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Brenau barbecue event fills bellies, raises scholarship funds
Brenau Barbecue Championships judge Bob Cope pulls on a piece of smoked pork Saturday as he and other judges work the finals in the barbecue competition at Brenau University.

Barbecue enthusiast Bear Sloan barely slept Friday night.

The Oakwood resident was busy preparing to compete in Saturday's second Brenau University Barbecue Championship.

"I make some of the most mouth-watering ribs you will ever put in your mouth," said Sloan, who enjoys seeing the expression on people's faces when they try his barbecue.

But the event wasn't just about food. It included music, a cooking class, auto show, free health screenings and children's activities.

About 6,000 people were expected to flood the Brenau campus.

"Everyone has come to know this as a family event, and it is so cool to see little kids running around and people meeting new people and seeing old friends that they haven't seen in a long time," said Jim Barco, event director and senior vice president of institutional development at the school.

Barco said the money raised supports the local student scholarship fund.

"These are young people who are from the area and who, nine times out of 10, after graduation stay in the area," Barco said. "So not only are we recruiting intellectual capital at Brenau, we are also recruiting and retaining intellectual capital in this community."

Barco's two goals for the barbecue event were to raise money for students and provide a family-friendly community event. As long as the championship meets those goals, he says it will continue.

Forty-one teams competed Saturday, 26 of them "backyard braggarts," local teams with an unusual passion for cooking barbecue. Their meat categories were Boston butt and ribs. The professionals cooked whole hog, shoulder and ribs.

"There are cash prizes, there are trophies and plaques, but for the backyard braggarts, they get to claim for the next year that they are the best cookers of ribs and Boston butt," Barco said.

Mark and Todd Johnson drove Friday from Marietta along with daughters Lydia Johnson, 9, and Neely Taylor, 16, to be a part of the judging team for the championship.

If judging barbecue requires special taste buds, the Johnson family has them. The couple have been judging barbecue competitions for longer than Lydia has been alive.

Although Neely now is a vegetarian, her mom claims she used to enjoy it. Lydia, on the other hand, loves meat and says she likes "seeing people from all over" at championships. In fact, she would like to be a barbecue judge when she gets older.

"It is very well run, and we fully expect it within the next couple of years to be one of the better competitions around," Mark Johnson said. "The people couldn't be more friendly or accommodating, and it is a good competition."

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