LOUISIANA – The contestants who came from around the region to compete in Louisiana’s Ribs on the River last weekend competition described the competitive barbecue circuit as a sort of town on wheels.
“Its like pulling into a little city, where you know everybody,” contestant Andrew Dean said Friday.
The Dean family of Overland Park, Kan.— team name: Skunk River Barbecue — has participated in 68 competitions.
“We’ve made so many friends on the circuit, just the comradery,” Jeff Dean said. “That’s the big part of it. And we’ve won quite a few trophies and ribbons, and that always helps too.”
“The cash prizes are nice — you kind of try to earn enough to break even on meat, and that’s about that. But there’s a lot of pride involved in getting your name called.”
That ended up working out for Skunk River Barbecue, which registered the second best score in brisket and the second best score overall.
Not all competitors came from far afield: Red Shed Smokehouse, consisting of husband-and-wife pair Tim and Autumn Waller and Tim’s brother Nick Waller hauled Gertrude, their cooker, from their home in Eolia to compete. With the exception of a backyard competition in Bowling Green last year, this is the closest to home they’ve competed in their two years on the circuit.
“We’re not as seasoned as some of the veterans here that I’ve seen come through the gates already, but we’re trying to hang with the big boys, I guess,” Tim Waller said.
The group is already being drawn into the community of competitive barbecuers.
“We were at a competition recently, and had to split up into two teams and we were short on a few items we needed to cook to make our boxes, and the willingness of these competitors to go out of their way to get you what you needed for a successful cook is pretty unprecedented,” Tim Waller said.
(The interest has already seeped into the next generation — the Waller’s nine-year-old son, Nolan, has competed under his own team name: Better Than You Barbeque.)
If that community of barbecuers is more or less portable, what makes one of their temporary homes attractive for repeat visits? — an important question if Louisiana is going to try to build its event from one year to the next.
“Community support, good organization, a good cooking location — this is a great location, just downtown, a lot of the time you’re in a park standing the grass,” Jeff Dean said.
“Prize money,” chimed in team pitmaster Andrew Dean.
“I wasn’t going to say that, but that was the first thing to come to mind. This competition’s got a pretty good prize structure,” Jeff Dean said.
“That’s why we drove all the way from Kansas City,” Andrew Dean said.
The Wallers, their fellow contestants and event organizers shared a common enemy: the fickle weather, which barely drizzled during the hours the event was open to the public but poured down buckets as people worked in the off-hours to get the grounds and, later, cuts of meat ready for the contest.
The Wallers described spending hours very early Saturday standing beneath a tarp, keeping the water off their cooker as best they were able.
Ribs on the River was certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, which provided judges and a chance to pursue higher levels of competition.
In the end, the barbecue had 26 entries in the “Masters” compeition and four in the amateur competition. Twenty pies were submitted to the inaugural Stark Brothers pie contest.
The weekend married the new Ribs on the River with a long-time staple of the Pike County calendar: the Clarksville Chili Cook-off. Like Ribs on the River, it is sanctioned by a higher power: the International Chili Society.
The event was rendered temporarily homeless by the flooding that swamped Riverfront Park in Clarksville along with much of the rest of the town. But an agreement was reached to join forces, and chili cook-off competitors rubbed elbows with barbecuers staring Saturday.
George Rives of Eolia has participated in the cook-off since it started in 1993 — another epochal flood year. He remembers the waters letting up just long enough to allow the inaugural contest to go forward.
“It had flooded, the waters receded, the cook-off happened in the park, and the following week it started coming back. That’s when it really got bad,” Rives said.
Another change to the competition: a new category, veggie chili.
“They eliminated salsa, because the decided that salsa was not really chili. So we’ll make it veggie chili. Did we cook the salsa? I think we did. We’re okay with it,” Organizer Linda Blakey said.
More photos will be posted to Louisianapressjournal.com this week.