Friday, July 21, 2006

First "Big Time" BBQ Contest Experience

There aren't many sports where novice competitors compete side by side with seasoned veterans for fabulous prizes. That's the beauty of bbq contests. The beginner can compete with the professional on equal footing and have a chance to win. You won't see that in NASCAR, on the PGA Tour, in MLB, or in the NBA, but scenes like this one play out over and over again on the bbq contest circuit at contests throughout the country almost every weekend.

My teammate and I layed down about 10:30 p.m. Sleeping fully clothed in a pair of Wranglers, a University of Tennessee sweatshirt and white tube socks; the 10 x 20 Hercules tent with all four sides attached shielded us from the weather outside.

It had been much warmer when we settled in for the nap, but the temperature was dropping now. Inside the tent the temperature was very tolerable with the propane heater running, but as I stood up and made my way toward the tent opening it grew increasingly chilly. Of course it wouldn’t be considered chilly by northern folks’ standards, but after living in Florida for awhile, my blood had thinned out and the definition of ‘chilly’ had changed. As I peeled back the tent opening and stepped out into the night air, I was greeted by brisk 40 degree weather. The weather earlier in the morning had been in mid-70’s, but had dropped off during the night as a cold front moved in.

As I approached the two black barbecue smokers aligned in a row at the rear of the cook site, I was greeted with a boisterous, “Howdy” from the direction of the neighboring cook site. The head cook, a tall 50ish man with a southern drawl and good ‘ole boy approach, had been cooking competitively for many years and had cajoled, helped, prodded and answered questions from most of the Florida based competitors. He was truly an ambassador for the sport.

So as not to wake anyone sleeping, I walked closer to speak without yelling and responded to the greeting from the stranger with a muffled, “Y’all going to win this thing?”

“You never know,” was the response from the neighbor. “We just might sneak up on ‘um this weekend if we’re lucky.”

This scene occurred almost four-years ago, but I remember it like it was last weekend.

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