find a permanent source of funding, but will continue to utilize fundraising events such as the cook-off.
“We just finished our student of the year banquet,” he said. “We’re paying for 178 kids to attend Northwest-Shoals. We’ll have another big freshman class ready to enroll in the fall.”
The Kansas City Barbecue Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and enjoying barbecue. It’s the world’s largest organization for barbecue and grilling enthusiasts with over 20,000 members worldwide.
The society sanctions over 450 barbecue contests worldwide for amateurs’ and professionals. Saturday’s cook-off was an amateur event.
Saturday’s event also featured a cruise-in car show, a fishing tournament and entertainment featuring local bands such as Blind The Sky, Max Russell and the Shakedown Kings, Funky Chester and Mitch Mann and The Mojo Mixers.