I followed the Office Depot show car south on I-75 from Tampa tonight. The crew-cab truck had flames across the hood and the triple-axle trailer was flawlessly lettered and painted to showcase Office Depot and the # 99 Ford Fusion driven by NASCAR's Carl Edwards -- the back flipping Missourian -- from Columbia. I don't remember the lettering exactly, but the trailer said something on it about "fan experience".
It got me thinking about possibilities for bbq contests. Wouldn't it be great if bbq contests had an element of "fan appreciation" or "fan participation"?
During my visit to the American Royal a couple years ago I was a little confused about why so many thousands of people willingly paid more than $10 to enter the contest site and watch others having a good time. Most of the cooking sites at the Royal appeared to be little more than "private parties". The vast majority of cooks had no intention of interacting with spectators. Regrettably this phenomenon is not restricted to the Royal. It happens at contests throughout the country.
Rather than just pointing out the obvious -- that most bbq contests are not spectator friendly --I'm all about offering possible solutions here on the BBQ Blog. So here goes....
In addition to the professional and backyard categories at sanctioned bbq events I'd propose a new category that allows for more direct spectator participation. I'd recommend creating a kettle grill category that caters directly to the spectator that wants to participate, but who is unsure how to get started or those who are too timid to interrupt the cooks that don't really want to be interrupted anyway to ask questions.
In the kettle grill category, contestants could simply show up at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning with their kettle grill, a bag of charcoal, their meat of choice, and whatever supplies they chose to bring. The entry fee should be something like $25, or maybe even less, to remove the barriers to entry for the casual backyard cooks. This kettle grill category would cater to meats that take a short time to prepare like chicken, steak, hamburger, or possibly ribs. As luck would have it, these meats are also more familar to beginning wannabe professional bbq cooks.
The prizes could be a simple winner take all $100-$150. Best of all, the organizer could possibly get a local business to sponsor the entire category. The category could be featured prominently with bleachers set up around the kettle grill "coral" for a birds eye view of the action. There could be a master of ceremonies to explain what's taking place for spectators and they could walk around and interview the cooks in action.
A kettle grill category would be a very good thing.