Two teams competing in this year’s Brenau Barbecue Championship will also be selling their pork to hungry visitors at the event. But it’s almost by accident that either team exists.
Rick Shaw of Rick’s Smokin’ Pig in Gainesville said he has been smoking chicken, pork and steaks since the 1960s. But after tasting success with a first runner-up finish for pulled pork in the inaugural Brenau barbecue event, Shaw decided to open a restaurant on John Morrow Parkway in Gainesville.
Rick Godfrey of Dixie Que BBQ in Macon said his first attempt at competitive cooking didn’t go well. But the failure spurred him to learn more about cooking techniques and cuts of meat. Now his team is a regular winner on the barbecue circuit.
Both Smokin’ Pig and Dixie Que will sell pork plates and sandwiches to customers on Friday and Saturday at this year’s Brenau Barbecue Championship. Both will also be competing in the competition, where they have previously won awards.
Choosing the vendors who’d be allowed to sell to the public was a deliberate process, said Jim Barco, coordinator of the Brenau Barbecue Championship.
"You want to look at who does barbecue, but more importantly who does barbecue well," Barco said.
Barco said both teams will make world-class barbecue for sale, and he’s particularly proud that a local team was chosen.
"It behooves our event to support local establishments when they can help you fill a need," Barco said. "We didn’t want to just go with out-of-town vendors."
Shaw said he’s grateful for the opportunity. He credits his team’s success in the 2009 Brenau Barbecue Championships for his decision to open a restaurant.
"We gave away 400 samples of sandwiches that year, and the reception was amazing," Shaw said. "We had a lot of friends who encouraged us to open a restaurant, and it all come about because we competed at Brenau."
But smoking meat is nothing new to Shaw. Naturally, being from Gainesville, he’s smoked a lot of chicken. But he also worked to perfect pork and beef cuts, too.
Shaw describes a three-day process to get his barbecue to a customer’s plate. The first day is all about meat preparation. The second day is for cooking. Day three is for serving.
Godfrey’s Dixie Que BBQ team is much newer to the competition circuit. Six years ago, the team, which is made up mainly of family members, entered a barbecue competition near Macon.
"It didn’t go well," Godfrey recalls now with a hearty laugh.
They devoted time to learning as much as they could about all aspects of competitive cooking. Now the team is a regular winner at competitions.
For Godfrey, spending so much time on the barbecue circuit has been rewarding. It’s allowed him to travel and make friends with common interests.
"It’s been great spending time with some of the best cookers in the world," he said.
In addition to selling their barbecue, both Rick’s Smokin’ Pig and Dixie Que BBQ will be competing. Godfrey said Dixie Que will compete in every category, three in the Memphis Barbecue Network competition and three in the Georgia Barbecue Association competition. Shaw said Smokin’ Pig will compete in the three GBA categories.
And this year, there is much more at stake.
Winners of Brenau University’s fifth annual Barbecue Championship on May 24 and 25 will receive automatic bids to compete in the World Barbeque Championship finals Oct. 31 through Nov. 4 in Las Vegas.
Exactly 37 different cook teams from four states will battle for amateur and professional titles as well as rights to compete the World Food Championship in Las Vegas.
Billed as "a clash of culinary titans," the Las Vegas event features a piece of the $300,000 prize purse in seven categories of food preparation styles, including barbecue.
This weekend’s event includes 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."
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."