The fifth annual Brenau Barbecue Championship May 24-25 brings together 37 different cook teams from five states to battle for Memphis Barbecue Network and Georgia Barbecue Association amateur and professional titles as well as rights to compete the World Food Championship in Las Vegas.
This is the first time that the MBN and GBA teams have competed together at the Brenau festival, now regarded as one of the top regional competition events in the country. MBN participating “professional” teams will compete in three categories of Memphis-style deliciousness: whole hog, ribs and shoulder shank. Although the GBA competition replaces Brenau’s “Backyard Braggart” amateur competition, both professional and amateur teams can participate, serving up Boston Butt, ribs and pork loin. Some competitors though are competing in both MBN and GBA contests.
Jim Barco, the Brenau Barbecue Championship organizer, says the added wrinkle is the automatic bid to a national cooking competition this fall. Billed as “a clash of culinary titans,” the Las Vegas event features competition for fame and a piece of the $300,000 prize purse in seven categories of food preparation styles, including barbecue. The Brenau festival is one of only two in the country that gets to send two contestants.
However, Barco said the Brenau festival’s major role is that it has become the unofficial kick-off for the summer season, “not only a showcase for great food and a southern tradition, but also a chance for the community to come together for a lot of fun and a great cause.”
“This event was created for two reasons,” Barco said. “It was a way to help raise scholarship dollars for Brenau students and it was to provide a quality family-oriented community event. Both endeavors have been wildly successful.”
Barco noted that the family atmosphere and activities, like the classic car show and live music, at the Brenau Barbecue have turned it into a “must-attend event” for cookers and community members.
“The competition is intense, but I don’t think anyone keeps anything like a state secret,” he said. “There’s a friendly sort of neighborly conversation and razzing. Some of these teams only see one another here, so it’s kind of a homecoming for them. It’s an event that is pleasantly made up of people who enjoy each other’s company because everyone enjoys the barbecue.”
Competitors include professional teams that routinely compete in a variety of festivals throughout the country several times a year as well as “amateurs” that the Brenau festival categorizes as “Backyard Braggarts.” However, the term “amateur” is relative, said Barco.
“There certainly are no slackers on the pro side,” said Barco, “but any of the Backyard Braggarts can come to my house and cook any time. Many of the ‘amateurs’ are ‘pros in waiting,’ just trying to perfect their skills before venturing onto the pro circuit.”
Scott McDaniel of Smoke Shack BBQ in North Augusta, S.C. has been coming to the Brenau Barbecue Championship ever since its creation in 2009 and says it’s one of his favorite meets. He and his wife, Cindy, have been working the professional barbecue circuit for around 18 years. The Brenau contest, he said, “is very cooker friendly and a great community event.”
“We love seeing events with a lot of local teams,” McDaniel said, “because those are the events you know will last for a long time. If it’s mainly out-of-towners competing, there isn’t as much local community involvement, and that is what makes the contests great.”
McDaniel described the difference between Friday and Saturday of the competition like night and day. Even though it’s a friendly atmosphere the competition is still fierce.
“I’m everybody’s best friend Friday night,” he said. “But come Saturday morning, when the judging starts, it’s cutthroat. Our goal is to be last on stage because that means were Grand Champions. But when you get right down to it, it’s a chance to get out and have some fun.”
This year’s 37 cook teams comprise of both GBA and MBN competitors:
Almighty Smoke Masters of Gainesville, Ga.
AnarQue of Bolingbroke, Ga.
Beauford’s Smokehouse of Kennesaw, Ga.
Big Daddy’s Bar-B-Que of Marietta, Ga.
Biteback BBQ of McDonough, Ga.
Blaker’s BBQ of Gainesville, Ga.
Butts & Brews of Athens, Ga.
Diamond D Cooking Team of Newton, Miss.
Dixie Que of Macon, Ga.
Forrest’s Fine Foods of Cottondale, Fla.
Grillin’ Magic BBQ Team of Decatur, Ga.
Hemhocks of Gainesville, Ga.
J.Reid’s BBQ & Stew of Gainesville, Ga.
John Jarrard’s Rhythm & Drool BBQ of Oakwood, Ga.
Jurassic Pork of Norcross, Ga.
Lazy Bear Barbeque of Oakwood, Ga.
Legally Smokin Docs of Gainesville, Ga.
Low Country Longshots of Vienna Ga.,
Natural Born Smokers of Gainesville, Ga.
Ninja Pig BBQ of Oakwood, Ga.
Properly Smoked of Chamblee, Ga.
Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ of Belmont, N.C.
Rick’s Smokin’ Pig BBQ of Gainesville, Ga.
Sauced Hogs Smoke Shack of Jackson, Ga.
Skyline Contracting of Gainesville, Ga.
Smoke Shack BBQ of North Augusta, S.C.
Smoked Hawg Walking of Smyra, Ga.
Smokey Butts of Meansville, Ga.
Smokin’ 42 BBQ ofTifton, Ga.
Smokin’ AJ’s BBQ of Warner Robins, Ga.
Smokin’ Butts BBQ of Gainesville, Ga.
Swamp Cat BBQ of Suwanee, Ga.
Sweet Butts BBQ of Gainesville, Ga.
Team Recess and Yellowfin of Gainesville, Ga.
Tuff Dawg Grillers of Gainesville, Ga.
Two Little Piggs of Gainesville, Ga.
Wandering Woodies of Gainesville, Ga.