By R. Scott Belzer
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The first-ever Grills Gone Wild barbecue competition took place on Friday and Saturday last week, overcoming soaking rain and frigid winds.
For many competitors, the event — which was sponsored by the London-Laurel Tourism Commission — marked the first real contest of the season. Teams sporting such names as Moonswiners, We Q-4-U, Monty Pigthon and the Holy Grill, and an especially important namesake, The Soggy Bottom Smokers, hailed from states such as Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennesee and Kentucky.
On Friday night, teams and the attending public were treated to a catfish and chicken dinner. While they filled their stomachs with fresh catfish, chicken, coleslaw, French fries, and hush puppies, the onlookers were free to watch the Tennesee vs. Michigan and University of Kentucky vs. Louisville NCAA Men’s Basketball games.
In addition, the weekend also featured a small but commendable car show, a wet and cold morning 5K, as well as a corn hole tournament. Many competitors looked to the latter event as a chance to warm up, dry off and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Many teams took to firing up grills and preparing “rubs” or sauces late Friday night to perfect techniques and hone their skills. The majority did not stop until the event was over the following afternoon.
“We’ve been working in shifts all night,” said a member of Pull My Meat from Knoxville, Tenn., while putting on the finishing touches to their rib entry. “We have one guy in the camper now because he was smoking and grilling all night.”
For Jason Hicks of The Gridiron Hogs of Clintwood, Va., rain and inclement weather only ups the stakes of a competition.
“This is our first (competition) of the year,” Hicks said. “The folks of London have really done a great job in setting everything up. Sure, the rain and weather is bad, but you can’t ever help that. It just makes things a little bit more interesting.”
The number of participants seemed to confirm Hicks’ sentiments: 42 out of the registered 43 professional division teams and seven out of eight registered Backyard BBQ division teams arrived and competed at the event in spite of cold rain and constant cloud coverage.
Veteran barbecue smokers, the Warren County Pork Choppers from Bowling Green, Ky., who went on to claim the chicken, brisket and Grand Champion titles at Grills Gone Wild, also showed teams how a little innovation can go a long way. The team constructed an all-in-one trailer, kitchen and smoker complete with overhead cover.
“Days like today are the reason I made a rig like this,” said team member Donny Bray. “You don’t have to deal with the rain or the cold.”
More than a dozen lucky individuals had the honor of judging contestants’ entries in pork, brisket, ribs, and chicken. They were instructed to judge entries on appearance, taste and tenderness.
When all was said, done, and enjoyed, it was the technologically proficient veterans of the Warren County Pork Choppers who took home the title of Grand Champion in the overall competition — as well as a check for $1,250. Dugout BBQ claimed the title in the Backyard Grill Master competition as well as $500.
Category winners included: Warren County Pork Choppers for chicken and brisket; Historic BBQ for ribs; and Bourbon Barrel BBQ for pork.
For more information on this year’s and next year’s potential competition, contact The Inferno Group Corporation at email@example.com or (423) 504-8746 or the London-Laurel Tourism Commission at (606) 878-6900.